The quick and easy wireless office, like the paperless office, has lived only in our imaginations. Is the dream now a reality? Not exactly, but Compaq Computer Corp.'s new WL Series of wireless devices is a significant step forward, reaching speeds of 11 mbps and taking a lot of the hassle out of setup for people who want to extend an existing LAN or wirelessly network a small office.
We tested a beta version of Compaq's US$899 hardware Access Point (AP) and $199 wireless LAN PC card ($199 PCI cards are available). Compaq will also market a $125 software and card solution that requires no hardware AP.
Base installation couldn't be easier. Compaq's AP plugs into an existing hub, switch, or server; then, using default network settings, it automatically begins searching for compatible wireless network adapters. The PC Card also installed painlessly in our test notebook and had no trouble communicating with the AP.
We used WinProxy 3, an Internet sharing application, to share our cable modem connection over our test network. However, WinProxy crashed whenever we turned on Compaq's AP; we believe this problem to be as much a shortcoming on WinProxy's part as on Compaq's.
Compaq bundles a trial version of WinGate 3.0 for Internet sharing. After a lengthy installation process requiring debugging, we did get the two products to work together.
Once fully running, the network performed admirably. Throughput speeds never wavered below 10 mbps, and we could walk freely around the office. We only lost contact two floors below our AP.
Home and business users content to let the devices run at their default settings should be pleased with this easy wireless LAN solution. If you're sharing an ADSL or cable modem via software, however, check compatibility with Compaq before you buy.
Compaq WL Series Wireless LAN
PRO: Easy to set up with default settings, throughput as billed.
CON: Worked only with the bundled WinGate 3 proxy server software.
VALUE: Best if you're starting from scratch and willing to adapt toCompaq's defaults.
Street prices: $199, WL network adapter (PCI or PC Card); $899, hardware Access Point;Compaq Computer Corp.
PRODUCT INFO NO. 698