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Elan U132 USB PCMCIA Adapter Review

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Thursday, 22 June 2006

Elan U132 USB To PCMCIA Adapter

We had high hopes for the Elan U132 PCMCIA Adapter. Then we purchased the unit and gave it a try and we were let down.

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Many new laptops do not support the PCMCIA EVDO Cards, they now support ExpressCards. ExpressCards (as of this writing), are not even available yet (Should be July 2006). So, what do you do if you have an existing PCMCIA EVDO Card (KPC650, Novatel 620, AirCard 580, PC5220, PC5740)?

Enter the Elan U132.

A device that you plug into your USB port and then you plug your EVDO Card into this device. In theory, the perfect device.

But, there are some huge design flaws that will make this device not usable for the majority of users.

The Elan U132 device does not allow you to use VZAccess Manager on Verizon or Sprint Connection Manager for Sprint connection cards. Once you install the drivers, neither VZAccess Manager OR Sprint Connection Manager will see the EVDO card and there is NO way to get them to see the card, as they are expecting them to be plugged in to the PCMCIA slot, not via USB.

They "work" by creating a dial-up connection in Windows for the device and manually configuring the device with your username, password and phone number to dial (#777).

This "solution" has a huge downfall:
  • You cannot see "signal strength"
  • You cannot see if you are in 1xRTT or EVDO networks
  • You cannot activate the card or do future PRL updates
In order to do these above items, you need to run VZAccess or Sprint Connection Manager and plug the EVDO Card directly in your PCMCIA slot. When you don't have the above functionality, you have these problems:
  • you cannot use an off-the-shelf card, until it is activated in a supported laptop first
  • you will never know if you are in a coverage area or how strong the signal is
  • As Verizon and Sprint add new areas and roaming options, you will need to insert your EVDO card in a supported laptop to get the PRL update.
While the form factor is nice, and the price (estimated $192 - $225) is reasonable, by not having the above functionality, it severely limits the usefulness of this device. For this reason, we have decided not to resell this device. If they ever figure out a way to support VZAccess Manager and Sprint Connection Manager, I think they would have a killer product.

Also, there are NO Mac Drivers for this device, so it will not work with MacBook, MacBook Pro, PowerBooks or any other Mac

During our testing of a Merlin S620 card, we saw this:

Plug the card in the Elan U132 and we manually connected with Dial Up Networking and we saw 384Kbps download and 87Kbps upload speeds. We disconnected, plugged the card in the PCMCIA slot and connected with the Sprint Connection Manager and we saw download speeds of 841Kbps and upload speeds of 85Kbps. So, there is a performance hit using the device too.

If the developers can make their software compatible with VZAccess Manager and Sprint Connection Manger and address the performance issues, they will have a home run and we would recommend it, until then, we do not.

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