Small, stylish, and secure, Zyxel's B-220 wireless USB stick is an eye-catching adapter and one of the best means we've seen to connect to a wireless network protected with 802.1x security. Its condensed size and support for ultrastrong security based on the 802.1x draft specification make it a great adapter for the traveling professional.
Setting up the B-220 is easy and takes only about five minutes. Unfortunately, there's no way for you to know how easy the setup is because there's no printed installation guide to walk you through the process. You're left to wonder whether to insert the B-220 into a USB port first or insert the CD into the optical drive. In fact, either process works. The CD that accompanies the B-220 bears a very good electronic installation guide, but to get to it, you have to cancel out of the installation routine, which automatically starts when you insert the CD. The installation guide recommends that you start with the driver installation, which is easier than any wireless USB adapter software installation we've seen so far, requiring you to do no more than click through a few onscreen prompts. Once the driver is loaded, insert the B-220, and you're on the air. The last step is to disable the Windows Zero Configuration Utility so that you can use the ZyAir Utility to control and configure the B-220 to take advantage of its full feature set. Both the electronic installation guide and the user guide offer detailed, illustrated instructions to do this.
The B-220 is among the smallest wireless USB adapters we've seen. Similar in size and shape to the Linksys WUSB12 and the Netgear MA111, the B-220 is about the size of a highlighter pen. However, Zyxel's USB stick supports 802.1x, an advanced security feature that you won't find in other compact USB adapters. This will make the B-220 especially interesting for those who need to connect to 802.1x-protected networks at work. The B-220 also supports WEP, a security standard often used in home and small-office networks. Unfortunately, it lacks support for WPA, a stronger security scheme that is overtaking WEP as the default standard. Later this month, however, Zyxel plans to have a driver upgrade that will add WPA support available on its Web site. The B-220 is WHQL certified, too, meaning that it should work flawlessly with Windows. It's also Wi-Fi certified, which guarantees interoperability with Wi-Fi devices from other vendors.
|The B-220's USB extension cord helps you position the adapter and increase its range.||A light-blue carrying case protects the adapter when you're on the road.|
At close range, the B-220 cranks out a maximum throughput of more than 5Mbps. That's more real throughput than you'll get from standard residential broadband service, so the B-220 offers more speed than you need for Internet-based tasks, such as surfing or downloading files from remote servers. Adapters based on 802.11g are several times faster than the 802.11b-based B-220, but only users who transfer large files across their local network would ever experience the difference.
Despite its diminutive size, the B-220 was capable of maintaining a connection at a distance of almost 200 feet from our test access point, the Zyxel G-1000. That's a decent showing for a compact USB adapter, but it's weaker than the 250 feet offered by the Linksys WUSB12.
CNET Labs throughput tests (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Zyxel offers a one-year warranty on the B-220, which is on a par with the coverage for similar products, such as the Netgear MA111 and the Linksys WUSB12. You don't get printed user documentation with the USB stick, but the CD that accompanies the adapter contains electronic versions of a user guide and a quick-installation guide. With its 51 pages, the user guide is one of the most complete we've seen for an adapter, and it explains many of the more-esoteric features of 802.11 networking. You also get a separate 34-page electronic user guide for the B-220's Aegis Client software, which allows the adapter to take advantage of strong security based on the 802.1x draft specification. Toll-free phone support is available 24/7 for the B-220, or you can e-mail a support tech through the Zyxel Web site.