By Rich Brown

If you’re already a fan of 802.11b wireless networking and Pocket PC PDAs such as the Casio Cassiopeia E-200, get ready to add another doohickey to your bag of mobile peripherals. The D-Link DCF-650W Wireless CompactFlash Type II Card (Figure A) combines simple installation with an easy-to-use configuration and security tools. Mobile business users with Pocket PCs, whether in a small company or a huge enterprise, will find the DCF-650W’s Wi-Fi compatibility and easy roaming between networks a convenient tool. Click here to check the latest prices.

It’s all within the palm of your hand
The $80 to $100 DCF-650W is 802.11b compatible and operates in the 2.4-GHz band. Installing the DCF-650W is easy using the illustrated Quick Install guide. The card works with handheld or Pocket PCs with Windows CE in an ad-hoc or infrastructure network. To get started, make sure you have Microsoft Active Sync software on your computer; next, establish a connection between your computer and PDA. Insert the included CD-ROM into your computer and follow the onscreen instructions to install the drivers. Finally, slip the DCF-650W into the CompactFlash slot on your PDA.

Figure A
CNET Editors rate the D-Link DCF-650W 7 out of 10 (the good: small size, easy installation, and support for WEP security; the bad: toll phone support, must register to activate warranty).

The installation software loads the DCF-650W CompactFlash Card utility in the Pocket PC Settings/System window. When you open the utility, six tabbed windows let you view and set the access, configuration, and security settings. (The DCF-650W supports both 64- and 128-bit WEP encryption.) All the sections are labeled in the clearest language possible; however, it helps if you have a cheat sheet to make the proper settings. If you need to comply with company settings, check with your IT manager. You can also consult the clearly printed manual.

Working on the go
The DCF-650W can transmit data at speeds up to 11 Mbps within a claimed 460-foot range. Of course, as your signal fades due to distance, the DCF-650W automatically slows the transmission speed to 5 Mbps, then 2 Mbps, and finally 1 Mbps before dropping the connection altogether. Your mileage will vary depending on your proximity to a wireless access point, structural obstacles such as walls and floors, and other factors.

If you want to use the DCF-650W to access public wireless networks, set the device to Nonspecific ESSID mode. (An ESSID is a unique ID given to an access point.) With that setting enabled, you can wander through coffee shops, airports, or hotels and use their public access networks to check e-mail or surf the Web. You can also easily move across access points within your own office. We installed the DCF-650W in a Compaq iPaq Pocket PC using a CompactFlash Expansion Pack and wandered around our office building in New York, where the card switched effortlessly among access points on different floors. When you associate with an access point using the DCF-650W card, the utility displays the MAC address and ESSID of the access point, the link quality, the signal strength, and the IP address assigned by the DHCP server.

Send in that card now
The service and support that D-Link offers for the DCF-650W covers all the bases but with some caveats. You must send in the registration card within 90 days of the purchase date to get the standard one-year warranty. If you don’t, your warranty ends after 90 days. Tech support is available Monday through Friday from 6 A.M. to 6 P.M. PT, but it’s a toll call. And while the D-Link Web site is well organized and easy to navigate, it offers little useful information other than a manual and an FAQ.

The D-Link DCF-650W makes it easy to use your CompactFlash-ready PDA to connect with the Internet for e-mail or Web browsing. Its simple installation, in particular, is sure to win fans. And the ease with which it switched among access points in our tests means it’s probably flexible enough to handle your environment as well. Click here to check the latest prices.

This review was originally published by CNET on Dec. 21, 2001.