February 14, 2005

Review: Netgate 2511 CD Plus EXT2 network adapter

Author: Jem Matzan

Finding a wireless PC Card network adapter that works with GNU/Linux can be frustrating, and involves three possible results: you find a card that works natively; you find a card that will only work through NdisWrapper; or you find a card that just doesn't work, but might eventually, you hope. The second approach involves using proprietary binary drivers, which disagrees with some distribution philosophies (as well as that of OpenBSD). If at all possible, you want to find a PC Card adapter that has an open source driver and works perfectly with GNU/Linux. Netgate has made that possible with its 2511 CD Plus EXT2 wireless LAN card.

On the front of the otherwise plain white box that the 2511 PC Card card comes in is a sticker with Netgate's name and logo, and the assurance that "We're here to help you with your high-powered wireless, embedded, and Linux-based products." In other words, Netgate is responding to the demand for competently designed hardware for GNU/Linux users -- and you can include at least OpenBSD and FreeBSD as well, for which Netgate also provides native drivers for the Netgate card that worked wonderfully on my test systems.

The key to the 2511's compatibility is its processing technology. Netgate used the Intersil (now owned by Conexant) Prism 2.5 chipset in the 2511 CD Plus EXT2, which is and has been well supported in open source *nix operating systems. The trouble with wireless cards in GNU/Linux is that the manufacturer often switches its products over to a new, unsupported chipset without changing the model name or number. Searching the company's Web site and Google, I could find no evidence of this happening with any of Netgate's wireless PC Card adapters.

The card I evaluated was the 2511 CD Plus EXT2, but it appears to be electronically identical to Netgate's 2511 CD Plus. In addition to a smaller form factor and a slight cosmetic difference, the EXT2 model has two threaded inputs for larger, more powerful antennas. Not so coincidentally, Netgate sells such antennas for wireless access points and routers and wireless cards that support them. You can also buy the hardware and the add-on antenna in one package.

Given the extensibility of the EXT2 model, it doesn't seem to make much sense to go for the standard 2511, especially considering the price difference of only $1.

Features, capabilities, and extras

The Netgate 2511 CD Plus EXT2 is a PCMCIA Type II 802.11.b wireless network card. It has a range of approximately 4000 feet (in open space), operates at either 5V or 3.3V, and transmits at 200mW with the integrated antenna.

The wi driver in Linux and *BSD natively works with the 2511 without any modification or recompiling (assuming that PC Card support and the wi driver are already compiled and configured to load upon detection).

The device comes bundled with a CD that contains the Windows driver, which is completely useless to non-Windows users.

Testing of the card's range revealed it to be pretty much as able as other wireless cards I've used with the same wireless access point. Its limitations were similarly predictable -- the same dead spots in my environment that affect other wireless devices (including my cell phone) affected the Netgate 2511 CD Plus EXT2 with the standard integrated antenna.

The 2511 CD Plus EXT2 has a one-year manufacturer's warranty and a 30-day refund/exchange policy for defective products bought through the Netgate Web store. Support is not offered directly through the company, but Netgate does recommend several options for those seeking help with their operating system. While this may seem a negative point, it should be noted that hardware manufacturers rarely support anything other than Windows to begin with, and even then usually are not able to do anything but tell customers to reinstall Windows or instruct them how to use the driver CD.

Conclusions

There isn't much to complain about with this device. Not only does it work well with GNU/Linux and *BSD, but the company doesn't hide that fact and doesn't mislead customers about support limitations. If you're thinking of buying a new PC Card wireless network adapter, the Netgate 2511 CD Plus EXT2 is a safe, affordable, and reliable choice.

Device PC Card wireless network adapter
Manufacturer Netgate
OS Support GNU/Linux (older kernel versions may need to be upgraded or patched to add wi support), FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD, Windows 9.x/2K/XP, Mac OS X (requires separate driver from SourceForge)
Market Laptop computer users
Price (retail) U.S. $65, volume discounts available
Previous version N/A
Product Web site Click here

Category:

  • Networking
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