by Lowell Rapaport
Sohoware’s Netblaster II
Sohoware’s Netblaster II Series includes three wireless networking components: A hub and two network interface cards (NICs), a PC card (or PCMCIA card) for laptops and portable computers, and a PCI card for desktop PCs.
The NetBlaster II Wireless Hub simply plugs into your network. It automatically senses the type of port to which it is connected. Included is a 25-foot Ethernet cable. The hub can be connected directly to a wide area network (WAN) port or into a conventional wired hub, switch, or router connecting wireless devices to an existing wired local area network (LAN). The hub will support up to 128 wireless devices.
The two NICs can also act as hubs, but their host computer must also have a conventional Ethernet port for the wireless network to connect to a conventional WAN or LAN. The PC card is a Type II card and will fit in most laptops. An enclosed CD includes driver software for various versions of Windows (9x, 2000, NT, and Me).
The NetBlaster II software provides basic tools that analyze wireless network performance, signal strength between your computer and the wireless hub, and the properties of the NIC and hub such as IP address and networking protocols. The software package also includes Network Hopper which stores multiple network configurations, allowing you to simplify the process of switching from wired to wireless networks and from one wireless hub to another.
The manufacturer claims a range of 150 to 500 feet. In our tests we noticed a loss of signal strength of about one percent per foot of distance between the hub and NIC. The wireless devices were able to transmit through drywall but were effectively blocked by metal doors and masonry construction.
The NetBlaster hubs and NICs are not routers and do not perform any kind of network address translation (NAT). If you want to connect multiple computers to a broadband line (cable or DSL), you will either have to get multiple IP addresses for each computer or use a separate router. Also, the NetBlaster II hubs are not firewalls and will not block hacking attempts.
Sohoware’s NetBlaster II series of wireless devices are best when used in conjunction with an existing network that includes a firewall and router. It will keep the costs of building a LAN down while giving workers the luxury of setting up their computers wherever it’s convenient.
NetBlaster II Wireless Hub $250; Wireless PC Card $150; Wireless PCI card $200
PROS: Easy turn-key setup
CONS: No network address translation, no firewall