3Com Wireless LAN Manager.
The 3Com Wireless LAN Manager duplicates the functionality of Windows XP's wireless utility. To activate the software, click the 3Com system tray icon, which brings up a small Launcher studded with icons to help you manage your connection. The icons aren't intuitive, however, and the organization of menus and options is quirky. Aside from the extensive online help and access to the card's special features, there's little improvement over standard Windows' functionality.
Another feature that one-ups the default Windows software is the 3Com Profile Manager. Basically, you use the Profile Manager to create multiple groups of network settings, then switch among them as you move from one location to another, enabling you to log in easily. This is a definite improvement over Windows, which supports only one alternate network configuration.
Profile Manager window.
The most visible of the wireless LAN PC Card's features is its pop-out XJACK antenna. When the antenna is retracted, the card draws no power whatsoever from your computer's battery and stays flush with the side of the laptop case. The only drawback to this design is that the antenna is relatively easy to push in by mistake, which shuts down the card and breaks the connection--and the card takes a few seconds to reconnect. A single LED on the antenna serves as a power and link activity indicator.
3Com XJACK antenna.
When it comes to security, the wireless LAN PC Card shines. In addition to 128-bit WEP, which presents itself as an option when you set up a new connection, the card supports 3Com's Dynamic Security Link and Serial Authentication. The Dynamic Security Link offers a 128-bit encryption format more secure than WEP because it generates a unique encryption key for each wireless session. Of course, this setting requires a 3Com 11Mbps wireless LAN access point 6000 or 8000 to work. Likewise, Serial Authentication, which puts a proprietary spin on the extensible authentication protocol included with Windows XP, requires a connection with a 3Com access point 8000.
The 3Com 11Mbps wireless LAN PC Card's special retractable XJACK antenna may help conserve power, but it does little for performance or range. In CNET Labs' tests, the card netted 4.6Mbps, roughly 6 percent less than the mean. The 3Com card demonstrated adequate range in informal tests but came in last when compared with four major competitors.
| Throughput tests |
Measured in Mbps (longer bars indicate better performance)
| Chariot 802.11b response time |
Measured in milliseconds (shorter bars indicate better performance)
| Range test |
Relative performance in typical office setting
For practical throughput tests, CNET Labs uses NetIQ's Chariot 4.3 software as its benchmark. For wireless testing, the clients and the routers are set up to transmit at short ranges and at maximum signal strength. CNET Labs' response-time tests are also run with Chariot software using the TCP protocol. Response time measures how long it takes to send a request and receive a response over a network connection. Throughput and response time are probably the two most important indicators of user experience over a network.
The 3Com 11Mbps wireless LAN PC Card comes with a long five-year warranty--among the best in the business. The included installation instructions encourages you to get tech support from your dealer, but unlimited phone support is available Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT. Unfortuantely, CNET users have reported difficulty in getting quick, accurate responses from 3Com tech support for the company's other wireless cards, and online tech support is awkward, requiring user registration at every turn to download drivers, documentation, or the Connection Assistant (a troubleshooting wizard).