Despite having missed its November 3 launch date in most places, the Wireless N adapter for the Xbox 360 finally made its way to websites and a few brick-and-mortar retailers this week. Possibly the 10th, which was supposed to be its “real” launch date, but reports are iffy.
As a recap, the adapter takes advantage of the 802.11n standard, the newest profile for wireless Internet standards, allowing for greater range and faster transfer rates. For gamers, this means less lag, better accuracy and for some, better Netflix quality.
It’s had a long road, being on Gamestop’s website and being pulled, but it’s here.
We managed to get our hands on one at a local Best Buy and swiftly put it through the hook-up and run-through tests to see if it really was worth the $100 price-tag.
The answer – Kinda sorta.
Set up was sort of a pain. The included instructions are vague at best. Considering this is aimed at someone who actually cares about lag and ping, the target demographic doesn’t usually read instructions, still “Insert the disc and follow the on-screen instructions,” is less than informative.
We initially had some major issues. The disc simply didn’t read. It read “Mixed Media Disc” in the dashboard and was simply greyed out in the pop-up dash.
Anyone who’s modded an Xbox can tell you this is very, very bad. We tried booting the 360 with it in already, inserting after it was running, no changes.
The Wireless-N adapter won’t actually work without the drivers installed as it uses different protocols for communication than the usual, white, 802.11G adapter so the 360 didn’t even recognize it had been plugged in.
How did we get it running? Cleared the cache. Go to the memory setting page and press Y on the HD symbol. Then press X, X, Left Bumper, Right Bumper, X, X. Once you do this a messsage will appear saying, Do you want to perform maintenance on your Xbox 360 storage devices? Select yes.
All the saves and profiles remained intact, but we did have to reinstall the most recent software update afterwards (but not the dashboard update!) Restarting it after this got the disc to spin and it installed on its own at that point.
Once the drivers were installed, we plugged it into the USB and away we went with the rest of the setup.
Set up otherwise remained the same as the old adapter, pick ‘Network’ (make sure it’s your N adapter, ours is called “Magic Castle 5GHz,” as we have a dual-band router) and it takes care of the rest.
Once we were FINALLY set up and running, it wasn’t too bad. Trying to check profile setting brought up a connection error screen intermittently, but it wasn’t the worst thing in the world.
Consistency on games was solid, despite it being hidden deep in a wooden entrainment center.
The software updates the cache-reset deleted were downloaded just as quickly as they were with an ethernet connection (although no, we didn’t have a watch handy the first time so a comparison is largely pointless).
Off the bat, we noticed no loss of speed or performance playing Halo 3: ODST and Grand Theft Auto IV online play was pretty seamless. We noticed no dropped connections and performance on a 6.2 Mbps-down DSL connection was as smooth as could be expected for wireless versus a wired connection.
Watching Netflix was a breeze. HD picture on this week’s episode of ‘Heroes’ was just as good as HD satellite quality. The program quickly ascertained bandwidth and video quality, much faster than the old white G adapter and buffered almost instantly.
Only once in the entire episode was there a hiccup in the connection. When we connected a MacBook Air to the same network it did briefly give the “Bandwidth has changed” message, but it disappeared as soon as we could read it. It’s unlikely this had anything real to do with the adapter and probably had more to do with our network.
It was, honestly, tough to even see the difference. If we had the two side-by-side we could probably have noticed with the correct tests, but without? No difference.
So is it worth $100? There are certainly ethernet-to-wireless adapters that will do the same thing for cheaper, though certainly without the same level of synergy and ease-of-use the Microsoft adapter comes with.
The initial set up issues leaves a pretty large question mark on any kind of solid recommendation as someone less well-versed in the technical aspects of it all would have a difficult time setting it up. It’s a little too early to tell if it was console-specific or it might be a more widespread problem, but only time will tell there.
For $100 it’s a hard pill to swallow for admittedly very good network connectivity. A wired connection will always yield more reliable results than a wireless one, but in situations where it’s not practical this is a great substitute.
If you can find it for less, Amazon has it for $88 right now, or have some kind of coupon at a retailer, it’s certainly not difficult to recommend. We’ll certainly have it hooked up for some time to come.