Better PowerBook WiFi

By | October 26, 2004

When I bought my wife a Titanium PowerBook nearly two years ago, I knew in advance that WiFi range was a significant drawback. The Apple Airport card sits below the keyboard and the Titanium shell acts entirely too much like a Faraday cage. After suffering through some Linksys-induced misery, I bought a NetGear wireless router. That made things significantly better, but the reception in the living room left a lot to be desired and the transfer speed still sucked.

One NetGear WG511T 108 Mbps Wireless PC Card (purchased on sale at Amazon for $50) and one copy of OrangeWare Wireless Driver for Mac ($15) later, I’m in heaven.

The range with the NetGear card is vastly improved over the Apple Airport card, and the speed boost is amazing. Not only was I able to switch my NetGear router from 802.11b to 802.11g, but I was also able to take advantage of the TurboG feature of the Atheros chips in the router and the card. Of course, most of the speed boost is just from having decent signal strength in the living room.

The OrangeWare Wireless Driver for Mac was everything it was advertised to be. Within five minutes of starting the download, I had installed the software, configured it and was browsing the web from the living room at speeds indistinguishable from the wired connection on my PC back in the office. After confirming that everything was working, I gladly clicked the Register button and paid for it.

Using the Speed Meter at 2wire.com, I was averaging 2.81 Mbps on the PowerBook when in the room with the router and 2.77 Mbps from the living room. We’ll have to see what happens once I add the new laptop, which has an Intel PRO/Wireless 2200 card, to the network.

5 thoughts on “Better PowerBook WiFi

  1. Rick

    I’d be curious to know what numbers you had before the addition. I tried it both ways. With airport I’m getting 3.3 to 3.5 in my living room 30 feet away. When I plug in the PCMCIA WiFi card I see no difference. This is on a powerbook AL G4 with airport extreme built in. The cable company only promises 4.0

    Thanks

    RC

    Reply
  2. Robert Post author

    I didn’t measure the download speed before I put in the card, but I would estimate that it was getting about 500 kbps, at best, from the same location.

    In addition to the fact that you have an Al book instead of a Ti book, I’ve noticed that the speed difference is greatest when I get nearer to the area where the signal would start to drop off. The location where I was doing the testing is about 50 feet from the access point. Also, there are two thick, lath and plaster walls in between them. The built-in Airport card had a much shorter range, and it’s performance dropped off much quicker near the limit of its range.

    Reply
  3. Michael

    Do I understand correctly that this solution won’t work for a 12″ G4 powerbook because it doesn’t have a slot for pci card? Otherwise, the symptoms described are exactly what I’m experiencing, so I’d go for this solution in a minute!! Thanks–

    Reply
  4. Robert Post author

    There’s a difference between a PCI slot and a PCMCIA (a.k.a., CardBus) slot. Desktop computers typically have one or more PCI card slots. Notebook computers typically have 1, or sometimes 2, PCMCIA slots. PCMCIA cards are much smaller than PCI cards.

    I did some searching around on 12″ G4 PowerBooks and was surprised to discover they don’t have any PCMCIA, so I’m afraid it does appear you are out of luck.

    Unfortunately for me, I have ended up having the same problem with the NetGear equipment as I did with the Linksys stuff. It’s not as bad, but it’s still pretty annoying. I even grabbed network traces using Ethereal to see if I could figure out what was going on. I think the problem has to do with a particular DHCP request crashing the DHCP server on the router. However, I can’t figure out what is wrong with the format of the request, or how to reconfigure my computers to not send that type of request.

    That’s not the whole problem, though, because even when I switch everything to static IP addressing, I still occasionally get the problem.

    My newest plan is to buy another wireless router, since they’re now quite cheap, and put some of my machines on one network and the rest on the other.

    Reply
  5. James

    Hi,
    Following your advice I bought a WG511t for my DVI TiPB OS 10.3.9, but the card does not seem to work! Having followed the instructions exactly the software/card can not “see” any wireless networks. Any ideas?

    James

    Reply

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