D-Link AirPlus Enhanced 2.4GHz Wireless CardBus Adapter and PCI Adapter

Model Number: DWL-650+ ($79.99) and DWL-520+ ($89)

D-Link’s latest access point, the AirPlus DWL-900AP+, with its versatility,
256-bit encryption, low price and backwards compatibility with older 802.11b
products is simply remarkable. Of course the coolest thing about the 900AP+
is its ability to move data at speeds approaching 22Mbps. This increase in speed,
however, can only be achieved when the 900+ is used in conjunction with another
AirPlus family product. D-Link Systems recently sent us its set of AirPlus adapters,
the DWL-650+ and the DWL-520+ PCI adapter.

On its own the cards proved to be moderately faster then standard 802.11b products,
but when paired with the 900AP+, they are real fire breathers. Speed isn’t the
only thing the AirPlus line has going for it: easy of use, security, and useful
configuration and monitoring tools make it one of the best values on the market
today.

Pros:

  • 256-bit WEP Encryption
  • Easy set up and 24 hour Support
  • High Data Transfer Rates

Cons:

  • Didn’t auto detect a 22Mbps connection

BASIC FEATURES

The AirPlus DWL-650+ is a 32-bit CardBus adapter designed for use with your
notebook or laptop computer. The DWL-650+ is based on the same Texas Instruments
(TI) wireless chipset, the ACX100, employed by the DWL-900AP+. This chipset
uses a modulation technique called Packet Binary Convolution Coding (PBCC) and
operates in the 2.4GHz frequency band.

As with other AirPlus products, the 650+ maintains backwards compatibility
with older 11Mbps 802.11b products and works in both Infrastructure and Ad Hoc
modes. It can support transmission rates from 1Mbps, all the way up to a theoretical
22Mbps. 256-bit WEP encryption, the industries highest, is used to prevent those
high speed data transmissions from being intercepted from unauthorized eyes.
If you use the 650+ with another vendor’s hardware you’ll have to settle for
either 64 or 128-bit encryption.

Packed with the 650+ driver is a useful diagnostic and configuration utility
that not only searches for available wireless networks, but also monitors link
quality, signal strength and the amount of data being transferred. Wireless
network configuration profiles can be created and stored, making it easy to
travel between different networks.

SETUP/INSTALLATION

Everything should work as smoothly as the AirPlus DWL-650+ installation did.
The installation performed exactly the way it was outlined in the documentation.
First you install the driver and utility software, shutdown the computer, insert
the AirPlus 650+ PC Card into you system and boot up. Upon login the Hardware
Detection Wizard will start, identify the existence of a new network adapter
and load the appropriate drivers.

When we first began our test we were getting performance results that were
on par with standard 802.11b products. The 650+ had been set by default to 11Mbps.
To get the higher speeds, you need to set the transmission speed setting in
the configuration manager. I reset the transmission speed to automatic, figuring
that it would be best for the system to detect the best speed available. I was
wrong. The test numbers did not improve. I manually set it to the unit’s highest
speed setting of 22Mbps PBCC. This generated the results we were looking for.

PERFORMANCE

According to our QCheck diagnostic utility, our standard ZoomAir
PC Card had a maximum throughput rate of 4.667Mbps at 11Mbps. Our AirPlus DWL-650+
using the same 11Mbps setting scored a 5.137Mbps — about a 10% increase in
performance. When we reset the 650+ to 22Mbps PBCC, the test numbers jumped
up to a very impressive 6.747Mbps, approximately 48% over a standard 802.11b
adapter and one of the highest we’ve recorded. This makes the AirPlus line
of products very attractive to the performance oriented, yet budget minded shopper.

The range of our test unit was also always good. The DWL-650+ signal strength
and link quality almost always hovered in the mid to high 90s. By comparison,
our ZoomAir PC Card in the same location was only able to register about a 43%
signal.

SECURITY

Encryption can be notorious for crippling performance, but not with the AirPlus
line. Regardless of whether we implemented 64-, 128- or 256-bit encryption,
data transfer rates where barely effected. Unlike most of the products we test,
enabling the 650+ encryption was painfully simple. Open the configuration tool,
move to the encryption section, set the encryption level, enter the PassPhrase
and enable it. Perform the same exercise on the access point and you will be
online and protected, all in a matter of a few minutes.

D-Link’s PCI DWL-520+ version, at $89, is slightly more expensive than its
PC Card relative. This is a self contained rather than a modular card; it doesn’t
obtain its functionality by slipping a PC Card NIC through the faceplate. In
my tests, the installation of the DWL-520+ (which has a detachable and adjustable
antenna), was uneventful.

In our ad-hoc mode performance tests, data transfer between the two NICs was
on par with that between the 650+ and an access point. In my tests, I obtained
throughput of between 6.6 and 6.9Mbps in both TCP and UDP throughput. As the
distance increased though (and a concrete wall intervened) the performance dropped
precipitously, down to about 1.5Mbps. This is likely owing to the weak antennas
(relative to an access point) found within the cards.

SUMMARY

The AirPlus DWL-650+ and its PCI sibling are a quality products. For a price
of around $70 you get an easy installation, good configuration utilities and
most importantly; fantastic performance. It has one of the best performances
per dollar ratios on the market today.

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