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New Wireless Networking NTK

Introduction, Details and Features

Asante FriendlyNET AeroLAN Wireless PCMCIA Adapter
Summary802.11b PC card with unique 2 flip-up antenna diversity design and superior performance
UpdateNone
Pros• "XWing" antenna helps distance performance
• No WEP-enabled throughput reduction
Cons• WinXP users can't use Client Utility

Since 802.11b cards are pretty much a commodity these days, I've gotten to the point where it's not much of a priority to review them. But when Asante sent me the announcement about their new 802.11b PC card, the "Xwing Antenna" part caught my eye.

Until the XWing, the only innovation in 802.11b adapter card antenna design has been 3Com's "XJack" design. Although the version on 3Com's Bluetooth PC card pops up a little antenna into a vertical position, the version on its Wi-Fi cards keeps the antenna in a horizontal plane and just allows the user to retract it so that it doesn't stick out of the side of a notebook computer. Since most Access Points and wireless routers have their antennas oriented vertically, client antennas should also be oriented the same way for best performance.

Asante's design is simple, but very effective in getting two antennas into a vertical position. The result is the best possible antenna design with diversity and vertically polarized antennas. You can get the gist of how they do it by checking out Figure 1.

Figure 1: Internal exploded view

This picture, which I got from the Internal Photos document that is part of the pagebreak

Wireless Performance

NOTES

As the data in the left-hand column table shows, the XWing turned in consistent performance in all four of my test locations. The Chariot throughput plots in Figure 2 give a little more insight into the nature of the performance, showing a cyclical pattern and lower minimum throughput in the longer-distance Condition 3 and 4 locations.

Figure 2: Throughput performance

The data in both the plots and the table were taken with the Xwing antennas up. To see the effect on performance, I also ran tests with the antennas folded flat in Conditions 3 and 4. What I found was that the difference was pretty binary. In test Condition 3, I saw essentially no change in performance between having the antennas up and down. But in Condition 4, I found that putting the antennas down caused the Xwing to break contact with its test partner, which prevented the Chariot run from finishing.

Since I had only the built-in XP wireless utilty to work with, I didn't have any indication of signal quality. But in both Conditions 3 and 4, folding the antennas down caused the XP Signal strength indicator to drop 1 to 2 bars. I was surprised that the XWing broke contact while the signal strength was still showing as "Good". However, I also noticed that the Transmit rate stayed fixed at 11Mbps (the card was set to Auto mode) during all tests, so I think a slow transmit rate-change algorithm might be the cause more than the lower signal strength itself.

At any rate, I'd rank the Xwing right up with the best 802.11b cards that I've tested, especially since it shows virtually no WEP-enabled throughput effect.

802.11b Wireless Performance Test Results

Test Conditions
- WEP encryption: DISABLED
- Tx Rate: Automatic
- Power Save: Disabled
- Test Partner: Asante VR2004AC Wireless VPN Router
Firmware/Driver Versions AP f/w:
V4.73AC
Wireless client driver:
WinXP 4.3.3.50
Wireless client f/w:
No Info
Test DescriptionSignal Quality (%)Transfer Rate (Mbps)Response Time (msec)UDP stream
Throughput (kbps)Lost data (%)
Client to AP - Condition 105
[No WEP]
4.9
[w/ WEP]
3 (avg)
3 (max)
4360
Client to AP - Condition 204.73 (avg)
3 (max)
4332
Client to AP - Condition 304.62 (avg)
3 (max)
4202
Client to AP - Condition 404.63 (avg)
3 (max)
4290

See details of how we test.

Closing thoughts

It's hard to stand out in what is essentially a commodity market. But by using a simple innovation and charging little to no price premium (depending on where you buy your wireless cards!), Asante's AeroLAN Xwing deserves a spot on your wireless shopping list.