How many PCs still don’t have built-in Wi-Fi? Not many you’d assume, at least not as far as laptops are concerned. Anyone thinking of adding Wi-Fi to a Wi-Fi-less machine might want to look at Buffalo Technology’s unusual take on the idea, the 802.11g-based Wireless-G High-Gain USB 2.0 Adaptor.
This is not, as we first assumed from Buffalo’s enigmatic press materials, a fool-proof way of extending the range of an existing Wi-Fi connection. Anyone with a recent 54Mbits/s wireless card or interface in a laptop would be better of staying with that than embracing a product built on the same technology and using up a spare USB 2.0 port, no matter what Buffalo claims. Where it does score, however, would be for desktops that by their nature tend sit at a fixed point some distance from the wireless router, laptops using old 802.11b Wi-Fi, or even older laptops without built-in Wi-Fi at all.
If this limits its appeal slightly, it still sets out to better existing USB Wi-Fi adaptors in a number of useful ways. Consisting of a USB cable (longer and shorter versions are supplied), connecting to a square adaptor/antenna unit that can be suctioned to the back of a monitor or laptop screen, the High-Gain antenna promises – and as far as we could tell delivers – somewhat better reception than the ordinary 802.11b USB adaptor against which we pitted it. This isn’t saying a lot as 802.11b was notorious for poor reception as soon as the PC moved more than 20 feet from the router, but that is not something to hold against it. In essence then, the innovation is to add a better an omni-directional antenna to a very straightforward 802.11g Wi-Fi transceiver the better to boost working range, and in that it succeeds.
It supports WPA-PSK (TKIP, AES) and 128/64-bit WEP for what that’s worth (not much in the latter case), and can be set up using Buffalo’s proprietary AOSS system. It comes with drivers for Windows 2000, XP and even Vista, and sets up in minutes once any existing wireless interface has been disabled.
If there are any still out there, this adaptor could be used to upgrade an old 802.11b connection on a laptop, or more likely, to add Wi-Fi to a machine without any Wi-Fi at all, such as a desktop. It would be easier to fit, and is cheap with it. Anyone with an existing 802.11g Wi-Fi interface would be better replacing it with some form of high-throughput Wi-Fi card (and router), and abandoning 802.11g altogether.
If this isn’t quite the laptop saviour we thought it was at first, no matter. Desktop users will still appreciate its simplicity, cheapness and that fact that it does at least promise more reliable reception range than 802.11b (and perhaps USB-based 802.11G) if not better throughput.