Everyone's talking about wireless technology: 'What's that, connecting your devices? A cable you say? Woah, that's so un-hip, Daddy-O!'
Those in the know will smile knowingly at the mention of Bluetooth, a short-range radio system destined to soon change our lives. But why wait for a wireless nirvana? The technology that allows couch potatoes to remain on their arses while TV channel-surfing is alive and well in the world of PCs.
But isn't infrared just for portables? Well, it's true that almost every notebook and handheld PDA features infrared, as do a handful of portable printers, digital cameras and an increasing number of mobile phones. All comply with the Infra Red Data Association standard, IrDA, which means they'll happily talk to each other - if they're within about 12in and their line of sight is not obstructed.
So far so good, but am I the only person who tears out what little hair I have left when it comes to preparing a notebook for going away from the office? How do you get the files off your PC into your notebook and back again? The venerable 1.4Mb floppy no longer cuts the mustard and, besides, half of the ultra-slim notebooks I use these days don't even have the drive. Zip drives are also rare on portables and I really don't want to have to carry an external model around. There's always cable transfer, but do you have the right serial or parallel cable to connect a pair of PCs or notebooks? And besides, it's sloooow. I had hoped that Windows' Direct Cable Connection would support the nice, hot-pluggable and fast USB, but sadly it doesn't.
In the past I have resorted to installing an Ethernet PC Card just to get my notebook on the same network as my PC. But why not use infrared?
IrDA operates up to 4Mbps (about 35 times faster than a normal serial port), Windows 9x supports it as standard, and there are no wires to worry about. Oh, I remember why not: no desktop PCs are fitted with it.
Well, I have an answer. While poking around inside my PC the other day, I noticed my Asus motherboard featured a neglected five-pin connector labelled Fast IR. A little research revealed this not to be uncommon on non-Intel motherboards. But were would I get my paws on the required dongle?
While searching Dabs Direct's Website, I found a promising-sounding Asus IrDA module. For a mere tenner (with free delivery), I received a small board with a pair of LEDs and a cable. I connected it to my motherboard, changed a setting in the Bios, started Windows and couldn't believe my luck when it recognised a plug-and-play infrared port and installed the required drivers.
That's the end of my story. I'm now using wireless infrared between my PC, Psion 5, Sony digital camera and any notebooks which come my way - and all this for a tenner. As a postscript, IrDA has recently announced 16Mbit infrared and a standard for mounting it in desktop PCs for next year. Makes you wonder why you ever bothered with wires ...
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