SolutionBase: Quickly set up a wireless print server with the Linksys Wireless-G PrintServer

Set up wireless print servers with this device from Linksys.

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Do you have a wireless network in need of a print server? If so, you'll be interested to learn more about the Linksys Wireless-G PrintServer, which allows you to easily connect a USB or parallel printer, or both, directly to your wireless network. In addition to working wirelessly, the Linksys Wireless-G PrintServer sports an RJ-45 Ethernet jack so you can share printers with wired users as well as wireless users. Regardless of whether you're using a wired or a wireless network, the Linksys Wireless-G PrintServer will allow you to place your printer in a central location in an office in situations when you can't, or don't want to, connect it to a computer configured as a print server.

A multifaceted solution
One of the neatest things about the Linksys Wireless-G PrintServer, which is also known by its model number, WPS54GU2, is that it truly is a multifaceted device. A quick look at the back of the device, as shown in Figure A, hints at the versatility. To begin with, the PrintServer provides both a parallel port and a USB port—the latter supports both USB 1.1 and USB 2.0. This means that you can connect two printers to the PrintServer, one to each port.

Figure A
The Linksys Wireless-G PrintServer provides both parallel and USB ports.

As you can see, there isn't a power switch. To turn the PrintServer on and off, you plug and unplug the power cord.

In addition to the wireless connection, which provides support for both IEEE 802.11g and IEEE 802.11b standards, there is also a RJ-45 jack to allow the PrintServer to be connected directly to a 10/100 Mbps Ethernet hub or switch, thus allowing you to provide a print server to both your wired and wireless networks.

When using the PrintServer wirelessly, you can connect to it in either Infrastructure or Ad-Hoc wireless mode. If you have an existing wireless network, you can configure the PrintServer to use Infrastructure mode and connect to it via a wireless access point (WAP). If you're using Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), you'll be glad to find that you can configure PrintServer with either 64- or 128-bit encryption. On the other hand, if you don't have an existing wireless network, you can configure the PrintServer to work in Ad-Hoc mode, under which you directly connect to the PrintServer from a wireless-equipped computer.

Managing the PrintServer is very easy with two built-in methods. First, like many of the Linksys products, you can manage the PrintServer using a browser to connect to the unit's built-in Web-based utility. In addition, you can install and use a utility called Bi-Admin on any computer running Windows 98/Me/2000/XP.

Furthermore, the PrintServer supports SNMP, which will allow network administrators to monitor and control the PrintServer through an existing network management platform. In addition to TCP/IP, the PrintServer supports the NetBEUI and IPX/SPX protocols. It even supports the AppleTalk protocol, making the PrintServer functional in environments that include Macintosh and/or Linux systems.

And if that isn't enough, you can also configure the PrintServer for remote printing via the Internet because this device includes the necessary firmware to be set up as an IPP Server. You can then set up the remote clients using the CD, which includes the Windows IPP Client software for Windows 98/Me/2000/XP.

Aside from its versatile connection capability, the PrintServer sports a healthy 3-MB print buffer, which is more than enough for standard print jobs and provides ample room for large, graphics-intensive print jobs.

First steps
If you haven't done so already, you'll begin by installing the printer drivers on those computers that will be connected to the PrintServer. Then, you'll want to gather some information about your wireless network that you need to have on hand when setting up the PrintServer. You'll want to have the SSID, the channel number, and, if you're using WEP, the WEP key. If your WAP is also a Linksys product, you can simply use the passphrase rather than the WEP key.

Setting up the PrintServer
Setting up the Linksys Wireless-G PrintServer is a relatively simple procedure because you're coached along by the printed Quick Installation Guide and the automated Setup Wizard. If you need more details, you'll find a complete user guide on the CD in PDF format.

Linksys recommends that you connect the PrintServer to your network via an Ethernet cable connection in order to configure it with the Setup Wizard. Once the PrintServer is plugged into the network, you'll connect the printer and turn it on. You then power up the PrintServer.

At this point, you can insert the installation CD into any computer on the network. The PrintServer setup routine runs right off the CD, so there's no installation. As soon as you launch it, the Setup Wizard scans the network, locates the PrintServer, and displays its server name and IP address, as shown in Figure B. Once it does, you're then walked through an eight-step procedure in which you'll confirm the printer connections, assign a password to the device, and configure the wireless settings.

Figure B
The Setup Wizard will locate the PrintServer and display its default network settings.

The first key stop along the way is the IP Settings page. On my wireless network, the PrintServer was automatically set to obtain an IP address via DHCP, as shown in Figure C. While this is convenient, I like to use the Web-based utility to manage the PrintServer, so I opted for a static IP address. That way, when connecting via a browser, I always know at what address to find the PrintServer.

Figure C
If your network is using DHCP, the PrintServer will automatically be configured to obtain an IP address.

The next important stop is the Wireless Security Settings page, where you can select the level of WEP encryption, as shown in Figure D. If you're using a passphrase, you'll type it in here, and the PrintServer will automatically generate the same WEP that is in use by your WAP. If you're using a WEP key, you'll leave the Passphrase text box blank, click Next, and then enter the WEP key on the next page.

Figure D
Configuring the PrintServer to use WEP is a snap.

When you complete the PrintServer setup, you'll see a confirmation screen where you can make sure that all your settings are correct. After you exit the Setup Wizard, unplug the network cable and the power cord. When you reconnect the power cord, the PrintServer will boot up and be ready to begin wirelessly serving printers.

A wireless installation?
While the User Guide states that you can configure the PrintServer wirelessly, it doesn't go into any detail on how you go about the procedure. A call to Linksys technical support revealed that it is indeed possible to configure the PrintServer wirelessly if the WAP is a Linksys device and it is configured with the factory-default settings. So unless you're building a wireless network from scratch, or don't mind resetting your WAP to the factory defaults, this really isn't an option.

Seeking another alternative to a wired network installation, I connected the PrintServer directly to a computer via a crossover patch cable and found that I was able to successfully run the Setup Wizard.

Setting up the PrintServer driver
After you've configured the actual PrintServer, you then need to install and configure the PrintServer's driver on each computer that will connect to the device. This special driver acts as an intermediary between the regular printer driver and the PrintServer—basically redirecting data from the standard printer ports to the PrintServer's network addressed printer ports.

The actual installation is a pretty typical three-step procedure that uses a standard wizard interface. Once it's complete, you're prompted to launch the Printer Port Setup program, a two-step procedure in which you'll connect the PrintServer port to your printer driver, as shown in Figure E. As you can see here, I'm connecting PrintServer's USB port to a Cannon i850 printer driver. Once you complete this step, the PrintServer is ready to go to work and you should now be able to begin sending print jobs to the printer.

Figure E
You use the Printer Port Setup program to connect the PrintServer port to your printer driver.

Managing the PrintServer
As I mentioned, managing the PrintServer is an easy operation. Once the device is set up, you can alter any settings just by launching your Web browser and typing in the printer's IP address. As you can see in Figure F, the tabbed interface of the Web-based utility is very straightforward and allows you to configure a number of options.

Figure F
You can access the PrintServer's Web-based utility with any browser.

If you want access to additional monitoring and configuration features, such as the ability to upgrade the PrintServer's firmware, you can install and use the BiAdmin Management Utility. The main screen and the configuration dialog box are shown in Figure G.

Figure G
The BiAdmin Management Utility provides access to additional monitoring and configuration features.

If you have an existing network management platform, such as HP OpenView, both the BiAdmin Management Utility and the Web-based utility provide SNMP configuration options, as shown in Figure H.

Figure H
Configuring the PrintServer for SNMP expands your management options.

Troubleshooting printer connection problems
While testing the Linksys Wireless-G PrintServer, I experimented with several different printers. Some worked perfectly right off the bat, while others required a little coaxing. During my troubleshooting expeditions, I picked up some valuable information that I thought would be useful for anyone who decides to use the Linksys Wireless-G PrintServer.

To begin with, you need to understand that certain problems are inherent when using a bi-directional printer and its associated software with a dedicated print server device—regardless of the brand. As you may know, a bi-directional printer is designed to send information back to the printer software installed on the PC. This information includes such things as ink cartridge status or print job status. The software that provides this bi-directional communication is designed to work when the printer is directly connected to the computer via a USB or parallel cable connection. Unfortunately, most of this software is unable to communicate over a network connection, regardless of whether it's wired or wireless.

The level of impairment caused by this inability to use bi-directional communication varies. For example, some printer software will completely fail to send data to the printer, while other printer software will send data to the printer just fine but will display error messages.

For those printers that completely failed, I discovered two solutions. First, if the Windows operating system includes a native printer driver for the printer, I uninstalled the OEM printer driver and then installed the Windows printer driver. In another instance, in which there wasn't a native printer driver, I was able to get the printer to work by changing the print processor from the OEM version to the default Windows' version.

To change the print processor, you just access the printer's Properties dialog box, select the Advanced tab, and click the Print Processor button near the bottom of the dialog box. Then, in the Print Processor dialog box, select WinPrint in the Print Processor list and RAW in the Default Data Type list. To complete the change, just click OK.

On those printers that would print using the OEM printer software, but would display error messages, I simply disabled any bi-directional features in the printer software. (Check your printer manual for details on how to disable the bi-directional features for your printer.)

In each one of these cases, the printer worked just fine.

Getting the PrintServer
You can purchase the Linksys Wireless-G PrintServer (WPS54GU2) at most online and local computer stores for around $130. To find the best price, visit CNET Shopper.

By Greg Shultz

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.