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ATPM 14.03
March 2008




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Hardware Review

by Chris Lawson,



Developer: hField Technologies, Inc.

Price: $79

Requirements: Mac OS X 10.3 or 10.4 (not yet compatible with 10.5). Universal.

Trial: None

Ever since Apple’s engineers had the brilliant idea of enclosing their laptops’ wireless antennas in a metal case, there have been third-party solutions for improving the wireless range of Apple’s various laptops. The Wi-Fire, a directional, high-gain 802.11 antenna by hField Technologies that runs off of a free USB port, purports to be one such device.

There’s only one problem: it doesn’t work.

Oh, you can connect the silly-looking panel to any USB-equipped Mac and dangle it off the top of the screen or monitor. You can even point it at your router using the directional arrow on top of the antenna casing.


But what you can’t do is actually use it to connect to a network.

There are at least two different software versions available, one of which shipped on CD with the device. The other is available for download at hField’s Web site. The CD version of the software, which is more recent, is marginally more functional than the Web version.

Neither version would allow a PowerBook running Mac OS X 10.4.11 to connect to a network, and both versions caused kernel_task to start eating all available CPU cycles. The Web version hung the SystemUIServer immediately on boot, causing the menu bar to freeze. The CD version’s monitor and configuration application hung on every quit, requiring multiple attempts to force-quit the application before it finally went away.

The Web version wouldn’t even let the Wi-Fire see my router, sitting six feet away from the computer with no walls or anything else in between them. At least the CD version could see it, if not connect to it.


At the heart of the Wi-Fire is a Zydas ZD1211b chipset. As far as I can tell, Zydas was bought by Atheros, which seemingly last updated the driver in July 2006 and now no longer offers it for download. (I apologize for the vagueness of the information here, but none of the companies actually involved with writing the drivers or making the chipset seems to want to admit to ever having done it, as there’s literally nothing on Atheros’s Web site about the chipset, and Zydas doesn’t appear to have any remaining Web presence.) It’s probably just as well; the release notes from the CD version of the driver (4.5.70, which appears to be the latest version) offer the following “known issues:”

  1. For an Intel-based system, the wireless network adapter can’t work anymore after system restart. So please unplug the wireless card before system restart.

  2. For an Intel-based system, the wireless network adapter can’t work anymore after system wake-up from the sleep state. So please unplug the wireless card before system entering sleep state.

  3. For an Intel-based system, the driver will hang if the wireless USB adapter keeps scanning before associating to a [base station] successfully.

  4. For a PPC-based system, the system would hang if you unplug the wireless card while the card is scanning.

In the interest of being completely fair, at least one Mac rag was able to get the device working, so perhaps the experience here is the exception rather than the rule.

On a more positive note, the Wi-Fire has a very nice retractable USB cable, even if the Wi-Fire does look a little silly perched there loosely on the top of my screen. What it really needs is a padded clamp to hold it more securely in place. The odd clamp/stand works much better as a desk stand than as a means of attaching the Wi-Fire to a monitor.


Unfortunately, this product is doomed to failure on the Mac due to its non-functional drivers and very un-Mac-like configuration/monitor software. Keep the $80 for a wireless adapter or antenna with real Mac drivers.

Reader Comments (18)

Alan Mitchell · March 2, 2008 - 20:06 EST #1

To their credit they did refund my money after I ran into all of the problems you also encountered.

I really wanted it to work and wasted many hours trying to make it happen!

I seem to recall that it also had issues with the password length ??

Anyway, I have rarely been so disappointed in a Mac product.

huxley · March 3, 2008 - 08:31 EST #2
I wonder if that cable might be the source of the problem ... I've bought (or been given) retractable USB cables several times and I've had tons of trouble with them.

Not sure if it is insufficient shielding on the cable or internal fraying ... or both?
Troy Hanford · April 4, 2008 - 18:15 EST #3
It's working right now using the software from the CD on my 1.25 ghz Powerbook with Leopard (10.5.2). But it is far from satisfactory.

First, it stops working whenever the machine sleeps. The software still shows a signal but Mail reports a network problem and will not connect even if restarted. Firefox goes offline and reports no connection when restarted. I can get it to work again by closing the software, unplugging the device, plugging it back in, and restarting the software.

Since I know nothing about networking I should also report that I have only used it with MetroFi's free service in San Jose, Ca. I don't know whether that could be a factor in the foregoing problem.

Second, the trackpad seems to perform sluggishly when this is plugged in. Could it be hogging the USB bus or something?

Third, the design is not only dorky for its lack of any firm attachment to the computer but is also extremely fragile looking. You will not want to toss this into a backpack without first packing it in the box it came in.

Fourth, you have to close Airport before it will work. Somewhere I saw a suggestion that having a second antenna close to your machine while your Airport transceiver is active can damage the latter. If this is true, forgetting to close Airport before plugging in this device could be an expensive mistake. It would be nice if the software checked the status of airport before letting this antenna fire up. But the software looks Beta at best.
MAC · July 21, 2008 - 13:45 EST #4
I love this gadget. It works well with my computer both at home and when I am traveling. I take it everywhere I take my laptop and I am always pleased with the results.
Troy Hanford · July 21, 2008 - 14:07 EST #5
MAC says

"I love this gadget."

What platform are you using it on? I've given up on mine.
admin · August 15, 2008 - 20:42 EST #6
if it truly uses the Atheros chipset you can download the drivers from the atheros site for leopard. my alfa works absolutely perfect on leopard, linux and xp. this unit would look a lot better if someone reported on the antenna and the monitor clip was better.
Joe · October 9, 2008 - 11:13 EST #7
I'm running the wi-fire on my macbook right now and I haven't seen it crash like that. But apparently they're releasing a new update for the mac that should fix whatever happened to the people who complained.
And I haven't heard that you need to turn off airport, cause I don't and it also works fine.
Also, I agree that it could be less wobbly, but since mine works I think the really long range is worth readjusting it if it gets nudged. It doesn't seem that flimsy though, the plastic housing seems tough enough to throw into a backpack, since I do that sometimes.
This review also seems out of date since it works on leopard for me too. Overall, this review seems pretty superficial, and it doesn't sound like they tried very hard, since it doesn't even sound like they tried to contact the company when it didn't work for them. It kinda sounded like they wanted it to fail... Maybe my computer and I are a complete fluke, but it works fine for me, and seems worth it overall.
Smith · November 18, 2008 - 15:49 EST #8
Wi-Fire: Watch out before you spend money on it!!

The Wi-fire does in fact work, increasing signal maybe 50%, but not nearly as good as mfgr claims. A flimsy design requires rubber bands or duct tape to secure it, plus its software is buggy, causing me to have to reinstall it more than once to get the MacBook to run it reliably.

Worst problem came when ordering a second unit for a friend (not knowing at the time that better, competitive wifi products are now available) but it arrived DOA. I had to send several emails and leave phone messages to try to get the thing replaced, without results, and finally asked for an RMA. Suddenly, six weeks later a new unit--instead of a refund--arrived, but with no reimbursement for shipping their defective product back.

Compared to several other online electronic companies I've bought from, Wi-Fire's customer service is very poor, about the same as the stability of the device. I recommend checking Amazon and other web sources for better solutions than this one for improving improve Wifi reception.
Richard_Cranium · January 7, 2009 - 20:14 EST #9
Hfield has to be the lamest company for support that I have ever seen. I had to reinstall my wifire, so downloaded the drivers from their site. Wouldnt recognize the wifire. After reading their faqs I realize I needed v1 not v2. Lame part is, there is nowhere to download v1, just v2. Typical.
Alex K · February 8, 2009 - 09:07 EST #10
Spent several hours until I got WiFire working with a unibody aluminium Macbook, under MacOS 10.5.6. The drivers supplied on the CD (driver version 4.5.9) did not work, I could only scan WiFi but could not connect.

However, beta driver from this page works:

The beta driver ( works fine, with some minor issues only. I wonder why hfield makes it so difficult to find working Mac drivers.

The gain in signal strength wasn't as great as I expected, compared to built-in Airport Extreme, but I am still experimenting.
Chris Lawson (ATPM Staff) · February 18, 2009 - 00:23 EST #11
@Joe: I can assure you that I tried very hard to get this thing working, and I can assure you that hField seemed equally uninterested in troubleshooting or making it work when I contacted them about the various problems I had with it. Obviously I'm not alone, judging from the other comments here.

Before you go impugning my efforts in writing this review, I suggest you read some of the other reviews I've written. It's very difficult for a product to be so bad as to earn a "Rotten" rating from me, and probably equally difficult for a product to earn an "Excellent".

@Alex K: It's good to hear that hField is apparently still working on their drivers. The tech support folks I corresponded with a year ago said that they knew of some "issues" with the driver (in my book, "totally failing to work" is a lot more serious than the word "issue" suggests) and hoped to have them fixed in the next beta version, for which they were unwilling to specify a release timeframe.

I'm guessing from the filename that the driver you mention is from December '08. If I knew where the thing was, I'd dig it out and give it another shot with those drivers, just to see if it's at least functional. I hope for their sake that it is.

e.p · April 21, 2009 - 15:52 EST #12
"We will release a new driver soon", that's what the hfield rep told me more than 6 months ago!!! Soon is a so vague word you know, maybe they wait for the next OS X version... I suggest all of you to write them what you think about their driver at linking to this web site so they will know there is more than urgency to build a decent and non bugged version of the driver, after all this piece of hardware works well on XP.

Let's show them that we Mac users have a slice of the market share and demand a decent driver or why not a GNU/GPL version so we can fix it our way.

John B · May 27, 2009 - 11:47 EST #13
I'm returning mine. I ran into all the problems mentioned above. It's a shame as there's a definite need for something like this. Unfortunately, in it's current state, it's unusable.
emmanuel p. · May 28, 2009 - 17:29 EST #14
man you need to look around to find a driver from another company: the Zydas
chipset is used in the wi-fire and you can download it from various places
like here:
emmanuel p. · October 15, 2009 - 13:29 EST #15
I've sent this email to the RD service of Atheros to get the driver for Snow Leopard and all post Tiger beeing fixed:


Hi Reggie,

Hope this email finds you well.

I stumble upon your email looking for a Zydas ZD1211b chipset driver for OS X Snow Leopard.

This chipset is used in the Wi-Fire product by hfield -> but sadly since I've bought it, it was impossible to get a good enough driver for this piece of hardware, see

The wi-fire is still sold but basically Mac Users don't have a decent driver to let it run (it can't even install on latest Snow Leopard) and can't enjoy the same stability as Windows users, neither get all the options working (encryption schemes supported are far fewer than on Windows).

It has been reported that Atheros has bought Zydas and the page where I've found your email confirms this ->

Would you like to get in contact with hfield and provide them with the technical expertise to get this driver developed please?

Thanks for everybody using the wi-fire on Macs with Tiger and upper version of OS X (Intel and PPC).



Maybe some user should push them to support hfield? You can get info there:

Hope it helps.
hacker delight · October 21, 2009 - 13:52 EST #16

just have got the drivers working under snow leopard, you can download them here:

mike · December 5, 2009 - 09:19 EST #17
anyone can confirm if the hacker delight link file is safe to use ????
hacker delight · December 5, 2009 - 12:02 EST #18

The file is safe and meanwhile hfield has released a working version for snow leopard: I used it and it works as great as my hacked version. You can download it from the hfield version.

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