Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Highly Incompatible

Today I drove to Fry's to take advantage of what seemed like a deal: a $70 wireless print server for only $20. When I got my AirLink101 model AMPS240W home and carefully followed nearly all the instructions for setup, I couldn't make it connect wirelessly with my good ol' Linksys WRT54G router. (The one instruction I didn't follow was to run another CAT-5 cable line from the wireless router into the printer room to connect to the wireless print server, which seems like a pretty pointless requirement) After doggedly following their "troubleshooting" advice of individually setting the router to each of the 11 possible channels, then unplugging and replugging the print server to see if it would connect (it wouldn't, from 3 feet away) I gave up and called Tech Support.

I joyfully listened to them tell me for about 10 minutes how important my call was to them (not important enough to staff up for it, though) before the phone connection died. So I called again, this time only had to wait about 7 minutes before someone called "Sam" answered. Judging by his accent, he didn't get this name in Cleveland; just call it a hunch that his real name might be Samir. He requires all my personal info before he'll consider my problems, of course. Finally he's got all he wanted, and consents to let me take a turn getting questions answered.

I told him about having tried all the channels. He didn't ask, but I would also have told him I turned off all firewalls and security. He didn't ask because it turns out that he not only considers the cable from my wireless router to the wireless print server to be a necessity (huh?!?), but he also points out that the installation guide says:
Note: ... Make sure that you are able to print, scan, and fax from each with your muti-functional printer directly connected to your computer(s).
So, part of the installation process of this wireless device, according to page 1 of the Quick Installation Guide, is to drag a USB wire from the printer directly to each computer to verify that each combination works. Or, more likely, pick up the printer and carry it into each room of my multi-room network, get all local drivers installed, hook up and test. Imagine my joy. Naturally I had decided not to do any of this until I could see a wireless connection from router to PS.

Suddenly, my brain clicks on something he says about "compatible printer". I ask what printer might be incompatible, if this print server follows the usual USB standards. He says, "What have you got?" I say, "Epson Stylus CX3810" (I hate this printer, it's terribly slow and has a real drinking problem, but that's off the point) and he says, of course, "That printer isn't compatible". After listening to me express my admiration for a bit, he points out that on the bottom edge of the bottom of the box in blazing 5-point type is the following:

Printer server may not support all printers. Please check our website to view the printer compatibility list.

Silly me, since I don't have portable Internet (and had neglected to use my Super Microscopic Vision to scrutinize for disclaiming fine print) I had not checked this while on the store floor. It was obviously all my fault. But after summarizing and triple confirming that this "wireless" unit will not talk unless it is wired (no usable connection on the front door), and will not talk to my Epson, my HP, my Lexmark or my Brother printers (no usable connection on the back door), we closed the support call.

So I got on the web and went hunting for this sacred list of the Blessed Ones. It was not easy to find, but I eventually did find it, and get this: when you do open the list of "compatible printers", that list which tells you what printers this device will actually work with... it's blank! Yup, blank - so, apparently, your chances of success (emphasis on the "suck") are zero. See for yourself!

Okay, to be fair, there was another downloadable version of the list nearby that did actually contain some printers, though none were mine. This was just another example of my whole experience with AirLink101, a company I will highly recommend to anyone I don't like.

So now I get to drive back to Fry's and try to return my "bargain", while absorbing the losses in fuel and time as a lesson to always buy defensively! It also reminded me that I haven't performed my song "Tech Support Blues" in a while.


Anonymous said...

I have had great experiences with Arilink101 products. They're just extremely cheap. With any cheap product, you should really do a lot of research before you get something that sucks. Their Atheros chipset (108mbps SuperG) router is the cheapest router that can run DD-WRT. DD-WRT is an alternative firmware. With that $15 router and DD-WRT installed, this router is better than probably ALL other routers sold at Fry's with stock firmwares. I have 4 of them. They can be a setup as a wireless bridge, WDS, AP, repeater, and of course a router--All with the same cheapo box. It also does much more advanced features that I wont even get into. And the Atheros chipset PCMCIA card is great too. Mine was $10 and it works perfectly in linux with the mad-wifi drivers. I can use it to crack a WEP network in just a couple minutes from start to finish. Arilink is fry's brand. Same as Emprex. It's cheap crap, but cheapness doesn't matter as much as chipsets and software do. I might add that I haven't liked any of their stock firmwares or drivers, but Atheros chipset is great, and they make the cheapest Atheros based hardware you can find.

Anonymous said...

Sorry you had such a problem with the Airlink101 product. These are cheap products with good hardware that sometimes have software issues. If you know networking you can get around the software and have a great product for CHEAP!

Personally I do not and would not install software for this product on my computer and instead simply use the web interface for all the set-up and configuration. This is done by first connecting the print server to my router via a network cable (without the print server attached to the printer). Then checking my routers DHCP server to locate IP address of the print server. Once you know the IP address, you can simply log into the print server, change it's setting to match your router's setting, give it a static IP address (which all print servers should use), and then reboot for the new setting to take place. Now check the connection wirelessly via static IP address you set the print server at. If all is good you can move on, if not recheck your settings because something is wrong. Once the connection is working, connect the print server to your printer and set-up your printer on your computer using a local TCP/IP printer port to the static address you had set the print server too. Done!

I have two of the Airlink101 print servers, one wired and one wireless. Neither has been a problem but then again I don't rely on their software but simply connect is as a generic network device.

I also have two of the Airlink101 430W routers with DD-WRT software install. They are simply the BEST $15 router you can buy once the firmware is upgraded to DD-WRT. Although upgrading firmware on these routers does require a bit of networking and file serving knowledge.

If you have the networking knowledge both the print servers and routers from Airlink101 are great products for a very low price.

Anonymous said...

Let's see, you didn't check to see if your printer would work with it, and you didn't follow their installation instructions, and then you're surprised when it doesn't work?

You only need to hard-wire the ethernet to configure it; after that it's wireless. I don't see why you have such a problem with this that you refuse to try it. And I think it's reasonable of AirLink 101 to ask you to make sure your printer works with each of your computers before you try using their print server. Sounds like good advice for any print server.

Good luck with your next purchase, but I suggest you do some research first.

Anonymous said...

To the third Anonymous guy; I don't know George's house, but I don't blame him for being reluctant to run what might be a 50-foot CAT-5 cable from his *wireless* router into a whole 'nother room to get to the *wireless* print server. He might not have a 50-footer laying around, I know I don't, and wouldn't want to go buy one for what's probably a single use. I suppose if he took the AMPS240W into the room where his router is, it wouldn't configure properly unless he lugged the printer in there too, and wired the whole mess up, then IF it worked, tear it all down and reinstall it in the other room; just a guess, based on years of scar tissue. And of course there's all the other stuff he talked about.

Your point is well taken though - it's the buyer's responsibility to assume that manufacturers will use nearly-invisible fine print and documents only available online to ensnare customers, then say "caveat emptor, suckah!" as you seem to be saying.

George, I feel for ya bud. Let us know how it turns out.

Anonymous said...

I have the same exact set-up. In fact I Googled it because i wanted to find out if there were issues. Your blog came up. Anyway, I have it working except the the printer status monitoring of the ink.
After wasting a lot of paper because a spooled job wasn't getting deleted, the printout looks fine. I haven't tried the twain scanning yet. Although I doubt that part will work.

THanks H.A.

George said...

I bought one Cheap ($19.99) at Fry's and thought it was a great deal until I found out it does not work with one of my Windows XP Professional computers. The MFP printer is not in its compatible list, but it works fine for printing, although I have trouble scanning (it crawls so slowly that I had to cancel the job). However, when I installed it in my second computer, it reboots that computer all the time (I don't know what triggered the rebooting) that I finally had to remove it and give it up totally.

I bought another Airlink product, USB wireless adapter, because it is the cheapest one can find in the market (again from Fry's). After put it in, the computer won't shut down. Its Tech Support asked me to try a different USB port and it works there.

I lost my confidence in Airlink's products now despite their cheap prices.

Anonymous said...

Check this out ... Airlink101 printer server ok Windows/linux/Mac


Anonymous said...

Airlink 101 is crap, or at least software is. Tech support is poor, rude and incompetent. The compatibility list changes. Only supports very few printers.

Anonymous said...

I tried to check compatability before opening the box and could find no listing on their site. ANYWHERE. Tech support was worthless as they blamed my firewall and my firewall was allowing full communication.
It is apparently printer incompatability that I couldn't confirm until opening the box.

bkw said...

They work fine for me.

Who said anything about running a 50 foot network cable? That's an utterly stupid complaint since it would be an utterly stupid thing to do and no one said to do it.

You hook it up right next to the router or wherever is handy for you with a 3 foot cable just long enough to configure it. Then take it and install it wherever you want sans cable.

This is NOT rocket science.

As others have said though, really just for printing. Don't install the special driver that attempts to allow bi-directional virtual usb connection for scanning and ink-level reading etc.

You need to spend more for that to work, and you need to spend a lot more for it to work even slightly well, and more yet for it to work with most printers.

This too, is not rocket science.

GeorgePrice said...

Glad it worked for you. Since I had this problem in 2008, I have gotten a Brother 2170W printer that has worked beautifully (and is a lot better printer than the inkjet I had). I can now print from any computer or laptop in the house without requiring any of them to stay powered up as a printer server. But apparently there are lots of other folks having the same problems I had, because my log shows me that I continue to have 10 to 20 visitors a month coming from searches on that equipment and related problems. But since I moved on immediately, I no longer care; I am still leaving this post and its comments here in case it helps one of those searchers.