A Simple Design Tweak Makes Wi-Fi Work Better: Gigabyte’s GN-WBKG 802.11g USB Adapter Review

Wireless Internet access is sure to be one of the great innovations of the past several years. There’s no need to list the myriad ways in which Wi-Fi has improved our use of the Internet, or indeed, is poised to improve numerous aspects of daily communication and commerce. But if you’re anything like myself, or my girlfriend, friends, co-workers, or acquaintances, you’ve also experienced Wi-Fi’s perplexing dark side: inexplicably limited connectivity, even in areas where networks are known to be operating.


The culprit? Bad hardware or bad software, perhaps. But most likely, your problems are due to the nefarious little gremlin called interference. It’s the reason you can’t detect the wireless access point a measly ten feet away in another room, but the next door neighbor’s network (encrypted, alas) comes in just fine.


Gigabyte Technologies, best known for its PC components, proposes one way to circumvent these issues: a Wi-Fi antenna that can be manually rotated and pivoted to home in on a signal.


The Gigabyte GN-WBKG 54Mbps Wireless USB Adapter also supports older, and slower, 802.11b networks, as well as 64- or 128-bit WEP encryption, Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) and 802.1X authentication.


But its key feature is a “hinged antenna” that promises to swivels 360 degrees. Actually, it’s the entire adapter that’s hinged, with the pivot joint located immediately above the USB connector.


At any rate, this feature is designed to enable a user to position the antenna to maximize reception. Anyone (like my girlfriend) who has furiously tried to re-locate a fading signal just to send that last, mission-critical email will certainly appreciate this.


Before we dive into testing the adapter, a look at its specifications as provided by Gigabyte.





























Gigabyte GN-WBKG 54Mbps Wireless USB Adapter Specifications
Interface Type USB2.0
IEEE Standard 802.11b/g
Data Rate Up to 54 Mbps
Security 64/128 bit WEP, WPA, 802.1x, AES
LED Indicators Power, Link, Intensity
Antenna Type Chip antenna
Signal Range Indoors: Up to 100m
Outdoors: Up to 400m

Weight 25g
Humidity 10% ~ 90% Maximum (Non-condensing)
Dimensions (W x L x H) 109mm x 25mm x 16mm
Certifications FCC, CE, DGT
Os Support 98SE/ME/2000/XP






Features and Accessories
 


The 54Mbps Wireless USB Adapter comes housed in plastic, in a stylish, if fairly unusual, metallic blue color. Six tiny green LED lights on one side of the device show signal strength.


The device ships inside a static-protective bag. Debate here at SysOpt rages over what, exactly, the adapter looks like. One coworker suggested a laser pointer. I vote instead for one of those flat magic markers or highlighters; it even comes with a pen-cap-like cap (complete with pocket clip) that protects the USB connector.


In addition to a manual, the device also includes SmartSetup 3, a utility that configures your adapter and wireless network (including the setting-up of WPA encryption) and handles connectivity via a System Tray pop-up called G-EzLink. The SmartSetup feature only works with Gigabyte components, so unless you’re also using the company’s wireless router/access point, they’re largely unnecessary. G-EzLink, however, is vastly superior to Windows’ built-in network connectivity tool, and operates more usefully, similarly to a program like NetStumbler.






Gigabyte’s included G-EzLink software

Now, the 360-degree swivel does, in fact, enable you to point the thing in any direction away from your computer. Of course, since the hinge assembly doesn’t actually rotate a full 360 degrees — it only goes about 270 degrees, but a pivot allows you 180 degrees of y-axis freedom, compensating for the adapter’s rotational limitations. This means that it’s foreseeable that you might have to position the thing in such a manner that you won’t be able to see the LED lights. Naturally, that’s not supremely important, but it’s an ever-so-slight annoyance, particularly if you lack an on-screen WiFi signal strength meter.


Performance
 

Time to make sure the movable antenna really makes a difference. We tested the device using an AirPort Extreme 802.11g base station and a U.S. Robotics 802.11g wireless router, and averaged the results.

Measured distances included five feet away, ten feet away PLUS 6″ of building drywall (reinforced with metal frames) and finally, 30 feet away plus obstacles including office cubicles, fluorescent lighting, and idle coworkers. Sounds idyllic, sure, but the combination of movement, interference from dozens of area networks and a nearby cafeteria (complete with signal-killing microwaves) are there to liven things up a bit. Most Wi-Fi connections in our office pass this test as “flaky” at best. We’ll see how Gigabyte does.

We used SiSoft Sandra to measure signal throughput, adjusted the antenna as necessary to get the strongest connection (as determined by G-EzLink) and used 128-bit WEP encryption. Note that Sandra benchmark rate for a 54Mbps connection is 2800kBps, although SiSoft doesn’t indicate signal distance.

Under Windows XP, the adapter is recognized (somewhat oddly) as a “802.11g WLAN + Pen Drive”.


Conclusion
 

Overall, the Gigabyte GN-WBKG wireless adapter performed capably. The device heated to alarming temperatures, but maintained a strong, steady signal throughout all of our tests. And at under $40, the unit makes a handy tool for keeping with you while on the road — or, say, as a last-minute holiday present.

SysOpt Product Info

Product:

GN-WBKG 54Mbps Wireless USB Adapter


Category:

Wireless Network Adapter


Avg. Price:

$35


Manufacturer:


Gigabyte Technology


U.S. Headquarters

17358 Railroad St.

City of Industry, Calif. 94539

(626) 854-9338


Availability:

Now


Best for:

Mobile Users

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