For about twenty bucks less than Microsoft's N adapter, the $79 (MSRP) Mad Catz Wireless Gaming Adapter for Xbox 360 gives you a potentially more versatile way to get your Xbox natively linked to an N network (albeit 2.4 GHz only).
Price: $79.99 (MSRP)
Pros:Less expensive than Microsoft's adapter; can network devices other than Xbox 360, or multiple devices with added switch
Cons: Lacks 5 GHz support; requires configuration independent of game console; inconveniently recessed WPS button
Before we get into the details of the Mad Catz adapter itself, we have to take a moment to complain a little about its packaging. The product comes in a cardboard box, but that's just a ruse because within the box you'll find the contents tightly ensconced in that familiar plastic sarcophagus that's tough to open without accidentally plunging a sharp object into the product-- or worse, your body.
As an Ethernet bridge, the Mad Catz adapter connects to the Xbox via the LAN port rather than USB, so while the product is ostensibly for the Xbox 360, it's actually platform independentyou could use it to supplant the integrated G Wi-Fi of a PlayStation 3, or to wirelessly network any other Ethernet device (PC, TiVo, Slingbox, etc.). Moreover, you can network several devices via one the Mad Catz adapter by using an inexpensive (as little as $15) Ethernet switch.
A mast antenna rises from the back of the Mad Catz adapter's small, low profile chassis, which comes in white or black to match the aesthetics of an Arcade/Premium or Elite console. Unlike Microsoft's adapter, you can't configure the Mad Catz adapter from the Xbox console. Instead, you must configure it via PC, which requires temporarily changing a system's IP address to match the adapter's 10.10.10.x default IP settings. Once you've done that (an included utility walks the unfamiliar through the process) you can use a browser-based console to scan for your Wi-Fi network and enter the appropriate encryption key.
You can bypass PC setup by configuring the adapter via WPS but the process isn't as convenient as it could be given that the WPS button is the tiny recessed kind you need to press with a paperclip. To make matters worse, the WPS button is on the back of the adapter and right next to an identical button to reset the device to factory defaults, so you need to look closely to identify it. The design of the WPS button is especially irksome given that there's a power button (which we consider superfluous) located right on the front of the adapter.
In spite of this design quirk and the lack of 5 GHz support, the Mad Catz's lower price tag makes it a reasonable alternative to Microsoft's Wireless N adapter, particularly if you want the flexibility to network multiple devices.
Joseph Moran is a veteran product reviewer and co-author of Getting StartED with Windows 7 from Friends of Ed.