Tech Toys Guide: Wireless Technologies

Although not always an acceptable replacement for wired networking technologies such as Ethernet, wireless networking is a force of nature, a multibillion-dollar market that has captured the imaginations of consumers and businesses alike. In 2003, Wireless-G (802.11g Wi-Fi) wireless networking overtook 802.11b Wi-Fi as the wireless networking solution of choice, thanks to its much higher speeds, backwards compatibility, and surprisingly low cost. If you're looking for new PC- and device-based wireless networking products, you should definitely choose Wireless-G over 802.11b, if possible.

Surprisingly, the best of the Wireless-G products comes from Microsoft, whose Microsoft Broadband Networking product line became significantly more powerful in 2003. The company now offers a variety of excellent Wireless-G products, in addition to its previous 802.11b-based line, including the Wireless Base Station MN-700 ($75), which also includes four wired ports; the Wireless Notebook Adapter MN-720 ($60); and the Wireless PCI Adapter MN-730 ($60). You can also purchase the 802.11g Wireless Base Station and Wireless Notebook Adapter together in a kit, logically called the Microsoft Wireless-G Notebook Kit ($125). Microsoft's ease of setup and management is peerless, particularly the simplicity of setting up a secure wireless network—virtually impossible with 802.11b gear.

Let's take a look at some of 2003's most exciting tech toys:
PDAs
Cell Phones/Smart Phones
Digital Audio and Music
Digital Photography
Digital Video & Movie Making
Wireless Technologies
Cool Mobile Technologies
TV/PC Integration
Input Devices, Game Controllers, and PC Games
Video and Computer Games

One company you might not have heard of is Buffalo Technologies, which makes a compelling set of Wireless-G products. The company's AirStation Wireless Router Base Station ($100) is fantastic and can be augmented by the AirStation Wireless Repeater Bridge-G ($100) to move fast wireless signals further into large homes. The company also offers a 54Mbps Wireless USB Adapter-G ($80) and a host of other Wireless-G products.

Belkin's line of Wireless-G products is also worth consideration. The company offers a full suite of wireless products, including the 802.11g Wireless DSL/Cable Gateway Router ($150), a dedicated 802.11g Wireless Network Access Point ($140) for those who have a preexisting router, and various Wireless-G adapters for notebooks and desktop PCs ($50-$100). Belkin's two-antenna Access Point (AP) designs guarantee the best possible reception, although the units don't yet support the latest Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) wireless security standards.

Finally, no wireless networking maven should be without the Kensington WiFi Finder ($30), a small device you can attach to your keychain and use to find wireless hotspots. Like a mobile stud finder, the WiFi Finder lights up when it finds wireless networks and glows brighter as the signal grows stronger. This device is a must-have for your favorite geek.

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