With the introduction of its new WUSBF54G, Linksys joins the growing ranks of manufacturers that are adding handy wireless hot-spot detectors to their Wi-Fi adapters. The WUSBF54G scans for and displays the details of available Wi-Fi networks on its built-in LCD screen, then taps into the network of your choice using its integrated 802.11b/g radio. Though the WUSBF54G's core features resemble those of other devices, such as the Trendnet TEW-429UB's, its well-organized documentation, extensive configuration tool, and handy docking cradle are worth its slightly higher price.
Toting the Linksys WUSBF54G is akin to carrying a Swiss Army Knife with about 11 implements. The front of the device sports a diminutive LCD screen that's powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery inside the case; the battery charges through your computer's USB port. If you have a desktop with USB ports on its back panel, Linksys makes it easy for you to charge the adapter--just place it in the included docking cradle, then plug the cradle's long extension cable into your USB port.
After juicing up the Linksys WUSBF54G's battery, you can unplug the adapter and activate its LCD by hitting the on/off switch on the right edge. The opposite edge features two more buttons: Scan, which causes the device to search for available 802.11b/g networks (it can show you up to 15 networks); and Scroll, which spools through those wireless networks one after the other, showing onscreen specifics such as SSID, mode (b or g), channel, signal strength, and whether the network has associated security codes. Our only advice on the WUSBF54G's design would be to expand the display size a bit and permanently attach the removable cap to prevent its loss.
Like the Trendnet TEW-429UB, the Linksys WUSBF54G ceases to show network info on its LCD once the device is attached to your computer (the info is replaced by an image of a charging battery). To connect to one of the networks you've found, you're forced to launch the accompanying configuration utility, wait for the device to show the network name, and click the name from there. It would be more useful if you could continue to see available networks on the screen even after the WUSBF54G is plugged into your system, then connect to a network by pressing one of the adapter's buttons.
Linksys does a great job with the WUSBF54G's documentation, including a straightforward, hard-copy installation guide and a comprehensive electronic user guide on CD--both of which are packaged inside a nice mini folder. Installing the WUSBF54G and its configuration utility was a simple and straightforward exercise that took just a few minutes. We proceeded to manipulate the device's many settings, which include the ability to connect to a network automatically via DHCP or by specifying your own IP address and subnet mask. The device also supports both WEP and WPA security, with or without an associated RADIUS server. Lastly, you can use the utility to view stats on wireless networks in the area and to create and store handy profiles for the travel spots you visit most.
We gauged the Linksys WUSBF54G's real-world performance using CNET's Bandwidth Meter. In our tests of the adapter in several locations, the device achieved an average throughput speed of 17Mbps; though this doesn't compare to the speed of MIMO adapters, such as the Belkin Pre-N PC Card, it's fast enough for the basic e-mailing and Web surfing needs of most travelers.
The Linksys WUSBF54G ships with a long three-year warranty. The company's toll-free tech support lines are conveniently open 24/7. In addition to the typical troubleshooting database, the Linksys support Web site offers a useful live chat feature that links you to a virtual support rep.