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Wireless Grab Bag: Old Macs, Mac OS X, and More

I’ve been collecting bits and pieces of interest to wireless network users for a while now, and have come up with information about connecting older Macs – in either Mac OS 9 or Mac OS X – to wireless networks, ways of improving wireless reception for the Titanium PowerBook G4, instructions on how to dissect an AirPort Extreme Base Station, and a speed-enhancing product of which every wireless network user should be aware.

Non-AirPort Adapters — Owners of older Macs that don’t accept AirPort cards have had to work hard to find appropriate wireless network adapters: PC Cards for older PowerBooks, PCI cards for older Power Macs, and USB adapters for older iMacs. Only a few vendors, such as Asante, MacWireless, and Belkin, make network adapters with Mac OS 9 drivers, and even fewer offer drivers for Mac OS X (though admittedly, those older machines are less likely to be running Mac OS X than AirPort-capable Macs). But what if you want to put an older Mac running either Mac OS 9 or Mac OS X on your wireless network?

For PC Cards, you have a few options. For $80 there’s the Asante AeroLAN AL1211-DP, which has drivers for both Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X. The $90 MacWireless 100 milliwatt 802.11b PC Card also now has drivers for Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X. Or, if you already have another PC Card, you can buy a $20 driver from IOXperts for Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X that works with a slew of different PC Cards. And then there’s a free open source driver for Mac OS X that works with a number of PC Cards, but which hasn’t been updated in over a year.


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USB adapters are trickier; the only one I’ve found that offers a Mac OS X driver comes from Belkin, for their $75 Wireless USB Network Adapter. For Mac OS 9 support, MacWireless also offers a $100 USB wireless network adapter and plans to release a Mac OS X driver in the third or fourth quarter of 2003.

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I’m not aware of any PCI card wireless network adapters that have Mac OS X drivers, so if you need to go beyond Mac OS 9 with an older desktop Mac, you’ll need to look elsewhere. MacWireless does offer a 100 milliwatt PCI card (which offers better range than their USB network adapter), but they’ve said there are no plans for Mac OS X drivers.

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The best solution may in fact be a $100 Linksys WET11 (11 Mbps, 802.11b) or the just-released $170 WET54G (54 Mbps, 802.11g) wireless-to-Ethernet bridge, which lets any Ethernet-capable device exist on a wireless network. Just plug one into your Mac’s Ethernet port, configure it with your Web browser, and you can be up and running in Mac OS 9 or Mac OS X – no drivers required. The WET11 worked fine for connecting a Mac to my wireless network, though I wasn’t able to get it to work with an AsanteTalk Ethernet to LocalTalk Adapter and my LaserWriter Select 360, perhaps because the WET11 doesn’t support AppleTalk.

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External Antennas for TiBooks — Tired of lousy wireless reception with your Titanium PowerBook G4? One interesting new solution comes from QuickerTek in the form of a replacement antenna that connects to your existing AirPort card. QuickerTek offers two antennas, a $50 stub antenna that sticks out of your PC Card slot and a $90 whip antenna that connects with velcro to the outside of your PowerBook’s case. Neither require permanent modifications, and for many people, having an external antenna may far outweigh the annoyance of not being able to connect to nearby wireless networks.



MacWireless AirPort Card Trade-In — If you don’t want to try the QuickerTek antenna for extending the range of your Titanium PowerBook G4, another alternative is to purchase a separate PC Card and install it in your PC Card slot. MacWireless’s $90 100 milliwatt PC Card should provide above average range (many cards are only 30 milliwatts) and MacWireless will also take your existing AirPort card as a trade-in for $30, bringing the price of their 100 milliwatt PC Card to $60. You could probably get more for your AirPort card by selling it on eBay, where they seem to go for $50 to $70, but that’s more work than just sending it to MacWireless.

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AirPort Extreme Base Station Dissection — For those inveterate tinkerers out there, Constantin von Wentzel has posted a detailed description of his dissection of the new AirPort Extreme Base Station. For the moment, I don’t know of any reason why you’d want to do this, but disassembling older AirPort Base Stations came in handy for adding external antennas, fixing blown capacitors, and cannibalizing the internal PC Card.

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Wi-Fi Speed Spray — Lastly, if you’re jealous of people with new PowerBooks and AirPort Extreme Base Stations, never fear, because there’s a way you can speed up your old wireless network. Requiring only complete gullibility, Wi-Fi Speed Spray promises to eliminate the harsh conditions that slow down radio waves in polluted environments. It’s of course a complete joke, but well worth a read. Pay close attention to the testimonials!


PayBITS: If Adam’s pointers to unusual wireless devices were a

help, why not buy a copy of The Wireless Networking Starter Kit?


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