Microsoft goes Wi-Fi

When Microsoft Corp. builds hardware, it usually does the job right, and the company’s Broadband Networking Wireless Kit is no exception. It’s among the fastest Wi-Fi (802.11b) products I’ve tested, and it comes with great documentation and around-the-clock, toll-free support. The broadband base station sports deep firewall features, as well.

Installation is the main obstacle to using any home networking system, a fact that Microsoft recognizes and covers well with step-by-step instructions for virtually any setup. The Setup Wizard (for Windows 98, Me, and XP, but not 2000) helps transfer your DSL or cable connection information and even saves existing connection settings to an included floppy disk in case the installation goes awry.

My shipping kit included a broadband base station and a USB Wi-Fi adapter; the kit is also available–at the same price (US$220)–with a PC Card, which is better for notebooks. Since the sleek, compact, silvery base station comes with a built-in four-port Ethernet switch, either kit lets you connect up to four PCs via conventional Ethernet, along with the single computer connected via the wireless adapter. You can buy additional PC Card and USB adapters for an extra US$80 apiece; the base station alone is US$150.

Aside from providing setup guidance, the documentation offers advice on sharing printers and files, multiplayer gaming, and network security. The plentiful firewall features include port forwarding, which is useful for games and videoconferencing apps, and Media Access Control (MAC) and client filtering, both of which let you decide who can access the network. My only quibble: I wish Microsoft had included examples of how to operate the firewall tools, which may be new to some users.

Overall, the kit is simply the best Wi-Fi setup on the market, especially for novice users who require the maximum amount of handholding.

Microsoft Broadband Networking Wireless Kit

Great performance, super documentation, plenty of support, and a deep firewall make this the best wireless package currently on the market.

Street: US$220.