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Analyze This! The AirMagnet Laptop Mobile WLAN Analyzer

Laptop wireless analyzer is convenient, but no subsitute for a true wireless protocol analyzer.

Using a technology AirMagnet calls SmartScreen, the AirMagnet Laptop displays the most important WLAN information on a laptop screen without using any scroll bars. The laptop analyzer, which requires a Cisco Aironet WLAN NIC, expands the capabilities of its Pocket-PC-based sister by letting users print various screens, capture more frames and view up to six charts of signal, CRC errors and frame retry information simultaneously.

We installed AirMagnet Laptop v2.0 on a 1.2-GHz Toshiba Satellite laptop with 256 MB of RAM running Windows XP at Network Computing's Real World Lab at Syracuse University. After using it for a week on several campus production and test WLANs, our general impression was positive. However, we're not ready to abandon either the Pocket PC version of AirMagnet or any of the full-blown wireless tools we use for in-depth protocol analysis.

At the Core

AirMagnet Laptop's start screen displays a broad overview of information about the WLAN environment, including signal and noise levels for all 802.11 channels as well as a list of known access points and their signal/noise levels, SSID and WEP configuration. In our first tests, when we selected the signal or noise values on the infrastructure screen to drill down for further information, the entire AirMagnet program crashed. We reported this problem to the vendor; the company quickly sent an update that fixed the bug, and the problem didn't repeat.

AirWISE, the laptop version's expert analysis engine, guides technicians--even those who don't necessarily have in-depth knowledge of WLAN protocols--in monitoring a wireless network's health and troubleshooting problems. The channel screen provides detailed information for individual channels, and the infrastructure screen displays a hierarchical directory-like structure of detected APs, infrastructure/ad hoc mode stations and an 802.1x user list. Depending on the device selected, additional details such as speed and frame-related information can be gathered. The product also indicates the wireless network's top talkers (AP and stations).

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