Not every device you own has Wi-Fi. Chances are your desktop machine — if you still have one — has no idea your wireless network even exists. And if you’re still struggling to keep an aging notebook alive, it probably doesn’t do Wi-Fi either. If you need to bring your old wired machine online fast, a USB adapter is the quickest solution.
Microsoft’s Wireless USB 2.0 Adapter is about the size of a CompactFlash card reader, cable included. And it’s about as easy to install. Just load the driver, plug in the adapter, and your network should come into view.
In our tests, the adapter’s usable range proved considerably shorter than most notebooks’ built-in Wi-Fi cards. At more than 100 feet, signal quality dropped to nearly unusable levels. But if you’re a home user who doesn’t stray far from the router or access point, this shouldn’t be too great a problem.
The included software makes it easy to adjust your wireless settings, and it also adds interesting features that let you monitor your wireless network more accurately than Windows XP’s built-in utilities will do. Wondering how strong your signal is? Big green bars will tell you. Looking for your gateway’s IP address? It’s right there on the screen. Plus, it gives you an at-a-glance view of other resources available on your network.
If you need high-performance wireless for your notebook, this adapter is not your best solution. But if you want a versatile adapter that works as well on your desktop as on your portable, few adapters are as easy to manage as this. For true plug-and-play simplicity at a reasonable price, it’s hard to go wrong with this little dongle. -Robert Strohmeyer
Best Feature: Five-minute setup
Worst Feature: Weak signal range
Microsoft Wireless USB 2.0 Adapter MN-710
Weight: 3.2 ounces
Size: 3.2 x 3 x 0.5 inches (not including cord)
Specs: 802.11g; USB 2.0; 128-bit WEP compliant; network monitoring software included