PCI Symphony Network Cards
Price: $120 for PCI-card, $130 US for PC-card
Reviewer: Denny Fox
Recently, I integrated a wireless segment into my SOHO (small office, home office) network based on widely available and relatively inexpensive cards from Proxim, their new Symphony series. After watching the wireless networking developments for quite a while, I have finally found an affordable wireless solution that works with Linux. Until now, wireless network cards cost hundreds of dollars and hubs cost thousands.
My goal was to give my notebook computer running Win98 the ability to move about my SOHO. I was successful in accomplishing this at a cost of only $250 by utilizing my existing Linux server and two Symphony cards.
I use Linux as a multi-function server with Samba and dial-on-demand ISDN to provide masquerading for all the machines on my internal network. The Linux server is connected to the internal network on its eth0 interface. I added a Proxim PCI Symphony card to this box, which is now up and running as eth1. (See Figure 1.)
Now that all the networking is set up, I have full connectivity to my internal network and to the Internet, and am able to work anywhere in the house. There is no apparent reduction in performance browsing the Web or e-mailing, since the bandwidth of the wireless segment is not the constraint. An FTP download from the server to the notebook transferred a 560KB file in about nine seconds, for a throughput of just under 64KB per second. It's not quite like a wired Ethernet, but it's also not too shabby.
My home has finished ceilings downstairs where my SOHO is located, making it very inconvenient to pull network or phone wires to other areas. I also have visions of being able to work outside on the deck when the weather permits. Clearly, some form of wireless networking would be ideal. I had been watching the wireless networking offerings off and on for the last couple of years, but prices were just too high.
Recently, I came across the Proxim “Symphony” line of wireless networking products. They use the 2.4GHz technology found in cordless phones to achieve a raw throughput of 1.6Mbps. This gives performance that is comparable with the ARCnet I ran before Ethernet became ubiquitous. Even better, the product line is widely distributed and is reasonably priced.
Proxim produces a full complement of wireless components in the Symphony line. There are cards for both the ISA and PCI bus, and a PC-Card for notebook computers. They also offer a Wireless Bridge and Wireless Modem for users who need them. I found the interface card products on the shelf at the local Best Buy, and the full line of products on-line at OnSale/Egghead and AtCost. There are many other sources such as CDW, HardwareStreet.com, Office Max, Office Depot and Staples. I ordered a PCI card for the Linux server and a PC Card (see Figure 2) for my notebook from OnSale's AtCost for about $120 US and $130 US respectively, with free shipping. As you will see below, those of us fortunate enough to employ Linux as our Internet connectivity server can avoid purchasing the Wireless Bridge for about $370 or the Wireless Modem for about $225.
The Proxim web site at http://www.proxim.com/symphony/index.htm has a complete set of information including on-line manuals, software, FAQs and tech tips. Under operating system support, they point you to Linux drivers from www.komacke.com/distribution.html. Proxim does not directly support Linux, but I had great help from Dave Koberstein, the rl2 driver developer, and other folks on the rl2-library mail list. You can easily subscribe at www.komacke.com/maillists.html. The rl2 part of the name comes from the original and much higher-cost Proxim product line RangeLAN2. The mail list was instrumental in answering several basic questions I had regarding the usefulness of these cards under Linux and getting the driver working.
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