Price: $99.99 (MSRP)
Pros: Easy setup and supports Windows Connect Now; works on both 2.4 and 5 GHz bands.
Cons: Short--and captive--USB cord may necessitate purchase of extension cable in some cases; can't be used to network other AV devices.
Until recently, if you wanted to connect an Xbox 360 to a Wi-Fi N network, your two options were to dumb the network down to b/g compatibility mode in order to use Microsoft's Wi-Fi adapter for the Xbox 360, or invest in a third-party Ethernet-to-Wireless N bridge.
Now that the 802.11 standard is finally a done deal, Microsoft saw fit to update its hardware accordingly with a new Xbox 360 Wireless N Networking Adapter. Microsoft's new N adapter carries the same $99 (MSRP) price tag as the original (and now discontinued) a/b/g compatible model, and like it, supports both 2.4 and 5 GHz frequencies—very handy if you have a dual-mode N router or plan to get one in the future.
The wireless adapter, which is available only in Elite-matching black and sports a pair of stubby antennas, connects to the console via USB. You can either clip the unit to the back of the Xbox or use the adjustable feet to position it away from the console. The only potential wrinkle is that the captive USB cable is only a couple of inches long, so if your console is buried in an enclosed AV cabinet that may cause reception difficulties, you'll need a USB extension cable to optimally position the adapter. (Unfortunately, an extension cable isn't included.)
Getting an Xbox online with the Microsoft N adapter is quite easy. An included software disc provides and automatically installs necessary software and drivers, though you won't need it if the console has been previously networked and is up-to-date on with the latest version of the system software. After installation, you can scan for networks and enter a WEP, WPA, or WPA2 encryption key via the game controller (entering a long complicated key without the benefit of a keyboard can be a bit cumbersome).
The Microsoft N adapter doesn't support WPS, but it does offer simplified setup through Windows Connect Now, which lets you copy wireless network settings from a Windows PC to a USB flash drive which you can then connect to the Xbox for automatic wireless configuration.
A Wireless N-to-Ethernet bridge is still a better option when you want to network multiple A/V devices alongside a 360 (and even dual-band, four port N bridges don't cost much more), but if you just want the simplest way to get your 360 connected to a Wireless N network, Microsoft's Xbox 360 Wireless N adapter does the job nicely.
Joseph Moran is a veteran product reviewer and co-author of Getting StartED with Windows 7 from Friends of Ed.