3eTI’s WLAN PC Card with Crypto Client

Model: 3e-110
Price: $158 (or $59.99 with WEP software)
Pros: High 200 mW transmit power
Cons: Only supports 802.11b

If you’ve decided on using 3e Technology International’s (3eTI) 3e-522FIPS Wireless Gateway, then your choice of client cards is somewhat limited. The company’s own 3e-110 High Range PC Card is a good choice though, offering a very high transmit power rating of 200 mW (23dB with the integrated antenna).

3e also says the 3e-110 is rated for harsher environments than typical WLAN PC cards, with an operating temperature range of between -30 and +80 degrees Celsius. (If only all laptops could do the same.)

The 3e-110’s included 3e-010F Crypto Client software is similar in form and function to many other WLAN clients with two major exceptions.

First, the client supports the advanced encryption methods of the 3e-522 access point, including 192-bit 3DES and 128-, 192-, and 256-bit AES with either static or dynamic keys. (WEP is decidedly absent from the encryption menu.) It also offers rudimentary configuration features like adjustable transmitter power and data rate.

Second, due to the security requirements stipulated by the FIPS standard, the 3e-110’s client software is not user configurable; only an administrator–more specifically, a CryptoOfficer title, similar to the one defined on the 3e-522 access point–can modify, or even view, the device settings. (This is on a local account though, not the same CryptoOffice account that is on the AP.) Notably, there is nothing analogous to the AP’s ‘Administrator’ role, which can manage a subset of that device’s settings, has no such access on the client.)

While this need for a single person to personally configure each client represents considerable time effort, its understandable (and required) in the high-security environment demanded by FIPS. And as is almost always the case, convenience must take a back seat to security concerns.

The Crypto Client, which runs only on NT4, 2000, or XP, is available stand-alone for $158. It’s compatible with client cards based on GlobespanVirata’s (formerly Intersil’s) PRISM 2 or 2.5 chipset. 3e says it will port its software to one or more other chipsets in the future.

In Chariot testing with 3e’s 3e-522 Wireless Gateway, the 3e-110 performed well, which wasn’t surprising considering both the card and the access point transmit 200 mW. At 10 feet, throughput measured 5.08 Mbps, and it remained essentially at this level through 125 feet, with near 100% signal strength. With 256-bit AES encryption turned on, throughput did drop somewhat– about 15%– to 4.3 Mbps.

Because the data encryption takes place in software rather than in hardware, I was concerned that it would consume an excessive amount of CPU cycles, but my concerns were unfounded. On the test notebook, a Pentium III 650 MHz with 192 of RAM, CPU utilization remained essentially unchanged after switching to 256-bit AES encryption from no encryption.

If you want to take advantage of the 3e-110’s high transmit power but don’t need the security features of the Crypto Client, 3e also offers a $59.99 version the card that’s the same hardware, but with a conventional WEP client.

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