My hair-pulling days are over (actually, they were over years ago, but that's another story)!
Anyone who has tried to set up a wireless network using Windows 2000 Advanced Server or other Windows operating systems has my sympathy and, frankly, deserves a medal. Nothing should be that difficult.
That brings me to the new Networking Wizard that's included with Microsoft XP. Using it, I was able to install my network and have it up and running with broadband Internet access using a cable modem in less than 10 minutes.
It didn't matter which brand of wireless networking cards I chose. All I had to do was install their drivers, answer a few simple questions and the wizard installed them for me. Plus the wizard is "transportable" to computers not using XP. Just copy it to a floppy or use the Windows XP CD to use it with the other operating systems.
I used it with Wireless Access PC 802.11b cards from Orinoco ($84.99 and $99.99) and U.S. Robotics ($109). Both of these companies also manufacture PCI adapters for the cards priced at $59.99 and $139, respectively.
All I did was pop a PCI adapter containing a wireless card into my computer and install the drivers. The wizard did the rest. A second wireless PC card fit into the Type II PCMCIA slot in my notebook and I put a PCI adapter and card in a second PC.
Since the wireless cards are all based on 802.11b protocols, I had no problem getting them to talk to each other. Basically, the only difference is the manufacturer and the price.
Now, understand that the simple network I set up can only support three computers. To handle more you need a Wireless Access Point, which can support up to 20 users and extend the range of your wireless system to about 800 feet. It can also be used to connect your wireless system to an older Ethernet network.
So, what do you get with an 802.11b network?
- Access to your printer, multiplayer games, the Internet and files on other computers at 11 megabytes per second, which is more than five times faster than older wireless systems that operated at 1.6 Mbps.
- The ability to connect to your server and the Internet at distances up to 300 feet. Unfortunately, your connection speed diminishes as you move farther away from your server, but I was able to maintain an 11 Mbps connection at about 75 feet, which is basically the distance between the computer in my office in the basement and my upstairs bedroom at the other end of the house.
- Access to the Internet using one cable, DSL or 56K modem connected to your server, Access Point or Broadband Router.
Now, if 11 Mbps isn't fast enough for you, there's another wireless protocol waiting in the wings - 802.11a - that's five times faster and can handle the demands of wireless access to DVD movies and other, more demanding multimedia applications without a problem.
It also operates in the 5 gigahertz communications band, which means there won't be any interference from microwave ovens and cordless phones, which share the 2.4 gigahertz range with 802.11b and HomeRF wireless systems.
The only problem here is that the range for these cards is more limited - you can only maintain the 54 Mbps connection at about 50 feet or less, with a maximum range of about 150 feet at diminished speeds.