Networking

Untether your network with SMC's wireless adapter

SMC's EZ Connect products make it easier than ever to connect PCs to wireless networks. One of the newest products in the line is the SMC2664W wireless USB adapter. Read our review to find out if this 802.11b device makes the grade.


One of the newest products in the SMC EZ Connect line is the SMC2664W 2.4-GHz USB wireless adapter. In conjunction with a wireless access point, you can use this adapter to quickly and easily connect any Windows PC with a USB port to the network. Because it connects via USB, the SMC2664W is a great solution for both laptop and desktop users who need a wireless connection. It’s easy to install and, for the most part, works as advertised. If you’re looking for an alternative to a PC Card adapter, the SMC2664W is a solid option.

Parts and installation
The SMC2664W package includes the following:
  • The wireless adapter with internal antenna
  • Driver and utility disks
  • 6-ft. USB cable
  • Fastening clip
  • Velcro swatches
  • Two small magnets

You’ll notice that the drivers and product utility software comes on disk, not CD. This could have been a problem for me because the laptop on which I was testing the device didn't  have a floppy drive. My workaround was to copy the contents of the disks onto a USB storage device. Given my access to the USB storage device, the disks presented only a minor inconvenience, but some users might find this a bigger obstacle if they, too, don't have floppy drives. My advice to SMC: Put the software on a CD.

Of course, updated drivers and the product manual are both available for download on SMC’s Web site.

Some assembly required
Depending on how you plan to use the adapter, you may have some small parts to assemble. A clip included in the package snaps onto the back of the adapter, allowing you to attach it to your laptop monitor. The manual says you can even clip the adapter to your belt, although I’m not really sure why you’d want to unless you were going to walk around with your laptop. Velcro pads and magnets are also included for mounting in various locations.

It’s pretty simple to install the adapter—you just attach the USB cable and plug it into your PC. Windows will then detect the device and prompt you to install the driver. Depending on which OS you’re using, you’ll then navigate to one of two folders on the driver disk: One folder contains the drivers for Windows 98, Windows 2000, and Windows Me; the other contains the Windows XP drivers.

Once you've installed the drivers, the adapter will automatically detect whether a wireless connection is available. When I first installed the device on a Windows XP system without a wireless access point, XP reported that the device wasn’t functioning because it didn't detect a wireless connection of any kind.

When I reinstalled later with an active wireless access point—I tested the adapter with the SMC7004WFW Barricade Plus Wireless Cable/DSL Broadband Router—I received no error message, and the adapter automatically detected the wireless connection. But it didn’t connect immediately. It took a minute or two for the adapter to make a connection after the successful installation. Once it did, however, I was up and running on the network—able to access shared folders and surf the Internet via the broadband connection.

Performance
The literature accompanying the SMC2664W states that it has a working range of up to 422 feet at 11 Mbps and 825 feet at 1 Mbps. These numbers are probably dependent on having a clear path to the wireless access point. I unscientifically tested the range by taking my laptop outside and walking down the street until I finally lost the signal. With the Barricade sitting on the desk in my basement, I was able to maintain a network connection from about 150 feet from the house. A number of obstacles stood between the adapter and the router, including the concrete wall that encloses the basement. I was impressed that I was able to get as far down the road as I did before I lost the connection. If the neighbors on either side of me had adapters, they could be surfing the Internet on my broadband connection right now.

When you move the cursor over the connection icon in the system tray, a tool tip tells you how good your connection is. When I initially connected just a few feet away from the router, the tip said the connection was "excellent." When I moved upstairs, the connection went from “excellent” to “very good.” The connection was just “good” when I moved outside until I lost the connection altogether.

After I lost the connection, it took a minute or two for the adapter to restore it when I moved back into range. Once you get just out of range, you have to move back to a point where you’re receiving a strong signal and wait a short time before the adapter can restore the connection.

In one of the tests I performed, I downloaded a 5-MB file from Download.com to see if I could get the same kind of speed that I enjoy while directly connected via a Cat 5 cable. Surprisingly, the download speed was 342 KBps.

While I was copying a large file from the desktop PC I was connecting to, the screensaver on the desktop system kicked in and the laptop promptly locked up, forcing a hard reboot. After the laptop came back up, I was able to retrieve the file without a problem. It took four minutes to copy the 100-MB file from the desktop to the laptop.

I found that several hours later when I turned on the laptop to reconnect, the adapter didn't detect that the wireless connection was available. I had to manually reconnect to the network. In Windows XP, this meant going into Wireless Network Connection Settings and selecting the name of the wireless connection. This restored the connection immediately, though.

Easy to use and quick to connect
The SMC2664W is a simple product that does what it’s designed to do. For home or small office users, it’s a no-fuss way to get connected quickly to a wireless network. Even novice computer users can install it and get up and running in no time. The adapter is available online for as little as $60, but retailers are charging $75 and up for it.

The only obstacle I encountered was the floppy disk issue. I might be in the minority when it comes to users without floppy drives, but I think that will change. So it would be nice to see SMC offer their drivers on a CD.

Editor's Picks