Monday June 27, 2005 4:25 pm
Actiontec 54g Wireless Game Adapter Detailed Review
Actiontec was kind enough to send Gear Live one of their new 54mbps wireless game adapters for review.The wireless game adapter functions as an Ethernet to 802.11g bridge enabling you to get your game system (PS2 or Xbox) or other Ethernet enabled device online wirelessly. It’s a very cool concept, but unfortunately the Actiontec has a few minor implementation issues. Check out the full review after the jump.
The setup for the wireless game adapter is its biggest flaw. Upon opening the box I discovered that to configure the wireless router I needed a Windows machine with a CD-ROM drive in order to configure the adapter. Now for users with a complex network setup or that are using wireless security I can understand why a setup utility is required, but the game adapter should be able to select a non-secured access point out of the box and connect automatically. The need to a Windows computer with a CD-ROM drive is unfair to the gaming enthusiast with only laptops in their network (a reasonable scenario if they are using wireless - many laptops these days do not have optical drives), or if the user only has Linux or Mac computers laying around.
Being that we are platform agnostic at Gear Live, I had a spare Windows tower laying around that I was able to boot up and run the setup utility on. I put the CD into the drive and it automatically installed the configuration utility and put a shortcut to it on my desktop. I was a little disturbed by the fact that it asked me no questions (such as where to put the configuration utility on my hard drive) but will let that slide as most users will be glad that at least part of the setup is automatic.
After the installation I connected the wireless game adapter to my computer via the included cat5 cable and started the configuration utility. I found the utility to be very difficult to use and would suspect that some more non-technical people would not be able to get their game adapter working. It was unable to scan for available access points and instead required me to manually input my SSID and other network information. Once I inputted the correct information (and typed in a password which was only provided in the printed materials) and clicked apply nothing happened. I decided to take it on faith and opened up a command prompt to check for network connectivity. After renewing my IP address lease I was able to ping websites. I feel the configuration utility should have given me some confirmation it was working. Throughout the review process I found this step to be the most difficult. If a user is not network savvy and does not know their SSID they would be unable to complete this step of the setup process. There is very little documentation available and the utility does not let you know if it has been successful.USING THE ADAPTER:
After finishing the frustrating setup process disconnected the adapter from my computer and plugged the cat5 cable into my Xbox in place of the wired connection that had been there before. I turned it on and popped Halo 2 into the drive. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it worked immediately and the wireless bridge was essentially transparent to the Xbox.
I played a few matches and happily fragged away a couple of hours. I did not notice any significant lag in playing. For even the most hardcore gamer I think this adapter provides a great wireless user experience for actual gameplay. When I did the ping from my computer to Google.com I got a 34ms delay time - only a few milliseconds longer than I would normally get over a wireline connection so lag (at least caused by the wireless bridge)is not going to be an issue in multiplayer games.FINAL VERDICT:
Once the Actiontec wireless adapter is configured and running it lets you play multiplayer games on your gaming system without running network cable into the living room. The unit itself is small (think the size of two old audio cassettes stacked on top of each other) and manages to look decently cool. It is small enough to be unobtrusive sitting in the back on an entertainment center. Unfortunately getting the adapter running and configured requires a Windows computer, some fairly advanced knowledge of wireless networking, and a lot of patience. I could see some users getting very confused, maybe even frustrated, and having to spend a lot of time on the phone with technical support to get these issues resolved.
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