More and more people are turning to wireless for home and small office networks, particularly as broadband connections to the home become more common. With this in mind we took a look at Intel's wireless network offering.
The wireless access point is made by Xircom, purchased by Intel last year. But Xircom's PC cards have been replaced with Intel Pro/wireless 2011s. The access point (AP) is one of the smaller and neater ones we've seen, consisting of a small plastic box with hoop aerial that can be flipped up or kept down, and a Fast Ethernet connection.
For the clients, we had a notebook PC card and a USB device, which is a rectangular box - about the height of the average desktop speaker - that stands on the desk. One of the immediate benefits here is that you don't have to open the computer to install it.
Setup consisted of installing drivers and management software. Most of the setup, such as installing the wireless protocol, is carried out in the networking panel. But the software installation controls the security settings of the card and sets up an initial extended service set ID (ESSID).
The default installation settings are for an access point environment, so the Xircom AP has to be installed on the same ESSID. The AP can be hooked straight up to an Ethernet connection, but as we were setting up a home network we connected it to an internet-facing computer.
During the installation a green light on the configuration panel meant that the cards could see each other but were not yet networked. Some basic knowledge of networking helps here when assigning IP addresses and such, but the process is pretty straightforward.
Following that it was a case of just setting up shares on all the machines and internet connection-sharing on the web-facing computer. All the shared drives and folders as well as the internet were available through the Network Neighbourhood.
Security is something of a sore point with wireless at the moment, but it is possible to globally apply it with this setup. The AP supports 40-bit Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), but the Intel PC cards go up to 128-bit encryption. The encryption key is a 10 digit hex number that can be randomly generated.
Range wasn't great on the Xircom AP, with walls posing considerable difficulty to the connection. We couldn't even get a connection on the floor directly under the access point, so it's hard to see how a hacker in the street outside could pick up your network. But on the plus side speed was good overall and didn't drop over a good 15 or so metres.