HP puts 802.11g in new notebooks

Newly designed Compaq Presario notebook and desktop computers will sport sleek looks and be outfitted to burn CDs and DVDs, play games and view multimedia files. The notebooks will also provide integrated wireless LAN technology for the nascent 802.11g standard, Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) said Monday.

The new Compaq Presario 2500 and 2100 series notebooks are designed to work with wireless networks based on the draft specification of the 802.11g standard, HP said. The integration of 802.11g technology makes the new Presarios better suited for sharing files, viewing digital media and playing computer games, the company said.

Like Wi-Fi devices that use the popular 802.11b standard, 802.11g wireless devices operate in the 2.4GHz band. However, 802.11g devices support much faster data transfer rates than those using the 802.11b standard, 54 Mbps (bits per second) as opposed to 11 Mbps.

While attractive to consumers, HP's decision to provide integrated wireless LAN technology for the 802.11g standard in the new notebooks raises questions about whether the company is dooming its customers to compatibility problems when the official 802.11g standard is published later this year. HP could not be reached for comment.

In February, the nonprofit Wi-Fi Alliance announced that it would begin certifying 802.11g products after the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) approved the final standard for 802.11g later this year. The alliance is in the process of developing an 802.11g interoperability test program based on the most recent draft of the standard, said Brian Grimm, communications director at the Wi-Fi Alliance.

HP's new Presario notebooks will not be certified by the Alliance, which could mean headaches for HP customers who want to connect to networks that use 802.11g-compliant products, Grimm said.

"What we've learned in all of our testing for 802.11b and 802.11a is that there were a lot of products that didn't operate with one another. Even today, after three years, a significant number of 802.11b products that are prepared for testing don't work out at first," he said.

When standards are available, months of testing are often needed to work out interoperability issues and obtain certification, Grimm said.

While consumers who purchase the new Presarios exclusively for home use may not be affected by the noncertified 802.11g technology, problems are more likely to occur when users try to connect to wireless hotspots at places like coffee shops, at work or while traveling, he said.

The problem of noncertified devices caught the attention of research firm Gartner Inc., which warned companies in March to hold off on making investments in 802.11g wireless LAN technology until products can be properly certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance.

Jumping on the 802.11g bandwagon may result in interoperability problems with other 802.11g devices, as well as older 802.11b wireless LAN technology, Gartner said.

The problem of companies pushing noncertified 802.11g technology is greater in the consumer market than in the market for enterprise wireless products, Grimm said.

Most enterprise-class vendors and corporate technology buyers are waiting for the official standard and for Wi-Fi certified products before making use of the technology, he said.

Some 802.11g technology currently being sold may be certified after the fact. Consumers with hardware that is eventually certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance could bring their machines into compliance through a software (or "firmware") update -- or not, Grimm said.

"Unless (the devices) are certified, a firmware upgrade may or may not solve issue, Grimm said. "The only way to know is if the product is certified." In addition, not all wireless vendors offer firmware upgrades, he said.

The Wi-Fi Alliance hopes to have the published IEEE standard in hand by June and begin certifying devices by July, Grimm said. In the meantime, consumers are encouraged to check the Capabilities label for any wireless technology they purchase. That label will indicate what data transfer rate the device is certified to handle, he said.

The Compaq Presario 2500 is being sold for US$1,194 with a $100 rebate and comes with Intel Corp. Pentium 4 processors, a 15-inch TFT (thin-film transistor) display, ATI Mobility Radeon integrated graphics card and IEEE-1394 high-speed digital video port.

The 2100 series is being sold for $919 with a $100 rebate and comes with a Intel Celeron and Mobile Pentium 4-m processors, memory configurations up to 1G byte and a Type I/II/III PC card slot for expansion.

Both can be purchased directly from HP or through "Built for You" kiosks at participating retailers, HP said.

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