Bluetooth-enabled devices have been a long time coming, so we were more than a bit curious to try out 3Com's Bluetooth Wireless PC Card. This radio networking standard permits wireless communication over a short but useful 30-foot radius. Power consumption is low, so Bluetooth devices are easy on batteries, and non-critical placement makes inter-device communication easy and flexible.
We installed the cards in a Dell Latitude CPt and a Gateway Solo 2200. The process was simple but longer than average as the software created a number of virtual ports to permit simultaneous connection to a number of devices. Then, as usual, we set about using the product to perform everyday tasks, using real files and applications.
The first thing we noticed was the push-to-open X-Jack antenna. There are no dongles to break or plug-in antennas to lose here. 3Com's Connection Manager software proved easy to use, automatically seeking out and displaying other Bluetooth devices within range and providing wizards to make creating a connection a snap. We were also pleased to see that the Solo 2200, with its relatively slow Pentium 150 CPU, handled both card and software without strain.
Within a few minutes of installation, we were sending files between notebooks. At 1 Mbps, Bluetooth data transfer is slower than Ethernet but faster than an infrared connection and much faster than a modem. Normal data files transfer at a speed we feel is entirely adequate for typical wireless links. We were able to maintain reliable connections beyond the specified 30-foot radius in our location.
Our efforts to use the cards to create a mini-network between the laptops failed miserably, however. A call to 3Com revealed that the initial release of the Bluetooth card and software did not implement the multi-point capabilities of the Bluetooth standard. As stated in the Read Me file on the installation CD, direct-cable connections are unreliable in Win 98/Me. Both of these issues will be addressed in a software update scheduled for early 2002.
3Com's focus with this version was to support a broad variety of devices, enabling users to create a 'personal network', an easy-to-use link between portable devices and peripherals, especially printers, cell phones, and PDAs. If this kind of personal productivity boost is what you are after, we like 3Com's Bluetooth Wireless PC Card and think it should be on your shortlist. However, if your primary goal is creating instant networks to support presentations, meetings, and training sessions, you'll want to hold off.
Bluetooth Wireless PC CardRating: 88
Manufacturer: 3Com Corporation800-638-3266; www.3com.com
Configuration: Intel CPU; Windows 98 SE, Windows ME, or Windows 2000; PC card (PCMCIA) slot
Pros: Simple to install and use; easy interface to other computers, cell phones, and PDAs; software and firmware upgradeable
Cons: Direct PC to PC connections are reliable only with Win 2000; initial release does not support multiple connections (upgrade due in early 2002); may not be compatible with all Bluetooth devices