Review: Wi-Fire more than delivers on its 3x Wi-Fi boost claim - Macenstein

Review: Wi-Fire more than delivers on its 3x Wi-Fi boost claim

When I read hField Technology’s claim that their new Wi-Fire could extend the range of your current computer’s Wi-Fi reception by up to 3 times, I had to check it out for myself. Long story short, we got an almost 5x boost, so read on if you want the details, or just go to hField’s site now and buy the damn thing!

The Story

My interest in supercharging my Mac’s Wi-Fi came after a recent vacation to the Jersey Shore. We had brought along our Mac mini, hoping its Wi-Fi antennae might be able to pick us up some free internet access while we were down there. Unfortunately, the mini had no luck acquiring a signal. However, my sister-in-law happened to bring down her MacBook, and she was able to pick up 3 bars of glorious, unencrypted Wi-Fi goodness sitting not a foot from the mini (plus it saw an additional two password-protected networks the mini missed). I hooked her MacBook to our mini via FireWire and shared her connection, more or less using her MacBook as a modem for the week.

This disparity in reception between the mini and the MacBook baffled me. I mean, I know the MacBook’s have antennas built into their screens, so maybe they should get a slightly better signal, but to go from seeing nothing to seeing 3 networks, that was just downright sad for the mini.

Boosting the reception

The Wi-Fire is more or less a standalone, directional (meaning you point it towards your Wi-Fi source) 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi antenna and Wi-Fi card rolled into one. For not that much more than the price of an Airport Extreme card (with installation), you can add the USB powered Wi-Fire to ANY Mac with USB. That’s right, an old iMac, G4 tower, whatever. Your computer does not have to have Wi-Fi in order to use the Wi-Fire, simply install the driver, reboot, plug in the Wi-Fire via USB, and follow the instructions. The initial setup takes about 5 minutes and requires a restart.

Say good-bye to the “bars of reception” AirPort uses to measure signal strength. The Wi-Fire give you real-time feedback of signal strength as you rotate the antennae. (Notice the 10 networks the Wi-Fire picks up compared to the usual 2 or 3 my AirPort finds – nice to see another Mac User apparently lives nearby!).

Results: Test 1 (work)

To test the Wi-Fire, we used a G4 PowerBook and our office internet connection, which is powered by a gen 2 AirPort Extreme Base Station. We went as far as we could from Macenstein Labs’ base station – the loading dock in the back – and we were able to get only a single bar of reception via the PowerBook’s built-in AirPort card. However, once outside, on the other side of the loading dock’s steel door, we got zilch, and AirPort could find no other networks to glom off of. This was a little surprising, as Macenstein is located in a rather heaviy populated industrial park.

So, we plugged in the Wi-Fire, turned off the Airport, and set the Wi-Fire to scanning. Immediately, up popped our network with a 39% signal strength (more on that in a minute) but along with it no fewer than NINE other networks, 4 of which were not password protected! We joined those networks, verifying that indeed we could connect to them, and then switched back to our network to begin testing our range.

Don’t be fooled by this picture, a slight breeze will send the Wi-Fire toppling, as the “clip” aspect of the stand is pretty much useless.

We first made a circle around the building, and were surprised to find that the strongest reception we could get from our network was 40%. Feeling a little let down, we began walking down the street, stopping every 20 feet or so to see how our reception was. After 100 feet, it was still 40%. 200 feet – 39%. 300 feet – back up to 41%. It appeared as though the 40% or so Wi-Fi signal was all that was able to make its way out of Macenstein‘s HQ, but the Wi-Fi was able to keep that 40% connection no matter the distance. We kept walking. 400 feet – 38%. 500 feet (we were now sitting across from a Car Wash, looking like tools) 35%. We got an estimated 700 feet from our office before losing the signal, and we feel this was do more to line of site issues than to the Wi-Fire not being up to the 1000-foot challenge. There were just too many other buildings and trees in the way, and we couldn’t aim the Wi-Fire at our office any longer.

We ran another test inside Macenstein Labs, this time with the Wi-Fire connected to a dual G5 PowerMac. The G5 normally was connected to the internet via Ethernet, and in our test using the Wi-Fire, we got an identical download time for a 120MB file as with a wired connection. Needless to say, we were impressed.

Results: Test 2 (home)

At home I decided to test the Wi-Fire with that same troublesome Mac mini that delivered such poor Wi-Fi reception on vacation. Despite being about 20 feet from my home base station (and 4 feet from an AirPort Express), occasionally the mini will lose its AirPort connection, causing me to have to turn its AirPort off and back on to reconnect.

I had a little trouble setting up the Wi-Fire to work on my home AirPort. Where our work network is not password protected (don’t ask), my home network is, and while I thought I was entering my correct network password, the Wi-Fire didn’t agree. Long story short, I ended up having to enter the Hexidecimal password, not my standard ASCII one I use when connecting normally via AirPort. To get this, simply open up your AirPort setup utility, and choose “BASE STATION” from the main menu. There you will see an option for EQUIVALENT NETWORK PASSWORD, which will show you your 26 character string (assuming you are using 128-bit WEP) and that worked just fine in the Wi-Fire.

Not overly pretty, but at least you won’t mistake which end you are supposed to point where.

After setting it up, I was up and running with a 90% signal that has not been dropped once in the last 2 weeks. Additionally, I now see 10 other networks from neighbors of mine, 5 of which are unprotected. It’s nice to know that in theory, I could stop paying for internet access at any point and just use one of their networks for free (not that I would ever do that.) I felt especially dirty connecting the the network MSHOME. It’s also nice to know I have a choice of 3 new IP addresses to use, should I choose to.



Ok, so the Wi-Fire is awesome, but there’s gotta be a catch, right? Well, yes, actually, there is. Two catches, in fact. First, the thing ain’t small. It is designed with a sort of dual stand/monitor clip, but the clip aspect of it is pretty much useless, so don’t kid yourself into thinking it will clip to the lid of your Mac laptop (or cinema display, for that matter). You’ll find you’ll want to leave it free-standing on a desk next to you for the most part, or on top of your tower, if you use it thusly. It’s not beautiful, either. The gray antenna with the directional arrow sticker on top is rather PC-ish (and yes, it works fine on Windows machines too) but we forgive it. The stand folds flat, so while it is a little on the large side, you should have no problem putting it in your computer bag when traveling.

The retractable USB cable is a nice touch that will be appreciated by travelers.

The second problem is a problem we encountered with the driver on certain Macs, mainly PowerPC-based Macs. Once set up, the Wi-Fire worked great, but if you unplugged it while using the connection, then plugged it back in, the connection would not resume, requiring a restart. Not the end of the world, and hField claims they are aware of the problem, but something to keep in mind.


The Wi-Fire by hField is awesome. While not the prettiest girl at the dance, this one puts out, and should be popular with just about everyone who is disappointed with their current Wi-Fi reception. For only $79, you can hook the Wi-Fire to ANY Mac (or PC) and get instant internet access with nearly 5 times the range of your current Wi-Fi card (MacBook owners may see less dramatic results than Mac mini owners such as myself). Additionally, the Wi-Fire allows you to glom off the non-password protected networks of neighbors, meaning for $79, you could theoretically never have to pay for internet access again.

[UPDATE]: In answer to readers questions (see below in the comments) about whether the same piece of Wi-Fire hardware will work on both Macs and PCs, or whether you need to purchase a platform-specific version, Wi-Fire had this to say:

With the present units, the XP and Mac units are different hardware platforms. In development, hField worked with several different hardware platforms and our first objective was optimizing performance with each OS. Different chipsets happen to have different strengths and weaknesses and this was something we wanted to characterize first.

The Wi-Fire for Vista will be introduced to the market near the end of October and this will be on the same chipset as the Mac, just different software as you were surmising. In fact, any Wi-Fire for Mac owner that plugs his Wi-Fire into a Vista machine will discover that it runs plug and play with no software installed. And it can be used that way now just by using the internal Vista WiFi controls. However, with the end of October release, they’ll also be able to get our new software which will take a totally different approach than seen on the market today and fully integrate with Vista but provide better info for the more techie user.

After that Vista release, we’ll continue consolidating on one platform but are not ready to release a schedule for that yet.

The Wi-Fire by hField Technologies

Price: $79

Pros: Adds amazing Wi-Fi range to any Mac (or PC), very reasonably priced, retractable USB chord for travel

Cons: A bit bulky, not overly beautiful, slightly flaky drive on PowerPC Macs (being worked on)

31 Responses to “Review: Wi-Fire more than delivers on its 3x Wi-Fi boost claim”
  1. MacRand says:

    Truckers driving cross-country, who are use to paying Flying-J, T.A., or other truck stops big bucks ($150-$200 annually) will want to use the Wi-Fire for 2 reasons —
    1. The expanded radius and number of potential networks on which to hookup appears to be awesome, and
    2. Certain Wi-Fi installations at truck stops (notably too many T.A.s) have weak antennae / broadcast (cheaply done) too often requiring users to “go inside” the facility instead of going online in their Truck parked in the truck parking lot (often huge); better reception means not having to leave your truck / home.

    I will be recommending this product as a Wi-Fi solution to fellow Truckers.

  2. Hindsight says:

    Very nice. I just ordered one.

  3. zahadum says:

    your review comes along at a nice time – i have been thinking about this gizmo for a while (a friend needs a boost).

    however, how much of this boost is ONLY line-of-site vs through obstacles (thick walls etc).

    also – for a future review – high-gain booster antennae for router/base-station (eg i recall that airport does NOT have an industry-standard connector for booster antennae, correct?).

  4. Alfred says:

    Dr Macinstein: Did you actually try the Mac version of the Wifire on a PC? I asked someone at hfield, and they told me that that the Mac device would not work with the PC (and vis versa). I’d like to get your experience with this. Thank you.

  5. Brian says:

    Dr Macenstein: I also have the same question. They say you need a different device for the mac vs. the pc, however, is this actually the case or is it that you need diff software, etc etc. If this is the case, I would suggest that two of us buy one of each and then send the other a copy of the software you need.

    I’d be up for that, anyone have an idea?

  6. Alfred, Brian, please see the UPDATE to the article, at the end.

    Basically, it looks like yes, currently you need a platform-specific version, but starting next month they are unifying the design. So I would suggest if you are platform agnostic, you may want to hold off for a few weeks.

    -The Doc

  7. Ankur says:

    when I first opened the box, I was a little afraid, seeing how small it was and its claim for such a distance. I plugged it into my powerbook and in 5 minutes it was up and running. Currently I live in rural area, which the average property is 2 acres. I needed it for getting from one end of my house to the other, since the router was in front of the house and signal would drop off in the back of the house. I am usually able to see one network witth airport, my own. with this plugged in I am about to see 7 networks. Considering at each network is from an individual house residing in 2 acre properties, I can not believe the distance. When pointed out the window to the direction of line of sight, i can easily make it to then end of my street! There is definately an issue with unplugging it while the computer is running. you get the (power button) screen of death on the OS X, if you know what I mean. If any one as any questions, i will be happy to answer them the best I can.


  8. jesper says:

    First I want to tell you that the hardware works very fine and picks up signals I would othervise not get – excactly as advertized.

    But – being a Mac-user I am spoiled and used to slick and wellfunctioning software. And I must say that the software really is some of the worst I have encountered for a long long time..

    Let me tell you why. I am used to being in control of my Mac. I can decide if a program should open during startup or not. I can force quit it if it acts up, I expect it to never crash and I expect it to work intuitively and with a friendly and helpfull UI.

    Not so with Wi-fire Connection Manager….

    The Wi-fire connection Manager is forced to startup everytime the mac starts and it is not possible to deselect this function as usual in controlpanel -> account -> startup items. That is absolutely unheard of when it comes to OSX.

    It is NOT possible to force quit the process as you can with any other apps using ALT COM ESC. Hfield seems to have digged the process deep into the system in a place where it DOES NOT belong. This is first time ever after 18 years with macs I have seen that.

    I have even had one “blue screen of death” or total system crash after installing the software – the first since I started using my MacBook one year ago!

    The Wi-fire connection Manager also crashes too often – especially if the Mac is put to sleep closing the lid or if the USB connection to Wi-fire is disconnected.

    And finally the UI of the connection Manager looks and works like a PC-program from the last century, unintuitive, ugly and lacking expected options and helpfunctions.

    This program even surpasses MS in the way it forces itself onto the user. This is a program that puts itself in the center instead of the user.

    What a shame to see such a nice piece of hardware with such a crappy software to control it.

  9. kris says:

    Where did you guys order from? Let me know I want one.

  10. artman1033 says:

    After reading this blog, I bought mine on Ebay. This is FABULOUS. I HAVE HAD IT ONE WEEK. The Ebay supplier charged $79.00 +$5.00 shipping. Arrived in two days first class, 1500 miles.

  11. Ankur says:

    I got mine from the company which make the device.

  12. jesper says:

    I sent my article (see above) to HField. The response is that they are aware of the issues and plan to implement the needed solutions in next upgrade.

    Lets see….

  13. MacBliss says:


    As a mac user too, I couldn’t agree with you more – what a utterly crappy piece of software!! Crude, unpolished and intrusive in the extreme! I’ve had my wifire for the last 2 days now, went through 2 uninstalls and re-installs, 2 blue screens of death ( i couldn’t believe my eyes!!) during the restart sequence (which takes nearly twice as long btw) and I am still unable to get this thing to work!! What an extremely un-Mac experience! I see my network listed, select it, enter my password, and then it says connecting.. forever! No error message, no feedback, no nothing, and I can’t even force quit the Connection manager app! Argh!

    As much as I want to keep that piece of equipment, I am simply unwilling to put up with that shitty software! I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if the whole thing stops working once leopard is out later this month… So very disappointed… 9.5/10, my ass! This is not a mere piece of hardware but a combination hardware/sofware and the mac version of the software sucks big time! 6.5 at the most with the software in its current form.

    This is the last time I trust a review from macenstein… As you can tell, I am still quite pissed by the whole experience, and their tech support is already gone for the weekend… Great.

  14. jesper says:

    Good to hear you agree Macbliss. Not so good with our experiences…

    Please mail the content of your article to HField so they know how big a problem they are facing if they want to continue to sell to macusers 😉

    Anyway – lets give them some leeway, the software has just come out and I am sure they had never seen a mac before – othervise they would have known better.

    Give them some time….

  15. Dr. James Platler, Professor, Political Science says:

    This site is a must! I’ve been using my $4200. Mac Pro (the laptop). So far, it is useful only for typing and other simple tasks where WIFI is unavailable. The distance rating of my internal antenna is no more than 25 feet. You need to be in the room that houses the router. It’s simply disgusting. Even at the university the signal is dead 95% of the time. Hot Spot? With the Mac Book Pro, forget it. You’re dead in the water. I consider my first Mac experience an issue to be litigated till MAC uses an antenna equal to the IBM 4200 Think Pad. It never fails, never drops out, and gets multiple signals for blocks away. And the IBM was assembled in China, something I worried about. My MAC? It’s junk, but for typing. I am sick about taking a chance on MAC. It’s the bane of my existence now.

  16. Ankur says:

    While having Wi-Fire for about 6 weeks, there definiately has been problems with the software side of it. But now that I have upgraded to Leopard, it is not working at all, and no update yet. I sent then an E-mail, and now will have to call them tomorrow.

  17. jesper says:

    Still no upgrade. Still no improvemnets, still no info.

    This company sucks….

  18. JB says:

    Jesper, any updates? I just ordered one to use with my Macbook w/ Leopard. Their site claims it’s Leopard compatible…now I’m worried

  19. jesper says:


    You should be worried..

  20. Tim says:

    Be careful when purchasing Wi-Fire, it didn’t work for me and I have sent them 4 emails and left 2 phone messages (no one ever answers the phone) trying to get a return number and they won’t respond. It’s starting to look like this is a Fly by Night Outfit at best.

  21. Tim S says:

    Be careful when purchasing Wi-Fire, it didn’t work for me and I have sent them 4 emails and left 2 phone messages (no one ever answers the phone) trying to get a return number and they won’t respond. It’s starting to look like this is a “Fly by Night Outfit” at best.

  22. Troy H says:

    I have it working fine in Leopard — just as long as I don’t disconnect it, put the machine to sleep, or try to close the software. This is on a 1.25 ghz Powerbook. I keep hoping for a software upgrade, because I don’t think I can live with this device for long.

  23. Matt says:

    What version of the software is everyone using? I am looking into getting the Wi-Fire, and from their website it looks like Version 2.0 integrates a lot better with OS X. Does anyone have some firsthand experience?

  24. Darren says:

    I have to agree the software for Leopard is not really functional it often causes kernal_task to eat up all my cpu cycles and nothing but restart will fix the issue. Great idea, but useless without functional software. Still no sign for their improved Version 2.0 software either even with a Summer 2008 release date.

  25. Red says:

    Used this for about a month now, and its worst than my interal antenna. I get slower speeds and worst connection.

    So I thought I was just to far from my router. Moved next to the router….

    Internal = 100%
    Wi=Fire = 90%

    The Wi-Fire was point right at the router. Did some download test speeds…

    Internal = 300-500 kb
    Wi-Fire = 20-30 kb

  26. Ben says:

    I don’t understand how it’s not working for everyone. It seems like I’m not the only one who’s gotten it to work with their mac. And close to the router I don’t think it’s any better than airport, but after 100 or more feet it’s definitely much better. So yeah, maybe some people installed it wrong or something.

  27. Wonk says:

    I ordered this adapter to help me with flaky macintosh wireless problems. I cannot get to work, and I spent four years working for my college IT dept. I’ve installed and uninstalled and reinstalled the driver thrice on a powerbook and once on a macbook with zero joy. The setup instructions are written like the setup is automagic. Not so much. The wifire connects most of the time and then loses the network, even in the same room. When you load a saved profile, it connects and within minutes disconnects with no warning. The wifire also frequently mistakes ssid names (displays gibberish) and encryption type on known networks.
    Save your money; this is a stinker, at least in my experience.

  28. ejg says:

    It makes no sense to criticize this antenna by saying “my internal shows 100% but the wi-fire shows 80-90%”. Note that Wi-fire was made to better your connection distance by supplying a very sensitive antenna combined with a very small reflector focused in a specific direction. The oversensitive antenna over saturates close in which is why you see erroneous measurements for your close by/home network. I question the credibility of some of the negative tests reported here.

    I myself am able to connect to a neighbors network and speed test shows 7Mbps down, 3Mbps up. The network is about 300 yards away. Signal strength is 50% whereas I could not see the signal with my laptop. Great antenna except the clip-on really is a joke. Better to set it on a flat surface.

    One has to understand antenna design and working characteristics to fairly test the unit. Many people are just too ignorant to know what they are doing in their hokey test process.

  29. e says:

    Ok, just FYI:


    On Wed, Apr 22, 2009 at 3:19 PM, wrote:
    Hello Emmanuel,

    We are close to a finalization of the new software, and would like to offer you a download of our latest build. I’d like to see if the new Beta software version improves your results.

    You can download the latest build here:

    We’re inviting select customers to try it and give us some feedback.

    The zip has two files clearly labeled for Leopard and Tiger respectively. You should have no problems with installation, particularly if you’re still using 1.0. If you are using our earlier pre-release of 2.0 installed, there’s a slight possibility the installation won’t be perfect. If you have any problems getting it working immediately, it’s probably a sign that the installation didn’t go quite right. I don’t expect any problems, but I’ve only sent this release to a couple people so far. I’ve had no reported problems. To be clear, if there’s any issue at all it will be minor and easy to fix with some support from us – there’s no risk to your computer.

    You will find a number of small clean-up issues remain. Following are notes about limitations of use, current workarounds, and remaining issues of which you should be aware.

    1) Wi-Fire may not be able to maintain a connection to WPA2 networks.
    The problem may be more severe in situations with high data traffic, for instance, streaming video or sending a large file. If you are disconnected, unplugging and replugging in the Wi-Fire may be necessary for you to reconnect to any network.

    2) Some users experience problems with connecting to a network they’ve connected to in the past, but have changed the security settings for. For instance, if you connect to and create a profile for “My Home
    Network”, which uses WEP, but later change “My Home Network” to WPA. If you experience problems connecting, try deleting the profile and recreating it when you connect.

    3) WEP networks can’t connect with ASCII password. You should enter your password with Hex password if you are using WEP, prepending it with “0x”.

    4) WPA and WPA2 won’t work with hostAP, a rarely used Linux application that turns an entire Linux computer into an access point. There is no work around to this issue, but hostAP is very uncommon. If you are connecting to a Wireless Access Point and not an entire computer, this issue will not impact you.

    5) In the “Available Networks” table, you can click on the Signal Strength bar and change it. Changing the signal strength has no impact on anything at all. This is just one of the easy items remaining while we’ve been testing the WPA2 issues we observed.

    I’m looking forward to hearing about your experiences.



    So, that’s more than one month and the “finalized” driver is still not available:

    Mac users feel like a fifth wheel!

    At hfield they are really making fun of us!

  30. bouaf says:

    moi j’ai une question sur ce produit !!
    il est compatible BACKTRACK de chez linux ou non ???
    est quel chipset il y a dedans??

  31. Old Unshaven One says:

    I see I’m not alone! A couple years ago I bought a Wi-Fire that did manage to improve the signal a little bit from my wireless router 300 feet away. Amazon’s product description here above should say: “Suffering from dropped packets and spotty connections? You must be using a Wi-fire!” I wish I had a dollar for every reinstall of the buggy WiFire drivers I had to do to get the thing even to work somewhat reliably. Technical support was very poor, delaying an entire month with slow email runaround excuses before finally and begrudgingly replacing the dead-on-arrival unit I received.
    But now the good news: I discovered the Alfa “USB 500mW WiFI b/g Adapter” online and decided to try one. My network signal strength went from the Wi-Fire’s 15-20% to over 50% immediately (double the number of bars) and it didn’t drop the connection. Data transfer was much better and even other APs in the area are now visible that didn’t appear before. So, like many others’ experience here, I, too, suggest you ignore the rather obviously manufacturer-written testimonials elsewhere on the net, save yourself some money and buy the much less expensive and more stable–both electronically and mechanically–Alfa wireless adapters. Don’t waste money on the bigger Alfa antenna, though, because the small one it comes with works just as good, I learned unfortunately. I realize this sounds like an advertisement but I’d like to add my two cents’ worth about how crappy this Wi-Fire thing is, now that there are alternatives. In fact, if someone knows of an even better and cheaper unit than the Alfa, please let me know!

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