One of the best values so far in wireless LANs is the ORiNOCO Wireless Networking Kit from Agere Systems. This kit includes the shark-fin shaped RG-1100 Broadband Gateway, their PC Card Gold for your notebook and a USB Gold Client NIC for your workstation; all for about $300 street price. Even though this is a great deal, there are drawbacks to this setup. In fact for all of the limitations and installation problems I suffered through, I would much rather spend a few extra bucks on a more feature rich product like the ZoomAir Wireless Gateway. For now let's talk about what the ORiNOCO does give you.
The ORiNOCO Wireless Networking kit is made up of three pieces of hardware. At its heart is the RG-1100 Broadband Gateway. This unit is the hub of your network and makes use of any cable modem, DSL or ISDN line to provide Internet connectivity for up to 10 users.
Unlike many similar products, the RG-1100 uses a third party setup and management utility for system configuration instead of Web-based configuration. This Access Point Manager software allows you to manage multiple RG-1100's, either individually or as a group.
Unlike almost every other product I've tested in the last few months, the ORiNOCO was a nightmare to setup. For starters the kit comes with a quick start guide, but no other paper documentation. There are PDF files on the accompanied CD-ROM, but they don't appear to be laid out in any type of logical order. Trying to find anything useful is a shot in the dark.
The installation wizard doesn't even attempt to guide users through the installation. Instead it prompts for information about the type of equipment you're trying to configure. Some information, like whether you're using Infrastructure or Ad Hoc broadcasting, might not be known to a novice. This makes the ORiNOCO very easy to miss configure.
I configured the RG-1100 using a Dell Latitude notebook running Windows 2000 and the included ORiNOCO wireless PC Card. The included setup utility found the RG-1100 right away and it seemed to be working pretty well. Then I tired to update the default Windows 2000 drivers with the ORiNOCO Client Manager. As soon as I finished installing these drivers the notebook lost conductivity with the RG-1100. I tired a few things to get around the problem, including uninstalling the new drivers and even redoing the notebook with a fresh install of Windows 2000; the result...nothing. I tried using the USB Client on another laptop running Windows ME and still nothing.
I downloaded updated drivers from ORiNOCO's Web site, but during installation a message came up indicating that this package required the Java 2 Runtime Environment be installed in order to proceed. This wasn't included in the download however, which meant going back to the CD for the Java installation. Upon completion the client still couldn't talk to the RG. I just about gave up at this point and placed a call to tech support. They were no help.
A few weeks later I went back to the Web site and found an updated set of drivers; version 1.88 of the setup utility for the Broadband Gateway and version 1.74 for the USB Client and PC Card. These drivers are also fully compatible with Windows XP. Considering my past success with Windows 2000, I decided to redo the notebooks again, but this time with Windows XP. After installing the new drivers and doing a bit of fine tuning, the RG-1100 finally assigned my system a valid IP address.
Excited by this success I tried running the setup utility again so that I could properly configure the RG. It finally acknowledged my configuration request, but out of nowhere, prompted me for a password. This was disheartening because I had never assigned a password to the unit and according to the documentation, what should have been a default password wasn't working. This meant another call to tech support (luckily they're available 24 hours a day). The only way to clear this password was to connect to the RG using a RJ-45 NIC, a crossover cable, and point my browser to 10.0.1.5. This granted me access to the unit and allowed me to reset it to the factory defaults. A reset switch would've been a lot easier.
After the RG-1100 was working, I tried setting up the USB Client on the Windows ME machine again. With the new drivers installed, the system was up and running in a matter of minutes. This is the way it should have been from the beginning.
Despite the problems, once the unit was configured and running, it was rock solid and I have yet to lose a connection.
I tested the RG-1100 using tools from a number of different sites; including Hackyourself.com and GRC.com. I also tried doing a port scan with the utilities found at dslreports.com. This is the same site that my ISP uses for troubleshooting problems. All of the sites indicated that the ports on the RG-1100 were closed. This is good, but even though these ports aren't accessible, your PC can still be probed by port scanners. This doesn't really fill me with confidence and even though the RG-1100 takes advantage of NAT, it isn't a true firewall. This means among other things, you can't control access to specific ports, configure a DMZ zone or take advantage of technologies like Stateful Packet Inspection (SPI) which protects you from Denial of Service (DoS) attacks.
Agere Systems quotes the RG-1100's range as up to 1750ft/550M. During testing I took a notebook with the PC Card for a little walk around the house and outside on the deck to check the signal strength. The signal strength was excellent throughout the house, regardless of walls or the level I was on. Outside the signal dropped to marginal for a few seconds, then stabilized and moved up to good, where it stayed. This was pretty impressive and the throughput was quite good.
Using QCheck to verify my impressions, results for the PC Card and the USB Client were about even. Wireless workstation to wireless workstation numbers were OK with a 2.6Mbps transfer rate. Overall, wireless distance tests hovered at about 2.5Mbps transfer rate regardless of if the workstation was in the same room or two floors away. The difference in performance at different distances from the access point was negligible. With 128-bit WEP encryption enabled that number dropped slightly to average of 2.3Mbps.
During this review, I kept thinking about that old saying "You get what you pay for." While there is no question that the ORiNOCO Wireless Internet kit is a good value, it is far from perfect. The RG-1100 has so many shortcomings that its value is quickly overshadowed by its horrible installation procedure and limited configuration options.
If it was only marketed as an access point for an existing network it wouldn't be too bad, but as the primary Internet gateway for your network it just doesn't measure up to some of the other products currently available. If you need multiple wireless NICs for your network devices and have a real firewall in place, then you might want to consider the ORiNOCO kit. Otherwise break with a few bucks and buy a full feature router/firewall.
Model Number: 700001080 for kit, 848801437 for RG-1100
Price: $459 MSRP for kit, $199 MSRP for RG-1100 alone
Pros: Fantastic range; Windows XP compatibility; 24-hour tech support.
Cons: Poor documentation; horrible setup wizard; minimal configuration options; no integrated hub/switch; no web-based management.
Reprinted from 80211-planet.