The SMC 2664W is a svelte little 802.11b USB adapter with a lot to admire, though it would have more if it came with Windows XP utilities and were a little bit cheaper.
However, after actually taking it out of the box and setting it up, I have a newfound respect for the product. So much so that I dare say that if you want a USB-based 802.11b network adapter, this is the one to buy.
What could possibly be so great about this thing? Well, the SMC 2664W has two important differences when compared to just about every other wireless USB NIC I have encountered thus far.
This product is housed in a sleek little grey case that is very small and light. This is in contrast to the typical USB NIC which can be quite bulky, sometimes even approaching the size of an access point.
The other thing that makes it different: no antenna. Well, of course it has an antenna, but it's not external; it's inside the unit. Thankfully, the lack of an external antenna did not seem to cause the 2664W's range to suffer at all.
In overall size, it has the footprint of a credit card and weighs only four ounces. As a result, it clearly needs to be fastened down. Not doing so is a sure way to find it on the floor (still connected if you're lucky).
SMC includes three options to for securing the 2664W to your computer (or other surface). The first is (predictably) Velcro. The second is a clip that will neatly sit on the top edge of a notebook's LCD. Finally, there are two disc magnets that can be added to the clip which allow you to stick the unit to, say, the metal case of a desktop PC. Clearly, SMC has got their bases covered when it comes to keeping the 2664W secured, but they win Knuckleheads of the Year award for including the drivers and utilities on a set of three floppy disks: a sure way to kill a floppy disk is to put a magnet in its proximity or two, like the dual magnets that came with the unit.
Sure enough, two of the three driver diskettes turned out to be unreadable, so I wound up having to go to the SMC Web site to get the appropriate software. I don't think that the diskettes got erased in shipping, because the business ends of the magnets were fastened to a small plastic disk. My theory is that I inadvertently put the magnets down too close to the floppies when I was setting up the unit, causing them to get erased.
OK, so maybe I'm the one who should get Knucklehead of the Year. Still, shipping magnets and floppies in the same box is asking for trouble, and I don't know why software should come on anything other than a CD-ROM in the year 2002.
(Note: SMC indicated to me that a limited number of early shipments of 2664Ws came with drivers on floppy and that subsequently they will include them on CD instead.)
Once I had downloaded the appropriate drivers, installing the 2664W on my Compaq Presario notebook running Windows XP Home was uneventful.
However, the utility software SMC includes is not compatible with Windows XP. When you attempt to install it, you are admonished to use XP's built-in wireless network controls. That's fine, but I prefer to use vendor-provided configuration utilities. Notwithstanding XP's native wireless support, most other wireless network interface cards (NICs) I've seen included XP utilities, and I think the 2664W should, too.
I tested the performance of the 2664W against a SpeedStream 2624 Wireless Router. Absent an external antenna, I hypothesized that perhaps the 2664W's range and/or performance would suffer relative to the norm for competitive products.
Thankfully, this was not the case, as the range was equivalent and performance was comparable with a PC Card-based 802.11b NIC. TCP and UDP throughput were in the neighborhood of 4 Mbps/sec and 3 Mbps/sec respectively, which is entirely appropriate for a NIC of this type.
Although I really like the 2664W's clean and compact design, one thing I'm not too crazy about is the unit's price. It carries a street price of about $110, which is anywhere from $20-$40 dollars above what you can pay for a PC Card or standard desktop USB 802.11b NIC.
I don't mind paying a few extra bucks for a unique and cool product, or even simply for a stylish one, but I'm kind of on the fence as to whether the extra money is worth it in this case. I guess it's a judgment call. The 2664W is a cool little adapter, but $100-plus seems is too much to pay for any 802.11b adapter nowadays.
Model Number: SMC2664W ($110)
Pros: Compact; no external antenna; a little pricier than most
Cons: Drivers shipped on floppies; no XP-compatible configuration utility.