By Andrew Garcia  |  Posted 2006-08-28 Print this article Print

Linksys is forging ahead with its 802.11n initiative now, taking aim at small businesses. However, eWeek Labs tests show that Linksys new products do little to resolve the obvious problems with current draft 11n implementations, while adding a host of underwhelming new features and spotty support for newer laptop computers.

Linksys new Wireless-N Access Point with Power over Ethernet (model WAP4400N) and Wireless-N Business Notebook Adapter (model WPC4400N) are the first products weve seen that offer the speed and range enhancements of 802.11n to small businesses. These products also pack a few other features that should help overwhelmed small-business IT administrators—including POE (power over Ethernet), wireless roaming support, and rogue detection and classification—although these capabilities often miss the mark.

The first 802.11n products show the standards promise. Click here to read more.
Available only through Linksys reseller channel (rather than on retail shelves), the WAP4400N access point costs $169; the WPC4400N is available for $119.

Both the new access point and client adapter use Marvells TopDog chip set (based on draft 1.0 of the 802.11n wireless specification). In contrast, the consumer-oriented draft-802.11n-based Linksys WRT300N and WPC300N we tested in the spring are based on chips from Broadcom.

During tests, the WPC4400N could connect to both Linksys Broadcom-based WRT300N and Belkins Atheros-based N1 Wireless Router at enhanced link rates. However, in both cases, the actual throughput lagged in our RF (radio frequency)-interference-laden San Francisco offices, posting sub-802.11g results.

Probing for Rogues

After we enabled the rogue-detecting Wireless Security Monitor feature on the WPC4400N, we had to create administrator or user accounts. The bulk of interaction with the Wireless Security Monitor then takes place from the Wireless Network Monitor application, which gets installed with the driver on client machines using the WAP4400N. From Network Monitor, we could get an at-a-glance view of channel usage and detect nearby access points and clients. WAP4400N clients conduct the AP scan, periodically collecting and reporting all access points detected. Meanwhile, the WPC4400N reports the MAC (media access control) addresses of any clients that attempt to join the wireless network.

We could manually organize detected access points into groups of trusted or untrusted access points, or we could set up classification rules to automatically organize devices. For classification, we could create whitelists of trusted access point MAC addresses or SSIDs (service set identifiers), or even by manufacturer name or OID (object identifier). To keep multiple administrators up-to-date with the latest classifications, we also could synchronize our settings with other Wireless Security Monitor devices on the network with just a click of a button.

Unfortunately, the rogue detection and classification methods the Linksys gear uses are fairly rudimentary because MAC addresses and network names are easily spoofed, allowing even slacker hackers to easily bypass the protections. Is 802.11n gear worth the gamble? Click here to read more. Also, there are no mechanisms in place to gauge a potential rogues true threat posture—Wireless Security Monitor does nothing to determine whether an untrusted device is in some way connected to a protected wired network, thereby presenting a true and real threat.

Compatibility is another shortcoming of Wireless Security Monitor—we had to connect to a WAP4400N wireless network with a WPC4400N adapter. If we connected via another access point with another brand of wireless client or via the wired network, we could not use the feature. Requiring a specific type of connection and a specific connector to the network looks an awful lot like a weak ploy to sell more client adapters—all for a feature that is pretty limited, as far as weve seen.

Dual-Core Denied

We could not get the WPC4400N Wireless-n Business Notebook Adapter (with driver Version to work out of the box with our Lenovo ThinkPad T60 test system. The adapter would successfully scan the airwaves to identify nearby wireless networks, but we could not successfully connect to any access points—neither the WAP4400N nor any third-party access points. This failure occurred when using both Linksys Wireless Network Monitor and Windows XPs wireless configuration supplicant.

After successfully installing the WPC4400N on a Dell Latitude D610 (but without success on a Toshiba Tecra A8), we investigated whether the client driver has compatibility issues with Intel Core Duo-based laptops.

We discovered that we could get the WPC4400N working on a Core Duo-based laptop by setting the processor affinity on a pair of processes. Using SysInternals Process Explorer 10.2, we configured both the Linksys Wireless Monitor application and the WLS.exe process to use only CPU0.

Linksys and Marvell engineers are working together to create a new driver revision that will work with Core Duo laptops out of the box. Linksys officials claim this new revision should be available by the end of August.

Linksys also expects to start shipping in September a security router based on the Marvell draft 11n chip. The router will feature a stateful-inspection firewall, signature-based intrusion prevention (with a one-year signature subscription included) and IP Security VPN capabilities for remote users or site-to-site connectivity.

Next page: Evaluation Shortlist: Related Products.

Andrew cut his teeth as a systems administrator at the University of California, learning the ins and outs of server migration, Windows desktop management, Unix and Novell administration. After a tour of duty as a team leader for PC Magazine's Labs, Andrew turned to system integration - providing network, server, and desktop consulting services for small businesses throughout the Bay Area. With eWEEK Labs since 2003, Andrew concentrates on wireless networking technologies while moonlighting with Microsoft Windows, mobile devices and management, and unified communications. He produces product reviews, technology analysis and opinion pieces for eWEEK.com, eWEEK magazine, and the Labs' Release Notes blog. Follow Andrew on Twitter at andrewrgarcia, or reach him by email at agarcia@eweek.com.

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