But what if you don’t have a LAN cable?  What if you want to locate your workstation away from the cable and still need the internet?  For laptops this is easy, almost all come with build in WIFI capabilities.  But desktop/workstation computers do not.  This is where a quality USB connected WIFI device or a cleaner option, a PCI card WIFI device.  I say ‘cleaner’ because I’m not crazy about having yet another device to plug into my workstation and carry it around.  I want everything built in as much as possible.  A PCI WIFI card is such a device.

 

Introduction

Last week we posted an detailed review of our Mini-Tower i7 Workstation Build.   Immediately there were inquiries asking about internet connectivity.  The Asus Rampage III Gene, Micro-ATX Motherboard Review mentioned the build in LAN gigaport, so if you have a LAN cable you can just plug in.

But what if you don’t have a LAN cable?  What if you want to locate your workstation away from the cable and still need the internet?  For laptops this is easy, almost all come with build in WIFI capabilities.  But desktop/workstation computers do not.  This is where a quality USB connected WIFI device or a cleaner option, a PCI card WIFI device.  I say ‘cleaner’ because I’m not crazy about having yet another device to plug into my workstation and carry it around.  I want everything built in as much as possible.  A PCI WIFI card is such a device.

A walk through Pantip Plaza reveals there are many such PCI WIFI cards.  Though, most are severely lacking in one way or the other.  My specifications were Windows 7 x32 and x64 support and Wireless N support for the fastest possible connection.  I also wanted the newest WPA2-PSK security protocol.  What all this means, is once again, while there are a lot of products out there that seem like they’ll work, in reality there are very few.  Before shopping for a WIFI card, know your operating system, wireless protocol, and security protocol.

 

AirLive WN-5000PCI v2 Wireless-N Card

 

Out of the available cards I chose this one for the desired features, availability, and price.  It was baht 1200.  It had a legacy PCI interface, WEP, WPA, and WPA2 security protocols, 802.11b/d/h/g/n support, and advertised the latest “n” protocol compatible with the 300mbps speeds of my TP-Link TD-W8960n Wireless N ADSL+2 Modem Router.

 

Out of the available cards I chose this one for the desired features, availability, and price.  It was baht 1200.  It had a legacy PCI interface, WEP, WPA, and WPA2 security protocols, 802.11b/d/h/g/n support, and advertised the latest “n” protocol compatible with the 300mbps speeds of my TP-Link TD-W8960n Wireless N ADSL+2 Modem Router

It came in a box with the card, extra half-height adapter backplane (needed for some HTPC cases), driver CD, and instruction manual.

 

Installation

 

Installation should have been a breeze.   You power down the case, take off a side panel, remove the backplane cover from the PCI slot, insert the new AirLive WN-5000PCI Wireless-N card, secure with a screw, and replace the side panel.  Now you can screw on the three antennas at the rear.  That should be all you need to do for the physical installation.

 

Installation should have been a breeze.   You power down the case, take off a side panel, remove the backplane cover from the PCI slot, insert the new AirLive WN-5000PCI Wireless-N card, secure with a screw, and replace the side panel.  Now you can screw on the three antennas at the rear.  That should be all you need to do for the physical installation.

When you power up the computer you should see a blinking green light at the rear panel.  I didn’t.  My card didn’t register at all.  It took me a few minutes to remember back in the days when these legacy PCI cards were more popular, often the motherboard slot and/or the PCI card itself, didn’t line up the connectors perfectly.  PCI connectors lack a ‘key’ alignment slot like you’ll find on a more modern PCIe connector.  I took things back apart and paid attention to the alignment and this time it worked.  I don’t know if it was the Airlive PCI card which was slightly off, the Asus motherboard (doubtful), or the way the motherboard lined up in the case so when you screwed down the PCI card it pulled it out of alignment (most likely).  In any case, if you have this trouble you’ll now know what to do.

 

Driver Installation and Software Setup

You can use the included CD, but I always find it easier to go directly to a manufacturers site and download the latest drivers.  This only took a few minutes and ensured I had the latest drivers and software.

When booting up the computer it installed generic Windows drivers which worked right off, which is a good sign.  The system asked me for my network password and things worked right without having to install anything else.

Still, I use VPN tunnels and have other uses for the full featured software so I ran the driver package.  2 minutes and a reboot later and the new drivers and configuration manager were working fine.  When you boot up it asks you if you want to keep using the Windows configuration manager or the AirLive version.

I chose the AirLive configuration manager and found it both intuitive and competent.  Within minutes I had my security protocols and VPN configured, my desired power levels set, and was enjoying the thoughtful green signal strength meter now present in the task bar.  Easy.

 

Performance

 

My connection is limited to 16mbps.  In Thailand we have both 50mbps and 100mbps available in some areas, but not mine.  The Wireless-N speed easily handled the full 16mbps with full signal strength just the same as if I’d ran a LAN cable.  I confirmed this with www.speedtest.com   and www.pingtest.com.

 

My connection is limited to 16mbps.  In Thailand we have both 50mbps and 100mbps available in some areas, but not mine.  The Wireless-N speed easily handled the full 16mbps with full signal strength just the same as if I’d ran a LAN cable.  I confirmed this with www.speedtest.com   and www.pingtest.com.

 

I had an older Linksys Wireless-G card from 5-6 years ago so I tried it for comparison.  I could only pull 3-4mbps and half the signal strength with this card.  Linksys is a great brand.  It’s just that WIFI protocols have really improved in the last few years. This applies to newer laptops too.  They’re capable of much faster speeds and greater range than models even 2-3 years before them.

 

I had an older Linksys Wireless-G card from 5-6 years ago so I tried it for comparison.  I could only pull 3-4mbps and half the signal strength with this card.  Linksys is a great brand.  It’s just that WIFI protocols have really improved in the last few years. This applies to newer laptops too.  They’re capable of much faster speeds and greater range than models even 2-3 years before them.

 

Summary

 

This isn’t an expensive item as baht 1200, but it’s an item that will either make your web surfing and other online tasks enjoyable and trouble free, or fraught with disconnects and other issues.  I haven’t yet experienced a disconnect or other issue in the 4-5 weeks I’ve been using the AirLive WN-5000PCI v2 Wireless-N card.  It works as it should without issues.

 

This isn’t an expensive item as baht 1200, but it’s an item that will either make your web surfing and other online tasks enjoyable and trouble free, or fraught with disconnects and other issues.  I haven’t yet experienced a disconnect or other issue in the 4-5 weeks I’ve been using the AirLive WN-5000PCI v2 Wireless-N card.  It works as it should without issues. 

If I was really nitpicking, I’d ask for a more secure mounting system for the antennas.  They screw on, but the antenna construction itself seems a bit on the lightweight side.  I noticed the same thing with the other brands I looked at.

Overall, this is a Windows 7 compatible Wireless-N legacy PCI card with the latest security protocols and fastest possible speed which works perfectly.  It’s priced right and included a 3 year warranty.