The Great Vista/Mac Showdown: Wide Area Wait?

Driver updates will bedevil Vista users for months to come. As I've continued to migrate to this new system, the most annoying driver interruptus has prevented me from using my Sprint PX-500 EV-DO card with Vista (there is a workaround, which I'll cover below and in a step-by-step walkthrough).

Vista and Sprint EV-DO speed test results

Driver updates will bedevil Vista users for months to come. As I've continued to migrate to this new system, the most annoying driver interruptus has prevented me from using my Sprint PX-500 EV-DO card with Vista (there is a workaround, which I'll cover below and in a step-by-step walkthrough). However, drivers for this card don't exist on the Mac side (nor does the PX-500 fit in the ExpressCard/34 slot on the MacBookPro).


 
 Image Gallery: Follow a step-by-step configuration guide to setting up and using a Sprint EV-DO connection in Windows Vista in this gallery of screen shots.  

 

The PX-500 is a recently released EV-DO Rev A card, having come out in October, and it seems that my carrier, Sprint, or the card OEM should have been ready with a Vista driver. Sprint support tells me a Vista driver "any day now." This means it would be impossible to configure and activate a new EV-DO card from Sprint on Vista. Verizon's Curitel-made cards reportedly can be activated in Vista, and Lenovo, which makes a version of the ThinkPad X60 with built-in Verizon EV-DO, is shipping systems with cards that can be configured. 

Mac support for EV-DO has been available though usually in a roundabout way, provided by workarounds on previous PowerBooks with standard PCMCIA cards if the EV-DO card was configured on an XP system first and used with a dial-up script on the Mac (similar to the workaround for Vista I'll describe below) or by connecting to an EV-DO phone and using it as a modem. A handful of EV-DO cards have shipped for Mac and PC, like this one, but MacBook Pro users with a Sprint account like myself are stuck waiting for an ExpressCard/34 version. Novatel in October shipped a Verizon-compatible ExpressCard/34 EV-DO data card.

There are various USB-based EV-DO connections for Mac and PC, but I am sticking to the hardware I have and waiting for the recently announced ExpressCard/34 for the Sprint network. There are earlier reports that Mac-compatible ExpressCard/34 EV-DO cards were available, but Sprint has never been able to get me a card and I remain hopeful.

If, however, you have an activated Sprint EV-DO card in an XP system, moving it over is a simple matter of creating a dial-up script for the service. Here's the step-by-step guide to that workaround, but in a nutshell:

EV-DO cards must be activated using two 10-digit telephone numbers, the Carrier Mobile Directory Number (MDN) and the Carrier Mobile Subscriber ID (MSID), and a six-digit locking code, called the MSL. Telling the card this information the first time you use it is essential to making it work, because the card and the network exchange these numbers to identify the account and control data.

Once the EV-DO card is activated—that is, once it knows the MDN, MSID and MSL—a simple dial-up script can start the connection process. On the Sprint network, you configure your dial-up script to dial #777 and leave the username and password fields blank (though you need to check the Remember this password box).

With this workaround, you'll get connectivity, but not the kind of usage reporting you are used to from the carrier's connection management software, which typically reports up- and down-stream data usage. If you are on a plan with limited data use, this could be a problem, but EV-DO services are typically unmetered or relatively generous data capacities. 

As you can see from the report at the top of this posting, Sprint's EV-DO delivered 996 Kbps downstream and 128 Kbps upstream bandwidth.

Which OS wins this round? Well, the hardware issues are OEM-dependent, not reliant on the OS. Both Vista and Mac systems can run EV-DO cards, though both are still somewhat reliant on workarounds depending on the carrier you use. Again, this is a tie. But.... 

Note: Today was the first time I've run into Windows' Blue Screen of Death since starting to use Vista. After configuring the dial-up connection, Vista crashed three consecutive times after restarting because of an unresolved hardware problem. Then, it worked fine. Just plain strange, though it brought back memories of many past blue screens.

Edge to the Mac, because I've never had the Mac system crash because of a modem script configuration. 

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