- Review Price: £99.00
When we looked at ZyXEL’s nifty little AG-225H we were sufficiently impressed with its wireless network sniffing capabilities that it garnered a well-deserved Recommended award. Well now we have a similar product from TRENDnet which delivers an equally useful set of features but adds a very handy 512MB of Flash memory storage into the bargain.
These types of devices could prove invaluable to mobile workers as they make identifying wireless hotspots a cinch. Rather than dig your notebook out, fire it up and wait for Windows XP’s zero configuration features to sniff around you whip out the 429UF and check its little two-line LCD panel to see if there is wireless activity in the vicinity. Thanks to the extra internal storage the TEW-429UF is slightly bulkier that the AG-225H and it’s not so nicely designed either. Even so, bar a couple of main features it is virtually identical.
TRENDnet supplies it with a short carrying cord and a short USB extender cable. The LCD panel is accompanied by a power switch underneath and a couple of buttons above for initiating wireless scans and scrolling through the WLAN information when more than one AP has been picked up. It comes in for the same criticism as the AG-225H as a backlight would have been handy. It may use up the juice a bit quicker but the device has a Li-Ion (Lithium Ion) battery that is charged whenever it’s connected to a USB port, so you should be able to keep it charged up without too much trouble.
The key difference is wireless capabilities as the 429UF cannot function as a wireless access point – only as a wireless client. The AG-225H comes with some extra features in ZyXEL’s client utility software that allows it to be configured as an access point. This requires bridging to be set up between the WLAN and LAN connections so that other wireless clients can use the AG-225H to access the main network that the system is wired to. It is handy to have but generally we can’t see this being a key requirement for most mobile users.
The 429UF uses exactly the same wireless hardware as the AG-225H so you’ll find the LCD panel display is identical. Three modes of operation are supported with the S mode displaying up to fifteen detected APs in the order of their signal strength. A Free mode only shows those APs that have no security enabled while the D mode locks on to the selected AP and periodically keeps track of it. The LCD display provides plenty of information about each AP as it shows the SSID, the channel in use, whether it is 802.11b or g, if WPA or WEP is in use and the signal strength. It also shows the state of the battery capacity as well.
We tested the scanning capabilities by taking the 429UF for a walk round a large two-story office building. As we moved through it the device picked up all wireless access points in range that were broadcasting their SSID. As with the AG-225H the range of the 429UF is around the same as for a wireless PC Card so you should be able to log on to any identified AP.
For installation there’s nothing to do if you’re just after the storage features. To test the 429UF we plugged it into a Supermicro 3.2GHz Pentium D workstation running Windows XP where the Flash memory was automatically identified and appeared in Explorer as a removable disk. We particularly liked the fact that a small partition in the Flash memory is configured to emulate a write-protected 20MB USB CD-ROM drive with all the manuals, utilities and device drivers on it. With AutoPlay activated the wireless client installation utility automatically starts from the CD-ROM drive. However, due to the size of the device it wouldn’t plug fully into the PC’s USB ports as it fouled the front casing panel and we had to use the extender cable. You’ll also find this will happen on many notebooks as well. Using the open source Iometer utility we tested both read and write performance and found the quoted speeds to be reasonable with it confirming 9MB/sec for read operations but a slower 6.2MB/sec for write operations.
Installing the wireless client software and drivers only takes a few moments and we found the client to be very similar to ZyXEL’s with the only omission being the Access Point option. The client can run a full site survey and list all available APs where you can select them and create connection profiles. As with the AG-225H, wireless security support is particularly good as you can choose from 64/128-bit WEP plus WPA-PSK and the latest WPA2-PSK. From the Network screen you can keep an eye on the SSID of the AP you’re connected to, whether Infrastructure or Ad Hoc modes are in use, the signal strength and general network IP settings.
Taking ZyXEL’s AG-225H product and adding a healthy 512MB of Flash storage makes the TRENDnet HotFlash TEW-429UF a highly desirable and versatile tool for mobile workers. Its wireless locator functions are extremely useful and the lack of wireless AP functions isn’t a drawback at all.
The Flash drive installs automatically and the client install routine fires up automatically from the 20MB emulated CD-ROM partition.
The client provides plenty of information about wireless connectivity and signal strength.
A Site Survey provides information about all APs in the vicinity and you can create multiple connection profiles.
Top wireless security features means if an access supports it then the 429UF can use it.
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