D-Link has never given me any reason to dislike their products in the past. I’ve used one of their 10/100 PCI network cards for a long time (the DFE-530TX+). So I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt when it came time for me to purchase a wireless network card.
The AirPlus products are compatible with all 11Mbps 802.11b products, but they have a maximum speed of 22Mbps instead. If you have an AirPlus base station and an AirPlus card, they can communicate to each other at 22Mbps regardless of the brands or speeds of the other devices on the network. Supposedly, even if an AirPlus card is on a regular 11Mbit network, it can still communicate 20% faster, but I have no way to test that.
I purchased the DWL-520+ PCI card and the DI-614+ switch/router/access point. The first thing I noticed about the router was that it only had one antenna – almost every wireless router I’ve ever seen from a reputable brand has two. I set it up with the web interface and a little wizard and everything was fine with the desktop that was wired to it through its built-in 4-port switch (a switch instead of a hub – nice touch). The web interface is very similar to the Linksys router interfaces I’ve used, and I have no complaints. Setup was easy and fast.
Then I tried installing the PCI card into my computer, which lives in a different room. I have Windows XP, and the instruction manual was printed primarily for XP (including XP screenshots). I followed the instructions exactly.
Installation went smoothly until the card tried to initialize. I got the familiar BSOD with the STOP code IRQL_DRIVER_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL, which is typically caused by bad RAM but can occasionally be caused by a bad driver. Since I just installed a new driver, I gave D-Link the benefit of the doubt and restarted the computer.
It got to the wireless network utility this time. I chose my network name and as I was typing the encryption key, my computer hard-locked. I reset it once more and got to this same point with the same results.
Wonderful, I thought. My computer had been acting strange earlier (which turned out to be a loose IDE cable, but I didn’t know that yet) so I decided that I should try a clean install of Windows XP. The 2000/XP installation process is very sensitive to hardware problems, and if there are any, it will let me know (or simply fail).
This time, I double-checked the installation instructions for the wireless card to be sure I was following them correctly.
Hard lock again, same point. I followed the installation instructions exactly as they are printed on a clean install of Windows XP with all default settings, and the D-Link AirPlus DWL-520+ caused my computer to hard-lock. These are the instructions:
1) Install the software first, before putting the card in.
2) Put the card in, power on, let Windows automatically pick the drivers that have been installed.
3) Use the utility program to configure it.
At this point, I had a wild idea. I rarely read instructions for computer hardware, so why didn’t I discard these entirely? I removed the card and uninstalled all of its software and drivers. Then I installed the card the way I thought it should be done:
1) Do not install the software first.
2) Put the card in, power on, let Windows detect it, and then point it to the driver directory of the CD.
3) Do not install the utility program.
That’s right, D-Link’s included instructions don’t work. I got the card to work by doing almost the complete opposite of what the instructions told me. Thanks a lot, D-Link.
The problem (which I learned the hard way) is that Windows XP has a wireless network configuration tool built in, so it was trying to do the same thing as the D-Link utility, and they were conflicting. When the D-Link utility wasn’t installed, XP’s wireless configuration worked perfectly fine. If you really need to use the manufacturer’s utility, the Windows component can be disabled.
D-Link’s instruction manual made no mention of this. They had to know about it – the screenshots in the manual were taken from a computer with Windows XP. I’m guessing that someone disabled the Windows component on that computer sometime, and forgot about it when they wrote the manual.
Interestingly enough, the cheap no-name (Trendnet) 11Mbps card that my housemate bought included this information prominently in its manual. Trendnet’s black-and-white folded sheet was more informative and helpful than D-Link’s full-color bound manual. I’m glad I paid for the D-Link…
Fortunately, the card does work as advertised – I’m connected solidly at 22Mbps with excellent signal strength through two walls. But I wish I hadn’t reinstalled Windows.