So I got a Wi-Fi USB adapter for my Cube

I have recently updated the configuration of my home wireless network. On the one hand, I’m finally enjoying a faster, more stable connection from my studio; on the other hand, it seems that the AirPort card in my Power Mac G4 Cube isn’t enough to keep the Cube connected to the network. The Cube tries to connect to the farthest base station, not acknowledging the one near my studio door. As far as my investigation went, it’s not because the new network configuration isn’t compatible with the older 802.11b protocol, but it appears that the second AirPort Express base station used to extend the network range sometimes broadcasts through channels that aren’t picked up by the Cube’s AirPort card.

A situation like this has many workarounds. For example:

  1. I could connect the Cube to the nearest AirPort Express base station with an Ethernet cable. The downside: the cable would be in the way when entering my studio. And I have already tripped over it in the past when I had to temporarily connect my main MacBook Pro to the network.
  2. I could connect the Cube to the MacBook Pro via Ethernet or FireWire cable and have the MacBook Pro share its Internet connection. The downside: There isn’t one, technically. The FireWire network sharing isn’t a solution for me because my Time Machine external drive is connected to the MacBook Pro via FireWire, so I could use Ethernet. Let’s say I don’t like the idea of having a Mac so dependent on another for Internet connectivity.
  3. I could set up another (vintage) Mac to connect to the home Wi-Fi network then share that connection for the Cube. The downsides: Another wireless client impacting network performance; all the redundancy and ‘waste’ of having another Mac in operation just for the sake of providing connection; and finally, like noted above, the Cube wouldn’t be an independent machine with regard to connectivity.
  4. I could search for a Wi-Fi adapter for the Cube.

Of course I chose №4, because it’s the option that makes more sense and has no significant downsides. I also went looking for USB Wi-Fi adapters, as opposed to Ethernet/Wi-Fi adapters, mostly because I thought I’d probably have more luck finding one locally (which, as it turns out, is exactly what happened).

Only one problem remained: finding a USB Wi-Fi adapter compatible with a Mac OS X version as old as 10.4 Tiger. I started searching the Web more carefully, and I also asked on Twitter and App.net for suggestions. I got two:

Both these products support Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger and later versions. During my search I also found NewerTech’s MaxPower USB Wireless Adapter, but the minimum Mac OS X system supported is 10.5 Leopard.

Then I went to the city centre, to take a look around in a local electronics store. There are a lot of USB Wi-Fi adapters out there, and most of them have only Windows drivers. But after examining no fewer than fifteen different product boxes (system requirements are often in small print, half-covered by price labels and barcodes), I found this:

N150

It’s a Sitecom N150 Wi-Fi USB Adapter. On the box, it said it’s compatible with Mac OS X 10.4. After learning it costs just €12.95, I decided to take a chance and purchase it. It works, so I felt I should share, in case someone else is trying to give their vintage Macs more current Wi-Fi options.

The box contains the small USB dongle, a leaflet with instructions, and a CD-ROM with the drivers. I appreciate that the Mac drivers are neatly organised in folders with separate packages for Mac OS X 10.4, 10.5, 10.6, 10.7 and 10.8. The setup is pretty straightforward: You install the drivers, restart the Mac, insert the USB dongle, and that’s it.

On my Cube, after restarting, I noticed that an application called ‘Wireless Network Utility’ was also installed, and it opened automatically, suggesting I enabled the driver in System Preferences. System Preferences also opened, and the Network pane informed me that a new port was recognised, Ethernet Adaptor (en3). I turned off AirPort, went back to the Sitecom Wireless Network Utility, and connected to my home network:

Sitecom wnu

Of course, I can’t achieve amazing transfer speeds, since the Cube has USB 1.1 ports, but I wasn’t looking for speed — all I wanted was a reliable, stable connection. The Wireless Network Utility application is rich with features and information, and that’s quite welcome. The only minor annoyance is that there is no menu icon in the menubar, and I have to do everything by accessing this app. Also, sometimes the adapter doesn’t reconnect automatically to the network when waking the Cube from sleep, so again I have to open the app and manually select the home network. As I said, minor annoyances, since I leave the Cube on throughout the day. All in all, I’m happy with this solution, and surprised I found a network adapter with PowerPC support so easily and, above all, in a local shop.

If you have other suggestions for particularly good products in this category, feel free to add your comments. Thank you.

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5 thoughts on “So I got a Wi-Fi USB adapter for my Cube

  1. Great find and great post!

    For Quicksilver 2002 G4 users combine any of these with a PCI USB 2.0 card for under $15 (NEC chipset?) and that’s a great combo.

    I can’t remember now which usb chipset was required but one worked natively and allowed me to equip a whole classroom label on the cheap. But until now I didn’t have a super inexpensive way to also add wifi. Too bad that lab of a dozen G4’s was disassembled earlier this year. Still if I can think of a use for them I now know how to upgrade.

    Actually if I had an inexpensive analog and digital (optical or coax) input card for all those Macs I’d have a use. Anyone found that yet???

  2. Thanks for sharing Matej. Are you also using a PPC system? Does the set up utility need to be run each time you boot the machine or only rarely in order to use the WiFi card? Thanks in advance. I am interested in getting this small WiFi adapter.

  3. The Wireless Network Utility app that gets installed acts as a sort of control panel. When the Mac loses the connection, you open it and use it to reconnect. (In my case, this happens when I boot the Cube after I powered it off, or when I wake it from sleep). Meanwhile, however, I’ve noticed two things:

    1. There is a small button on the adapter itself. I haven’t tried it yet (I’ve already placed the adapter in one of the Cube’s USB ports, and it’s a bit difficult to reach it) but it appears that you can squeeze it to have the adapter connect to the network, a bit like those scanners which can initiate a scan simply by pressing a hardware button.

    2. According to the images in the instructions leaflet, it would appear that you can indeed use the AirPort menu in the menubar to connect to Wi-Fi networks with this adapter. I guess that this works in Macs lacking a wireless card. In my case it’s not possible due to the fact that my Cube has already an AirPort card installed, so I have to keep the AirPort off and resort to the Wireless Network Utility app to manage the Wi-Fi adapter.

    I hope this helps. I’ll definitely keep testing in the following days and update my article with any new information. (And by the way, I haven’t experienced any application crash so far.)

    Cheers,
    Rick

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