D-Link DWL-1000AP Wireless Network Access Point
Anybody who deals with networks in any form or shape is very familiar with network cables, cause networking requires lots of them – until now. While the concept of wireless networking has been around for a few years, it was hampered by slow speeds and unreliable connections. That changed with the arrival of the IEEE 802.11b wireless networking standard, supporting transfer speeds up to 11 Mbps, and compatibility between wireless products from different vendors. While it is still in its early stages and not as fast and reliable as wired networks, wireless networking has become a serious option both for home and business environments.
While wired networks still offer faster speeds and more reliability, wireless networks can offer serious benefits. For example, having multiple wireless access points within a company building allows roaming within the facility with a laptop from office to conference rooms etc without ever losing network connectivity. In a home environment it can allow building networks without holes in walls or wires strung across the floors.
I was curious to see how reliable and useful wireless networking is, so I tested the D-Link Wireless Access Point DWL-1000AP / Wireless PCMCIA Network Adapter DWL-650, graciously provided by D-Link.
Setting up the wireless network couldn’t have been easier. To install the wireless network adapter, insert the CD provided, install the Control Utility, reboot the PC, insert the adapter, point the hardware installation wizard to the drivers on the CD, and you’re set.
To install the wireless access point, simply plug in the power adapter and connect it via Cat5 to a hub on your existing network. If your network is set up for dynamic IP addresses using DHCP, both the DWL-1000AP and the DWL-650 will automatically obtain an IP address and configure themselves.
D-Link definitely gets an A+ for flawless installation and great documentation for the beginner.Documentation is plentiful. Both devices come with a paper quick start guide and user manual. The accompanying CD-ROM has a great HTML interface and easy steps to install the drivers, go to the D-Link web site, browse the manual in HTML format, and view the contents of the CD. The DWL-1000AP even had a instructional video. In addition to the user guide you’ll also get a network basics tutorial in case you’re new to networking, explaining file and printer sharing, TCP/IP installation and configuration, etc. The manual also covers many different installation scenarios with step-by-step guides and an easy to understand network diagram for each scenario.
While the basic setup is very simple, you can of course also configure your wireless network manually via the DWL-1000AP configuration utility. For example, you can choose between an ad hoc network or an Infrastructure network, meaning either a simple peer-to-peer network directly between two wireless network adapters without a wireless access point, or a network for multiple machines including one or more access points. This enables you to set up a rather sophisticated Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) with multiple cells, allowing seamless roaming between access points.
However, you should not rely on this security alone as several flaws in the Wireless Equivalent Privacy (WEP) algorithm have been discovered already as described in these two reports:Advanced configuration options also include several security features. You can enable encryption via a 40-bit shared key to protect wireless network traffic. It looked pretty straight forward, but after several fruitless attempts I had to resort to an article in the knowledge base to get this set up correctly by following the right steps in the right order.
D-Link offers some added security by allowing specific access control. You can explicitly specify by MAC address which network adapter is allowed or denied access to your wireless network.
How fast is this wireless network? Fast enough for everyday use. I used the wireless adapter with my Pentium II 233MHz/192MB RAM laptop. At one point I was streaming music from http://www.hardradio.com, while downloading a large file from the Internet, while defragging the hard drive, without the slightest hiccup or interruption in the download or music stream.
Then I tried copying a large file over the network to the laptop. The DWL-650 configuration utility claimed that the speed it received the data at hovered around 520,000 Bytes per second, which translates to about 4 Megabits per second. Not exactly 11Mbps, but still not bad at all.
These results do underscore how important the surrounding environment is for a wireless network. In a Wireless network the environment is not static in the same manner as Ethernet Cat 5 cabling. You can actually get some excellent distance between workstations, but the electromagnetic fields or electronic noise can cause the wireless products to downshift to a clear signal.
Even though the wireless network tops out at 11 Mbps, data transfer over my cable modem never gets that high, so web surfing is exactly the same from the laptop with wireless access as it is from a wired PC. The only time there is a noticeably difference in speed is when copying large files over the network. Copying NT 4 Service Pack 6a via the wireless network to the laptop took about a minute and a half, while copying it via the wired 100Mbps network took less than 10 seconds. Still, a minute and a half is not that bad for a 35 MB file, and how often do you really transfer files that big in a home or small office environment?
I used the laptop around the house mainly for web surfing, streaming music, and downloading some files. Over a period of several weeks I never ran into a single problem with this setup, no corrupted downloads, funky web pages, or other weird behavior.
One important thing to keep in mind with wireless networks is that the signal strength, range, and quality greatly depends on how many and what type of obstacles it has to pass through. One page of the DWL-650 manual is dedicated to explaining simple but important facts like positioning the wireless access point, keeping the number of walls and ceilings to a minimum, interference, and negative influence of metallic building materials.
I used this wireless network in my 1500 sq.ft. two-story townhouse without problems. The access point was positioned on a shelf in my office upstairs in a corner of the house. Using the laptop at the other end of the house and downstairs in different rooms was not a problem. As seen in the screen shot above, the DWL-650 configuration utility offers an easy way of checking signal strength and quality. While signal strength varies greatly, network performance was still acceptable even with lower signal quality.
According to the brochure the D-Link wireless network products adhere strictly to the 802.11b standard and are very compatible with multi-vendor environments. While I haven’t been able to test this yet, it is nice to know that this compatibility exists. Whether it is as flexible and transparent as using multi-brand PCI network adapters on a network remains to be tested.
Another nice touch is the fact that the PCMCIA network adapter can also be used in a desktop PC via a PCI card that carries a PCMCIA slot.
This was my first hands-on experience with wireless networking, and I must say I’m impressed. The ease of installation and user-friendliness make the D-Link wireless network a viable network solution for the beginner in a home environment and the network admin in an office environment alike. It’s nice to know that there are home networking options that don’t require holes in walls and wires snaking across the floor, or office network options that allow carrying a laptop to a conference room without having to worry about network connectivity when you get there.
One of the main cons I see is its price compared to wired networks. The access point costs currently almost 4 times as much as a regular 10/100 hub, and the network adapter costs almost 4 times as much as a regular 10/100 PCI network adapter. The other thing you’ll have to be careful with is the fact that the PCMCIA network adapter sticks out about one inch and could break if mistreated.