Receive new posts as email.
This site operates as an independent editorial operation. Advertising, sponsorships, and other non-editorial materials represent the opinions and messages of their respective origins, and not of the site operator or JiWire, Inc.
Entire site and all contents except otherwise noted © Copyright 2001-2006 by Glenn Fleishman. Some images ©2006 Jupiterimages Corporation. All rights reserved. Please contact us for reprint rights. Linking is, of course, free and encouraged.
Dell may put Draft N adapters into new laptops: DigiTimes cites unnamed private sources at chipmakers stating Dell is planning a third-quarter launch of notebooks using Draft N.
At first glance, this seems like the world’s worst idea. Take an underbaked draft of a standard that no chipmaker will guarantee hardware upgrades on if needed for final ratified compliance and stick it into an internal module that can’t be easily swapped out. Great.
On second glance, the “third quarter” date is probably malleable. Dell may be committing to a future draft that’s much further along. By fall, there could be a mostly baked standard that is guaranteed by chipmakers to be firmware upgradable.
The Journal’s Don Clark cites chapter and verse from the book of Don’t Buy Draft N: Clark reports that companies are selling Draft N gear because they’re panicked they’ll be left behind, not because it fills an important missing piece for consumers. That would be existing MIMO gear that doesn’t pretend compliance with an unfinished standard in a way that the standards body itself is meaningless. Regular MIMO gear offers range with enough throughput at prices half to a third the cost of Draft N.
Listen to what NetGear tells the Journal: ” ‘Everyone is saying this might be the next big thing, and I’m not going to let someone else drive it,’ said David Henry, a director of product marketing at Netgear Inc., one of the companies selling hardware based on the new technology.” Very customer focused.
Clark echoes what I’ve been saying for many weeks: “Sellers of DraftN [sic] products believe they can accommodate any changes in the eventual standard, by modifying software that users can download for their hardware. But hardware makers aren’t offering buyers a guarantee that devices they buy can be upgraded.”
No guarantee that the hundreds of dollars you spend on equipment today will be upgradable to the final, ratified standard tomorrow—the standard that will form the basis of either nearly identical or actually identical equipment these same manufacturers will say once Draft N has been pulled from the shelves and sent to the recycling depot.
There’s no guarantee that chips will need to be replaced. But there’s no assurance they won’t. In which case a hardware upgrade guarantee seems like the least these companies might offer early adopters.
Tim Higgins of Tom’s Networking turned to industry testing gear to examine Draft N products: Higgins compared three Draft N devices (Buffalo, NetGear, and Linksys) against one based on Airgo’s third-generation chips (NetGear RangeMax 240), which don’t claim Draft N compliance and were released ahead of the merged draft. Two of the Draft N devices use Broadcom chips and one uses Marvell’s.
Higgins didn’t test for multipath performance, but he did some extensive comparison of speed and performance at simulated ranges with the Azimuth testing rig, which isolates devices from outside signals. This equipment is also used by manufacturers, so it’s a meaningful comparison of claimed performance rather than the real-world performance Higgins normally looks into (and found wanting).
One element that complicated testing is the constantly changing driver releases for this early equipment, which is not surprising. Higgins had difficulties with one of Buffalo’s products, found a newer driver in review equipment than in that he purchased from a retail channel or was on Buffalo’s site, and spotted the new drivers for download after he queried the company.
What Higgins found is that all three Draft N devices drop off in performance at far shorter distances than either the Airgo 3rd gen NetGear unit or plain old 802.11g. While G can’t hold a candle to throughput over shorter ranges, it continues at a decent speed for far greater simulated distances.
Higgins expects some criticism for not testing multipath performance in simulation, but the fact that the Airgo-based device performed substantially better than the Draft N equipment would seem to defuse that argument.
Higgins now advises against buying Draft N products at this time. He writes, “With high prices, immature drivers and firmware, no guarantee of upgrade to standard 11n when it’s released and now - shown for the first time - evidence that some current products doesn’t even perform better than 802.11g at lower signal levels, I can’t think of an upside that justifies the expense and hassle.”
He also continues to stand by his review from earlier this year of third-generation Airgo-based equipment as the latest firmware continues to have the bad neighbor problem for legacy B/G networks on 2.4 GHz channel 6.
Another part of this report will be posted soon.