D-Link 11Mbps Wireless LAN Compact Flash Adapter

Model: DCF-650W — $99 MSRP

D-Link’s Wireless Compact Flash adapter is a PRISM II based 802.11b
wireless adapter in a CompactFlash (CF) Type II format.  Many PocketPC
users have been eagerly awaiting 802.11b adapters in this format, and although
this product isn’t perfect, it will make many people plenty happy.

Pros:
– Relatively low cost
– Relatively low power draw

Cons:

– Larger than you might like


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Product Stats

View a summary of the D-Link Wireless Compact Flash Card’s
wireless capabilities
.

D-Link Wireless Compact Flash Type II Card [click to go to product website!]Installation
and Features

I used a Compaq iPAQ 3150 PocketPC with Compact Flash sleeve to
put the adapter through its paces. The D-Link manual says that the adapter is
compatible with the following products:

Pocket PC

  • Compaq iPAQ (StrongARM)

  • Casio E115 and E125 (MIPS R4000)

Handheld PC (HPC)

  • Sharp Telios (MIPS R3000)

  • HP Jornada 720 (StrongARM)

  • Intel Pentium/X86

Presumably, the adapter would work with other machines using StrongARM
or MIPS processors, but note that SH3-based HP Jornada users won’t be
able to use this product.

The CF adapter is 3.25 inches tall, with 1.5 inches of
that being the antenna section that sticks out of your PocketPC or HPC. 
This section is also almost 0.5 inches thick.

Fingers can get a little cramped!

When I inserted the adapter into my iPAQ’s CF sleeve,
I found that although it didn’t totally block either the stylus or its
eject button, it did cramp my finger area a bit.  The size of the
exposed portion of the module may also cause you to remove it before
you throw your PocketPC into your bag or pocket, to avoid damage to
either the adapter or your PocketPC!

iPAQ with DLink Wireless CF installed

Installation consisted of popping the Installation CD into the drive of a computer
that was running Microsoft’s Active Sync and connected to the iPAQ, clicking
the "Install Drivers" icon on the autorun screen that popped up, and
following the clear instructions in the printed Quick Install Guide.

Once you’re installed, you’ll open the Client Utility (which is located
in the Start > Settings > System screen) to check and configure the adapter,
so let’s step through each of its screens to see what it lets you do.

The Configure screen gives you access to all settings except
WEP.  The "Non-Specific ESSID" setting was interesting,
because it automatically senses and uses the ESSID of the Access Point
that it connects to, instead of requiring you to enter the default "ANY"
ESSID that usually works when you don’t know an AP’s ESSID.

Tip: See
this page
for info about the difference between Ad-Hoc and 802.11
Ad-Hoc. The D-Link user guide has a typo that may confuse you!

D-Link CF Wireless Adapter - Configure screen

The Info screen tells you pretty much everything about the status
of the adapter. It doesn’t sit in the Today screen "System Tray"
when you "OK" it, however.  So you’ll need to restart
it or remember to just leave it running when you switch to another application,
if you want it quickly available.

You get a readily available indication of link status
from the big ol’ Link LED…the one on the right…anyway. It’s normally
lit and blinks when it loses network connection.  I thought the
Power LED was unnecessary, since the Link LED told me all I needed to
know about the adapter’s power status!  I’d rather use the few
extra milliamps for a few extra minutes (seconds?) of battery life…

D-Link CF Wireless Adapter - Info screen

The inclusion of a ping utility on the Link tab is a thoughtful
addition, since the PocketPC OS doesn’t come with one built-in, and
you need some way to start debugging connectivity problems.  But
I was frustrated with not being able to see the time information from
the ping response (the output area isn’t horizontally scrollable), so
that I could use it for my test purposes. I also found it a pain to
have to keep entering the IP address of the ping target, since it’s
not saved when you quit the utility.

On the plus, side, however, note that this tab tells you
the PocketPC’s IP address (My IP).  Very helpful if you’re running
as a DHCP client, since it tells you that you have at least successfully
leased an IP address!  Now if D-Link could just add Gateway and
DNS IP info and a DHCP Release/Renew function, you’d have most all the
info you’d need to debug common connectivity problems. (BTW, I had no
problem establishing a connection to my Access Point with the adapter
set to be a DHCP client.)

The WEP tab is clearly laid out and easy to use.
You can enter four keys for either 64 or 128 bit mode, either as Hexadecimal
or Alpha-Numeric values.  The D-Link manual has clear instructions
on the number of characters, and which ones are allowed, too. 
Note that you can’t use the "passphrase" method of key generation. 
Sadly, I found that WEP keys are not remembered if you Disable,
then re-Enable WEP.

Finally, the About tab shows driver and utility
version info.

D-Link CF Wireless Adapter - Link screen

 

D-Link CF Wireless Adapter - WEP screen

Performance

Since netIQ doesn’t have an endpoint for WinCE, I had to come
up with other
methods to test the adapter
. Here are the results:

Test Conditions:

– WEP encryption: Disabled
– Tx Rate:
Automatic
– Power Save:
disabled
Channel: 6

Firmware/Driver Versions:

AP f/w: 1.4f4
Wireless client driver: 
0.9.5
Wireless client utility: 
0.9.5
Wireless client firmware:
0.8.3

Test Description

Transfer Rate
(Mbps)

[1Mbyte data size]

Response Time
(msec)

[10 iterations 100byte data size]

AP to Client – Condition 1

 1.2 [No WEP]
 1.2 [w/WEP]

4 (avg)
6 (max)

AP to Client – Condition 2

1.2

4 (avg)
6(max)

AP to Client – Condition 3

1.2

4 (avg)
6 (max)

AP to Client – Condition 4

1.2

4 (avg)
5 (max)

Comments: I was surprised at the relatively low Transfer Rate of the
adapter, and suspect that something in my measurement method may be limiting
what I’m measuring.  I found no difference in rate with or without WEP,
but at the low measured rate, I’d certainly hope that to be the case!

Range was pretty good, although I found it difficult to use the Client Utility
signal level and quality indicators unless I concentrated on keeping the iPAQ
still.  There was no question when I moved out of network range, however,
since the blinking Link LED made it very clear.

The measurements aside, I found browsing a local web server to be plenty
responsive. I didn’t do any Internet based testing, since my dialup net connection
would be the limiting factor.

Battery Life

One of the key advantages that 802.11b CF cards are supposed to
have over their PC card cousins is lower power draw.  Compaq takes one
approach to the problem, including a separate battery in their PC card sleeve
to provide the extra juice needed by PC card devices.  But Compaq doesn’t
include a battery in the CF sleeve, putting a CF-sleeve-equipped iPAQ on par
with PocketPCs with built-in CF slots.

My battery life test was simple.  I started a CNET radio
stream with the Windows Media Player 7.1 at moderate volume with a fully charged
battery and let it run.  (Since the monochrome iPAQ doesn’t rely on a screen
back or sidelight, I didn’t have to worry about shutting one off!).  I
was able to get 2 hours and 10 minutes of play before I got a low battery
shutdown message and had to plug back in.  At some point I’ll get a CF/PC
card adapter and try the same test in the iPAQ with the PC card sleeve and its
extra battery, and update this review with the results.

Summary

As I said at the top of the review, 802.11b CF cards should quickly
become a fairly hot item, and the D-Link CF Wireless adapter should be one of
the hottest.  D-Link is taking an aggressive pricing strategy, with on-line
pricing at the time of this review running mostly between $126 to $150
(compared to $180 for Symbol’s Wireless Networker).  Supply will
probably be tight at first (product will probably not be available until mid
September) and keep prices up, but given that essentially the same card is already
popping up under different not-so-famous names, I’d expect prices to come down
over the next few months as volume production comes on line.

A PocketPC by itself is a useful little gadget, but some of the
real fun begins when you have a network connection, given the multimedia capabilities
of the PocketPC platform.  With the D-Link CF Wireless adapter, you can
tap into your LAN without being wired down, and isn’t that what mobile computing
is all about?

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