Look Ma, No Wires

Belkin F5D7010After bringing home a DVR on Saturday, I made a second significant technological upgrade to our household on Sunday in the form of wireless 802.11b networking — finally. Our cable modem connection, which sits in the bedroom, now broadcasts a clean 802.11b signal throughout the apartment, thanks to a new Netgear MR814v2 wireless router which I managed to buy for a remarkable US$40, after rebates.

It astounds me that the price point for wireless networking has dropped so quickly, but it makes sense now that the slower 802.11b standard is rapidly being superseded by the faster 802.11g standard. At forty bucks, an 802.11b router is an incredible bargain, as most home networking needs will almost never exceed its 11Mbps limit. Even if, through some dramatic and unforseen alteration in my computing habits, my home network traffic demands 802.11g within a few months, then I’ll be able to comfortably discard this Netgear router knowing that it provided me a very economical entryway into the wireless world.

Cut-Rate Ease-of-Use

The whole downside of doing this on the cheap is that one really does get what one pays for in terms of the device’s administrative software and support. To put it succinctly, the Netgear’s support is terrible, especially for the Macintosh; I spent a good six hours on Saturday trying to undo the damage done by a single attempt at establishing WEP encryption. I consider myself very lucky that my girlfriend hunted down this technical note and that I had a Windows laptop handy in order to upgrade the router’s firmware, otherwise I would have never got the whole thing working.

Netgear MR814v2

The administrative interface, which is available via Web browser, is so counter-intuitive that the designers found it necessary to integrate lengthy paragraphs of explanatory text into every screen, and of course the technical writing is obscure and unhelpful. This is really a case of caveat emptor, and the principal reason I considered paying the premium for Apple’s AirPort Extreme product. By a strict commercial measure, paying the Apple markup is far more economical than investing six hours into troubleshooting a poorly documented product, but it was Labor Day weekend after all, and I had plenty of free time with which to to allow Netgear’s poor practices to frustrate me.

Above: The Netgear Mr814v2 wireless router. Pretty on the outside. Below: The router’s admin interface. Ugly as heck.

In the Cards

Notwithstanding the trouble that I went through to get the wireless router working, my experiences with Netgear were still pretty miserable this weekend. I had also bought a Netgear WG511T wireless PC card for my PowerBook, which did not work at all. The specs printed on the side of the box didn’t indicate Macintosh support, but neither did the specs printed on the box for the Belkin F5D7010, which worked like a charm as soon as I popped it in. Apparently, the Belkin model shares the same Broadcom chipset as the Apple AirPort Extreme PC cards, and Apple added support for all cards based on that chipset in its 3.1 update to the AirPort software.

Netgear Settings


How hard can it be for a major networking company like Netgear to write some simple Mac OS X drivers for their products? I’m sure it’s less a matter of technical difficulty than one of institutional will. Certainly, Mac users should be accustomed to this kind of situation — it’s not my first run-in with poor support for my preferred platform. What’s frustrating is that there’s really no good reason for this, as far as hardware is concerned.

Where Macintosh peripherals were once based on proprietary standards such as NuBus and ADB, they are now, by and large, based on well-acknowledged industry standards. That means the PC cards, routers, hubs etc. that work with Windows machines are generally only incompatible with Macs by virtue of the fact that no software drivers have been written for them.

I’m not discounting the challenge of writing drivers here, but as software development goes, they are not particularly formidable projects, in my understanding, and writing them for the relatively predictable terrain of the Mac platform has got to be easier than writing them for the wild unpredictability of Windows hardware. Not only is it unfair, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense… which is another reason living in a Windows world feels a lot like being sentenced to a reformatory school for teenagers.



  1. Oh this is a good coincidence. When I mentioned that there were some sexy looking routers out there aside from the Airport, I was specifically talking about the NetGear you bought. My friend who’s all Mac has the same set-up you do, TiBook and G4 in his apt, and he too had the same hell when he turned the encrytion on, and had to reset etc. Reading this entry was deja vu.

  2. Congratulations on your entry into the wonderful world of 802.11 wireless access for home use! And hats off to Joy for hunting down the technical note. Keep us posted on how the Netgear unit operates over the long run.

  3. wow, I hope this works. I got the netgear mr814v2 and I’ve had it for about 3 months. I gave up trying to get the wireless working with my powerbook after 3 weeks, maybe updating the firmware will do it. thanks.

  4. I’ve been very happy with my Linksys 802.11b router. Firmware upgrades are pretty easy for it as there are several SFTP clients for OS X. As for the wireless card, did you try the WirelessDriver (search MacUpdate or VersionTracker)? It handles dozens and dozens of PCMCIA wifi cards under OS X, and it’s free.

  5. I just picked this up at Best Buy for $40 after rebates, because Hurricane Isabel killed my Dlink router (must remember to unplug _everything_). Well, the Dlink had some problems, so I thought of it as an opportunity. My experience was the opposite of yours, but I’m using an avaya wireless pc card on a G3 series Powerbook running OSX 10.2.4 I plugged in the router, got the admin screen, typed in my DSL username and password, and I was on the internet. I typed in my WEP key and changed the SSID, pulled the ethernet cable out of the laptop, inserted the wireless card, and I was on the internet again, instantly. I woke up my wife’s Windows laptop, and it was also connected through the router. This was so easy it was almost scary. I found the web interface to the router administration simple and obvious (but maybe I was used to the concepts from using the Dlink). If I had been trying this with the Airport Extreme card, no doubt I would not be so happy.

  6. I too spent hours on an MR814v2 and could not get it to wifi a 12 inch Powerbook despite latest firmware. After hours of discussion with tech Support in Sydney (I’m in Australia) they agreed to take the MR814v2 back (which I did) i later discovered that they charged me $40 for the call even tho their box is a no-go. I eventually bought an Apple Extreme Base Station AND a Netgear FR114P with the AEBS doing the wifi (but dumbed down by switching off DHCP) It works but is an expensive solution

  7. hmm, I also would like WG511t to work with my powerbook as well 108 mbps is a reasonable networking speed, but didnt risk buying it yet, youre a brave man, I figure someones got write some drivers soon though? Im of the understanding that the linksys pcmcia kit is the stuff to buy with macs because it shares the same chipset as Airport extreme, and works without drivers under macosx. I may be buying there stuff soon, although all brands of 54g compliant routers should work in their basic mode of operation under macosx on the basis the 54g standard is a standard, as long as you can login and change their setup via web interface that is. And of course upgrading equipment via pc only utilitys is always annoying.

  8. Even tho 54g is a “standard” I understand that the problem between my g4 Powerbook and the PC-based routers was that Apple use their own WEP algorithm to brew up the security codes, so a password entered in the PC places gives a different WEP than the same password entered in Apple places

    Standard?? Go figure

  9. The real reason to want the WG511t to work on Macs is it’s superior power output (and thus performance) over most cards. All of the Aetheros based cards seem to be stellar performers that us Mac users are missing out on due to no driver support.
    Check out the hardware guides on seattlewireless.net to see the different power outputs of various cards and routers. Good stuff.

  10. Trying to connect with my new powerbook OS10.4 to a Netgear MR814v2 I came across the need to update firmware. After more frustration I read (thank you) that maybe another browser would work.

    Sasari – NO Netscape – NO Internet Explorer – Yes

    Now both my 3400c and my 17″ G4 powerbook connect through the Netgear MR814v2.

    Thanks for all your help

  11. Thanks. Finding that NetGear post through you was a Godsend. It would’ve taken me another multiple of hours to figure out that I needed to put a ‘$’ in front of the generated passwords to get WEP working properly from my Mac using my Netgear MR814. Doesn’t seem like it would’ve been that freakin’ hard to include such info in the included docs for the router–aarrgh!

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