Graphite Base Station Limitations
Several Graphite base station owners have written to me asking about what kinds of cards can be retrofit to a Graphite base station. In particular, retrofitting 802.11g cards seems to be a popular dream. Well, it is unlikely to work, and you'll never see a benefit, sorry! There are several reasons:
- The firmware that runs the base station is quite specific and its support of cards is very limited. After all, why should a base station that is never to be opened by its user be capable of swapping a non-OEM brand card?
- The only cards that I know are supported are the WavLAN "Turbo" series of cards found in Graphite base stations (usually the "Silver" model). However, if I recall correctly, some people have also had success with some follow-on cards sold under the later "Orinoco" trade name.
- Back then, some people wanted 128bit WEP encryption protection, regardless of cost... Retrofitting a "Gold" model card and using a JAVA-based base station configurator made it all possible, albeit at a high cost and a horrendous performance hit by the Graphite ABS. Not worth it, in my book.
- Nowadays, the plethora of cheap 802.11g PC Cards reignites the dream of hot-rodding a Graphite base station with a new card and taking advantage of the theoretical 54Mbit/s speeds that 802.11g cards promise. The problem is that neither is the base station likely to recognize the card (for the reasons outlined above) nor will it increase your network speed.
- The performance bottlenecks of the Graphite ABS are legendary. It's what happens when a Lucent engineering team goes for the easy solution by implementing the ABS with a 486-compatible processor instead of developing an ASIC or using a more suitable (but harder to program) processor like the PowerPC series found in the later Snow base stations. So, I doubt the CPU found in Graphite base stations could handle traffic at 54Mbit/s when it can barely handle traffic at 11Mbit/s.
- Worse, even if the ABS could handle the traffic internally at 54Mbit/s, what good does it do you when the Ethernet controller in the ABS doesn't support higher speeds than 10Mbit/s? I suppose you could unsolder the ethernet chip and replace it with a more capable model, but this sort of work is well beyond the capabilities of 99.9% of home users and may require some EEPROM programming as well. So, what is your free time worth?
- As you can see, the biggest bottleneck in the Graphite ABS is not the wireless card, it's everything else.
- Furthermore, the antenna built into the WaveLAN Silver card is actually quite good. It has a high sensitivity, good range, etc. Many cheap 802.11g cards have a lower range than the old WaveLAN silver cards due to cheaper antenna implementations.
Lastly, what benefit does the average home owner derive from having a 54Mbit/s connection at home (which he/she will only have very close to the ABS)? The answer is, little to none, unless you move a lot of data within your home or office... most internet connections max out at less than 1Mbit/s, the lowest speed at which any ABS can transmit. Thus, unless you have a faster internet connection than anyone I know, going to a 54Mbit/s fast access point will not benefit your internet surfing to any extent.