List consensus: best bang/buck PCMCIA card for HostAP usage?

Ged Haywood ged
Mon Mar 8 03:53:35 PST 2004

Hi there,

On Sun, 7 Mar 2004, Marty Galyean wrote:

> On Sun, 2004-03-07 at 10:41, Ged Haywood wrote:
> >
> > Define "best bang" please?
> >
> Most quality/reliability for the money.  Maximal range is not necessary,
> just a quality board with a well understood API and knowledgebase
> surrounding it; for the price.

The only extensive experience I have of PCI cards is with the Netgear
MA311.  They vary in price and availability, shop around.  In addition
to using them ourselves we have resold a few of the cards.  Out of a
half a dozen or so I've used in the past year I have had no failures,
and none has been returned under warranty.  They seem to do everything
that's claimed of them and I think that the receivers might typically
even be a little more sensitive than claimed in the spec.  HostAP
supports them well.  There are firmware upgrades around if you look
for them and you can use HostAP to write upgrades to RAM or flash -
although I always use RAM images at boot time, since the overhead is
not an issue and boots are very rare anyway.  Firmware version 1.5.6
has been very reliable for me, but the cards are supplied with an
earlier version (1.3.x from my unreliable memory) which I had some
trouble with.  That may have been caused entirely by my inexperience
at the time.  New cards that I'm buying now still have that same old
firmware and there is I believe a later version available, but I just
stick to what works for me now.  If you compile HostAP and you want to
be able to upgrade the firmware, make sure you read the documentation
carefully.  I'm still using HostAP version 0.0.4 I'm afraid.  There
are apparently documents around which describe the chipset used in the
MA311 but I have failed to find very much after a couple of admittedly
not very determined searches using Google.  I'd be pleased to find out
more, but it isn't a priority.

In addition to occasional use in various PCs I've been using a couple
of these cards continuously for nearly a year over two links with no
sign of any misbehaviour and I've seen no adverse reports about them
on this List.  One link is about 700 metres, the other 50m.  At one
end of the longer link a Netgear card has a 16dB Yagi outdoors on a
mast about eight metres above ground level, fed via (mostly) RG213 and
through a lightning arrestor near ground level connected to its own
copper grounding rod using thick copper wire.  We don't have a lot of
electrical storms but they do happpen now and then.  I don't suppose
the equipment would survive a direct hit, but several strikes nearby
seem to have caused no problems.  The other card uses the little whip
supplied with it.  The PCs and cards themselves are indoors of course.
The reason I chose the MA311 in the first place was so that I could
connect a high-gain antenna through coaxial cable.

The two links also use Pheenet access points, which is why there are
only two Netgear PCI cards in two links, and although I recently had a
power supply failure on one of the access points (one of those nasty
plastic moulded things) they've otherwise been good performers too.
Being stand-alone devices with built-in Webserver and ethernet port
they're much more expensive of course.

Finally beware of the MA311+ which is not the same card as the MA311,
it has I believe a different chipset which HostAP cannot use.



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