Windows Phone Thoughts: SanDisk Compact Flash 802.11b Card Review

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Tuesday, March 11, 2003

SanDisk Compact Flash 802.11b Card Review

Posted by Brad Adrian in "HARDWARE" @ 02:00 PM

In case I havenít mentioned it lately, I LOVE all things wireless, especially 802.11b (a.k.a. "WiFi"). Ever since I set up my first home wireless network a couple of years ago, Iíve been hooked. Itís always worked well for me, and Iíve considered WiFi systems to be fairly easy to set up and use.



I had absolutely no idea just how easy it could be until I tried the new compact flash WiFi card from SanDisk.

There are a LOT choices these days when selecting a WiFi card, and I know that there can be a big difference in how some cards perform. I rely heavily upon my WiFi network, so I was anxious to find out if the new SanDisk Compact Flash WiFi card could deliver uninterrupted connectivity. I quickly found out just how much simpler this little beauty can really make my life.

Contents

Figure 1: This is all you need to get the card up and running.

The SanDisk card comes packaged with everything you need to get just about any kind of Windows-based computer connected, including any CE-based portables or PCs running Windows ME, 2000 or XP. SanDisk includes the CF card, a PCMCIA adapter, mini-CD installation disk and instruction manual. True to my Y-chromosome-driven nature, I made use of all but the last item.

Installation
The reason I didnít need the instruction manual is because the installation was an absolute breeze. Do yourself a favor though, and go ahead and read the manual; there may be some bit of information in there you hadnít thought of. If I can get this card up and running without reading the manual, though, it MUST be simple.

I installed the drivers for both my notebook PC and iPAQ Pocket PC. I just popped the mini-CD into the drive and followed the on-screen prompts. You select which type of computer you want to install the drivers for, and the rest of the installation is automatic. On the Pocket PC, youíre given the usual choice of installing the drivers to intern RAM or to a storage card. I first installed them to internal RAM, just because I think that a lot of connectivity drivers work more smoothly that way, but the SanDisk drivers seemed to work equally well when I later re-installed them to a secure digital card.

Installation onto my notebook was even simpler; once I selected that option and selected the default settings, the drivers were copied in a matter of moments.

Operation
Okay, now came the task of configuring the drivers Ė NOT! Once the drivers were installed, all I had to do was reset/reboot my computers, insert the SanDisk card and start enjoying the Zen of WiFi. The included PCMCIA adapter worked great with both my notebook and iPAQ and seated more firmly into the card slots than some off-brand types Iíve tried before.

The SanDisk card connected to my access point in the next room immediately and has been working beautifully ever since. Iíve been using the card for over three weeks now and I have not lost a connection once. I had been using a Cisco PCMCIA card that performed pretty well, but even it would temporarily drop its connection to the access point a couple of times a day. It might not seem like much of an inconvenience to lose the communication for a moment or two, but I work primarily through a VPN, and sometimes even a momentary WiFi drop is enough for my PC to drop the VPN connection entirely. The SanDisk card has kept me connected nonstop.


Figure 2: The card worked wonderfully with my new Axim.

Of course, the card performs just as wonderfully with my Pocket PCs. All I have to do is pop it into the device and it automatically finds my WLAN and connects. Itís as simple as that.

During the driver installation onto the Pocket PC, a Wireless LAN application is also automatically installed; I actually didnít realize this at first, but then I noticed the icon on my Pocket PCís System screen. Itís actually pretty useful.


Figure 3: The included connection application makes configuration tweaking easy.

It provides a nice visualization of the connection strength and the tools needed for more precise configuration. The feature I like the most is the ability to scan for available wireless networks, much like the famous Netstumbler sniffer application. This could be very useful when there may be multiple wireless networks available and the user has to determine which one to connect to.

Availability
You can learn more about this card at the Sandisk Web site. The card can be purchased directly from SanDisk for $99.99. This is a relatively new product, so I havenít been able to find other sources for it. However, I expect before long several online stores like MobilePlanet and Amazon will carry it.

Gotchas
Iím really stretched to come up with any significant ďgotchasĒ for this product. The price tag may be a bit steep for some people, but it really is pretty much in line with other similar products. The only other point is that the portion of the card that protrudes from the CF slot (the antenna) is a little bit thicker and bulkier than the Socket WiFi card, but I sure wouldnít let that influence my decision to buy the card.

Conclusions
This is by far my favorite WiFi card. It has installed easily, worked flawlessly and made my connectivity a snap. In fact, Iíve already ordered a second one so I donít have to keep swapping it between my notebook PC and Pocket PCs. Unless you really thrive on complexity and disappointment, this is the card for you.

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