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Netgear Wireless Networking  

I've had a network in my home and office for some time now, but there was always the problem of not being able to take a laptop out of the office and work wherever I wanted to in the house -- and still stay connected to the network. Stringing cable and adding ports all over the house wasn't really acceptable, so I waited for Wireless (WiFi) network connections to become available at a reasonable price.

The other day, I finally took the plunge: Netgear's wireless networking solution looked to be a reasonable choice, since I've used Netgear gear in the past and been quite pleased with it. I purchased their Cable/DSL 802.11b Wireless Router (Model Mr314, $99.99 street, with a $20 mail-in rebate), the 802.11b Wireless PC Card (Model MA401, $59.99 street, with a $10 mail-in rebate), and the 802.11b Wireless PCI Adapter (Model MA311, $89.99 street, no rebate). With a 14-day return privilege and no restocking fee, I figured I had nothing to lose except some of my time.

My son's PC is an older model PC running Windows 98SE, plus I have a Toshiba laptop also running Windows 98SE (Windows 98 may not be the greatest operating system there is, but if you don't try to do too much with it, it performs adequately for limited service (we also have several Win2K systems on the network, a WinXP/Home machine, and a Sun Sparc Classic sitting in the wings).

Since it's easy to work with, I decided to install the Network card on the laptop first, and see how that went, before diving into my teenage son's room to work on his machine. That's where things took a turn for the worse.

I installed the Router (MR314) and everything seemed to come up just fine... it powered up, ran its self-tests, and proclaimed itself ready to work.

The PC Card (MA401) on the Toshiba was another matter entirely. The installation took several tries and several trips to the Netgear website for information. The installation hung up several times, requiring a reboot and an uninstall. On one occasion, it required a hard reboot which -- on the Toshiba -- means that you must physically disconnect the battery. Eventually, though, I got the installation working and the configuration utility showed that there was activity on the link...and I was able to "see" the router from the laptop.

I still couldn't see the rest of the network, though, which required that I reconfigure the network. My situation is probably more complicated than most home users (but not for small business users). I already have a Cable/DSL router connected to my DSL modem, and the new Netgear router was connected to the built-in hub in my router. A little more configuration left me with my original router on network 10.0.0.x, and my new wireless router on 10.0.1.x. And I could see everything from my laptop -- just what I wanted!

So far, so good. Even though there were installation problems, I was prepared to accept this for a working solution.

I settled down to test things out and it worked perfectly -- but only as long as I was "close enough" to the wireless router/antenna.

We live in a two-level house, and the wireless router was in the lower level; the rest of the house was upstairs. (By The Way, the house is a rather normal late-30's house, with wood framing and plaster walls... nothing apparently out of the ordinary.

However, reception was anything but ordinary... it was bad. The specs for the MR314 state that in an indoor environment, the range is 175 feet (53 meters) at the 11Mbps (top) speed; at lower speeds, it has increasingly higher ranges. What I actually experienced was more like 40-50 feet before the network disconnected or dropped to extremely low quality levels. It turned out that I could work in three rooms of my house with acceptable quality: most of the house was "off-limits" with the Netgear product.

No amount of fiddling helped -- the working range stayed unacceptably low. I looked quickly at some of the other products (D-Link, Linksys), but they claimed an even smaller range than the Netgear products, so I passed on trying them at this time.

Too bad -- it looked like a good idea on paper and the price wasn't bad, but the reality was way off the mark. Guess I'll have to break out the cable box and connectors to get my son connected to the network. Maybe some of the later incarnations of this product (using 802.11a and/or dual-band devices) will work better.



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