The Synet Windy31 USB Wireless Router (MW-P54SS) is not your typical router. Instead of connecting it to your DSL or cable modem to share an Internet connection, you plug it into a USB port on your PC or laptop. Once plugged in, the $60--roughly the price of a regular USB Wi-Fi adapter--Windy31 automatically configures itself to set up a wireless network that lets you share your Internet connection with as many as 31 other Wi-Fi enabled gadgets, including other computers, PDAs and smartphones, VoIP phones, and handheld gaming devices. We don't know of another product that works like the Windy31, and we are impressed with the idea as well as the device's operation. It's very easy to set up and use, making for an incredibly convenient way to share an Internet connection when traveling or setting up a wireless LAN wherever you may be. The device can also be switched to work as a regular 802.11b/g Wi-Fi card. Despite a handful of shortcomings--meager throughput, no Draft N support, flimsy plastic casing, incompatible with Macs--we can easily recommend the Windy31 to anyone who travels with their laptop or to those who want to quickly create an impromptu Wi-Fi network on the go. For now, it's the only router that fits this need.
Device type: Wireless router
Network standard: 802.11b/g
Operating systems supported: Windows 2000, XP, Vista
Security options: WEP, WPA-PSK, WPA2-PSK, MAC address filtering
Features: USB connector; DHCP support
Notable design features: Compact size
Support: One year parts-and-labor warranty, toll phone support available weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET.
Design and setup
Inside the Windy31's packaging--an annoying clamshell plastic case that requires brute force and a heavy pair of scissors or a sharp knife to open--you'll find the router itself, a well-illustrated user guide booklet, and a USB cradle. It's more than you'll need to get up and running--really, all you need is the router. Just plug it into a computer running Windows (Macs aren't supported), and the setup process takes care of itself. We had the router set up and ready to be tested within 45 seconds, excluding the time needed to open the box, of course.
The router has a small amount of storage that contains configuration software. The first time you plug the device into your computer's USB port, the software launches itself and configures the router to create an open wireless network. You then can go in and further customize the network by changing the SSID, adding encryption--or even switching the device to work in Wi-Fi adapter mode. In this mode, the Windy31 works just like any regular 802.11b/g Wi-Fi adapter should you have an older laptop without an integrated wireless chip. The Windy31, of course, can work in only one mode at a time.
The Windy31 is about the size of a regular thumbdrive with a retractable USB head. The USB head, however, is a bit too short. It works fine with most USB ports, but those that are slightly recessed into the computer case might result in a little trouble making a firm connection with the Windy31. In such instances, you can use the included USB cradle, but it's bulky and has a long USB cord and isn't ideal for travelers. While the Windy boasts a pleasing design overall and is available in either black or white, we wish it featured a better build; its plastic casing feels flimsy and cheap.