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{mospagebreak toctitle= The Pitch}

The Pitch

Gigabyte 802.11g Wireless Access Point

Gigabyte 802.11g Wireless Access Point
Summary Atheros-based 11g access point. Supports WPA, Super-G and can accept optional second radio card.
Update None
Pros • Can be upgraded to dual-radio
• Supports WPA (TKIP & AES)
Cons • Admin requires Windows application
• Admin application can be confusing

GIGABYTE Technology has certainly made their mark in the computing world as a supplier of motherboards, PCs and other PC-related products and now want to establish their name as a Networking brand. I took a look at their GN-A17GU 802.11g Access Point to gauge their progress and think they still have some work ahead of them.


The Product

The AP has pretty much what you'd expect in an 11g AP, except for two things. First, it doesn't have web-based administration, instead requiring a Windows application to manage it via SNMP commands. This both limits its potential user base and adds one more application to be loaded onto your probably overflowing PC.

Second, and on a more positive note, it can be expanded to dual-radio operation by the addition of a standard GIGABYTE 11g or 11a/b/g CardBus card.

You can see the CardBus slot clearly in Figure 1's photo of the top of the A17's main board, which is controlled by a TI PCI 1410 PC Card Controller and accessible by snapping a plastic cover off the top of the A17's case.

Gigabyte GN-A17GU - Top of the GN-A17GU's board

Figure 1: Top of the GN-A17GU's board

The A17 is based on a Renesas SH7751R Super-H CPU running at 240MHz and backed by 1M of Flash and 4M of RAM.

Gigabyte GN-A17GU - Bottom of the GN-A17GU's board

Figure 2: Bottom of the GN-A17GU's board

The AP uses a GIGABYTE GC-WIAG-101 mini-PCI radio which connects to the CPU via a Realtek RTL8100 PCI/Mini-PCI Single-Chip 10/100M Fast Ethernet Controller. You can see the Realtek chip - which sits directly underneath the radio board - in Figure 2 above. The chip, as its name implies, also handles the AP's single 10/100 Ethernet port.

The radio (Figure 3) can support 11b, normal 11g or enhanced-speed Super-G operation and is based on Atheros' AR5002G chipset.

Gigabyte GN-A17GU - The mini-PCI radio

Figure 3: The mini-PCI radio

The Product, Continued

Only a single, non-upgradable external antenna is visible, but inside there is also a second antenna, which is fixed along the front right side of the plastic enclosure, to the right and parallel to the silver LED trip strip on the top of the case. GIGABYTE also thoughfully provides a snap-on plastic base, which either stands the unit vertically on a desk, or can be used for wall-mounting.

Packaging negatives are that the status lights on the top of the case are pretty wimpy, and I found I had to look at them pretty much dead-on in order to see them. I also wasn't wild about the Ethernet and Power connector locations on the left front corner of the case.

It gets the job done, but I found the Windows-only AP Manager (Figures 4 - 8) to be somewhat confusing in its operation. For example, it wasn't obvious that separate SSID's could be assigned to each radio after I slipped a GN-WLMA101 dual-band card into the A17's expansion slot. But after assurance that it was possible from GIGABYTE, I successfully was able to do this.

Most of my confusion was due to having the radio and mode selection on a different tab from the other wireless settings. Since most products' user interfaces require you to save each page's changes separately, I didn't think that the A17's UI would work differently. It also didn't help that the manual really doesn't cover dual-radio operation.

Gigabyte GN-A17GU - AP Manager System tab

Figure 4: AP Manager System tab
(click on the image for a larger view)

Other sources of confusion were how different tabs sprouted depending on selections made on other tabs - selecting WPA adds a WPA / RADIUS tab, for instance, and the addition of a separate entry in the AP Manager's left hand panel for the second radio (Figure 5). I didn't really care for how this new entry interacted with the tabs and radio selection (Card Config Type), especially the automatic collapsing of the left-hand pane's device tree and tab view changes.

Gigabyte GN-A17GU - AP Manager Wireless tab
Figure 5: AP Manager Wireless tab
(click on the image for a larger view)

Gigabyte GN-A17GU - AP Manager Encryption tab

Figure 6: AP Manager Encryption tab
(click on the image for a larger view)

Gigabyte GN-A17GU - AP Manager RADIUS/WPA tab

Figure 7: AP Manager RADIUS/WPA tab
(click on the image for a larger view)

Gigabyte GN-A17GU - AP Manager Mode tab

Figure 8: AP Manager Mode tab
(click on the image for a larger view)

But as I explored the interface, I found most of the controls you'll need are present, with a few exceptions:

  • You can't control the transmit power of either radio, which I think is essential for dual-radio / dual-band applications
  • Turbo mode isn't supported for 802.11a
  • WDS point-to-point and point-to-multipoint bridging is supported, but repeating isn't
  • As with just about every other consumer wireless AP, you don't get wireless traffic statistics, but at least get a list of associated clients (and their signal level)

The Test

For my testing, I removed the GN-WLMA101 dual-band card from the AP and installed it into my Dell notebook before running my usual Chariot tests.

Test Conditions:
- WEP encryption: DISABLED
- Tx Rate: Automatic
- Test Partner: GIGABYTE GN-WLMA101
802.11a/b/g CardBus card
Firmware/Driver Versions:

AP f/w: 2.03, Thu, 15 Jan 2004 06

Wireless client driver: WinXP 2.1.0.355 (10/31/2002)
Test
Description
Transfer
Rate
(Mbps)
Response
Time
(msec)
UDP
stream
Throughput
(kbps)
Lost
data
(%)

Client to AP -
Condition 1

23.1 [No WEP]
21.9 [w/WEP]

1(avg)
1 (max)

500

0%

Client to AP -
Condition 2

12.0

1 (avg)
3 (max)

500

0%

Client to AP -
Condition 3

14.4

1 (avg)
5 (max)

500

0%

Client to AP -
Condition 4

12.6

1 (avg)
5 (max)

500

0%

[Details of how we test can be found here.]

These are pretty good results, considering that the drivers supplied with the GN-WLMA101's were relatively old and contained neither Atheros' static 11g "Turbo" or dynamic Super-G speed tweaks.

Gigabyte GN-A17GU - Wireless Throughput

Figure 9: Wireless throughput
(click on the image for a larger view)

Also note that although throughput basically dropped in half once a wall or two got between the AP and the notebook, it stayed about 12Mbps or so even in my tougher test locations.

Since the older card driver didn't contain WPA support, even though the AP did, I was able to only check WEP performance. This incurred only about a 5% reduction, which I consider to be within the accuracy limits of my testing. Given that this is only a quick review, I didn't verify whether the WDS features worked, either.


The Verdict

Gigabyte 802.11g Wireless Access Point

The main thing the GN-A17GU has going for it in its effort to attract attention is its ability to add a second radio. But the product commands a price premium over other Super-G capable APs for this benefit, which may not be of interest to SOHO networkers.

While not a bad product, there's little about the GN-A17GU to recommend it over similar products that are less expensive, more widely available and from established networking product vendors. If GIGABYTE is serious about getting traction in the consumer networking market, they'll need to do much better.