- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2001

What are two of the most difficult things to add on to a computer? Wireless access? More RAM? Think again, gentle reader.

Metricom Inc. of San Jose, Calif., is in the process of rolling out its second generation wireless network in cities across the United States including New York, Los Angeles and, later this year, Washington, D.C. While on a recent trip to New York City, I took along the firm's wireless modem for a test drive.

The network, named Ricochet, uses a technology called MicroCellular data network, or MCDN. The network consists of MicroCell radios, mounted to streetlight or utility poles; wired access points, or WAPs, which collect and convert the radio frequency packets for transmission to the network backbone; and network interface facilities, which connect the traffic from the local WAPs to partner networks and the Internet.

The small radio transceivers are the key part of the Ricochet network, allowing users to send and receive data from Ricochet wireless modems anywhere in coverage areas. End users connect to Ricochet through a wireless Ricochet modem (attached to a desktop or portable computer), which exchanges data with MicroCells in the meshed network.

Weighing less than a pound, Ricochet modems are truly portable and plug into the USB or serial port on PCs or Macintosh computers. I was able to install the modem on an HP Omnibook 500 in well under five minutes, including the software installation. The modem has an internal lithium-ion battery that the company claims offers six hours of use between chargings.

Originally running at 28.8 kbps which is the current speed of the D.C. network the second generation of Ricochet advertises speeds of 128 kbps, which is about double the speed of a 56 kbps dial-up modem.

While the Ricochet modem "dials" up the wireless network to initiate a connection, that's about the only similarity to a regular data call. In my testing in New York, the modem registered a speed of 480.6 kbps, more than eight and one-half times the top-rated speed of a dial-up connection. Checking e-mail, looking at Web sites and doing other on-line tasks was extremely fast, rivaling in appearance, at least my home cable modem, which averages 1.2 megabits per second. Yes, the cable modem is, in reality, more than twice as fast, but the point is that Ricochet users won't face a dramatic loss in "response" from the network when using the device.

As mentioned, installation was a breeze and further reinforces my belief that the Universal Serial Bus, or USB, connection is a boon for users who want to easily connect new devices to their systems.

Perhaps the only aspect of the Ricochet service that might raise an eyebrow among users is the charge for monthly service. Metricom wholesales its offering to several providers, including GoAmerica, WWC and Juno. Charges range between $74.95 and $79.95 per month, about twice the cost of cable modem or DSL service.

For those who aren't able to get either of these and who want to take their high-speed Internet access on the road, however, the Ricochet service is a boon. The cost isn't unreasonable given the benefits, particularly for those who need high-speed access for business.

More information on the service is available on line at www.metricom.com/ getricochet, and it's something you might want to check out.

Add more RAM

A few weeks back, I mentioned that adding RAM to your system is one of the least expensive but most valuable things you can do for your computer. More RAM, ostensibly, should allow you to have more programs open at a given time, and suffer fewer "crashes" and system hang-ups.

I mentioned Boise, Idaho-based Crucial Technologies as a good supplier of RAM; the firm is on line at www.crucial.com, and features an extensive database of systems that takes you to the correct RAM for your computer.

So it was the other week when I decided to boost the RAM of the Compaq Presario 5900-Z that sits on my desk. While it's generally possible to order new RAM without having to open up the box, Compaq, in its wisdom, produced two versions of the 5900. One has three memory slots, the other six. I had to pop open the box to discover which was which; it turns out I had two additional memory slots available.

The cost of adding 256 MB of RAM to my system's existing 128 MB, including overnight shipping charges, came out to around 50 cents per megabyte. The RAM arrived the day after I'd ordered it; simply popping open the cover and snapping in the modules resulted in a turbo-charged system.

Many tasks are even faster than before, although I believe some additional tweaking might help goose performance. But now I have the memory "space" in which to work more easily, and my number of lockups is much smaller.

If you can afford some more memory, now might be an ideal time to add some. Should you do that, let me know your experience and whether it makes your computing life better.

• Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to [email protected], or visit the writer's Web page, www.kellner2000.com. Talk back live to Mark every Thursday from 8 to 9 p.m., Eastern time, on www.adrenaline-radio.com.

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