What is the Best Wireless Network Adapter?
If you've recently upgraded to an 802.11ac router, but are still using older Wi-Fi adapters in your laptop and desktop PCs, you're not realizing the full potential of your new router. Retro-fitting your desktop clients with an internal 802.11ac adapter can be daunting, and with most laptops it is virtually impossible. Enter the D-Link AC1900 Wi-Fi USB 3.0 Adapter (DWA-192), a $129.99 dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi adapter that uses a USB port to deliver outstanding throughput and solid range performance. All this throughput goodness doesn't come cheap, and the adapter itself is relatively large, but the DWA-192 is still our Editors' Choice for wireless network adapters.
Design and Features
Most USB network adapters such as the Edimax AC1200 Wireless Dual-Band USB Adapter and the D-Link Wireless AC1200 Dual Band USB Adapter (DWA-182) are USB sticks that protrude around 3 inches out of the USB port and can easily go wherever your laptop does. The DWA-192, on the other hand, is an orb that connects to your USB port via a proprietary 3-foot USB cable. About the size of a baseball, the adapter measures 3.15 inches in diameter and weighs 10.4 ounces. While not overly huge, it is certainly larger than a USB stick and not as portable.
The DWA-192 has a black top and a silver base with a flattened area that keeps the adapter from rolling off of your desk. The two halves of the orb are separated by a thin LED ring that glows solid blue when the adapter is properly connected and blinks blue when it loses connectivity. The base contains a connector for the USB cable, a button that turns the LED ring on and off, and a Wireless Protected Setup (WPS) button.
The DWA-192 is a dual-band AC1900 adapter capable of maximum speeds of 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and 1, 300Mbps on the 5GHz band. It supports 802.11a/g/n connectivity and WPA, WPA2, and WPS security. It also supports D-Link's SmartBeam (Beamforming) technology, which directs wireless signals directly toward the router rather than in a broad spectrum. The adapter ships with a CD containing installation software and a User Guide, a 3-foot USB cable, and a Quick Install Guide.
Installation and Performance
Setting up the DWA-192 is fast and easy. First, make sure you've disabled any installed Wi-Fi adapters on your PC using Device Manager. Next, install the software on your client PC and plug the adapter into the system's USB port when prompted (but not before). The light ring will flash blue while the software loads. When the software setup is completed (around 30 seconds), connect the DWA-192 to your router's 2.4GHz or 5GHz radio band, and you're ready to go.
The DWA-192 delivered stellar throughput performance and range. On my 2.4GHz close-proximity (same-room) test, it delivered an average throughput speed of 228Mbps, beating the Edimax AC1200 (82Mbps), the Totolink A2000UA AC1200 Wireless Dual Band USB Adapter (35Mbps), and the Asus Dual-band Wireless AC1200 USB Adapter (USB-AC53) (57Mbps) by 100 points or more. It also beat my laptop's integrated Qualcomm Atheros QCA9377 wireless 802.11ac network adapter (106Mbps) by a wide margin. At a distance of 30 feet, the DWA-192 delivered 108Mbps, compared with my laptop adapter's speed of 62.2Mbps and the EdiMax AC1200's speed of 43Mbps. The Totolink A2000UA managed just 33Mbps.
Performance on the 5GHz band is also remarkable. The DWA-192 produced an impressive 352 Mbps on the close-proximity test and 183Mbps on the 30-foot test. My integrated laptop adapter stayed close on the close-proximity test (325Mbps), but lagged behind in the 30-foot test (86.4Mbps). The Totolink A2000UA trailed the pack with scores of 37Mbps on the close-proximity test and 41Mbps on the 30-foot test, and the Edimax scored 197 Mbps and 158 Mbps, respectively.
It should be noted that although the DWA-192 is considered a USB 3.0 adapter, it can be connected to a USB 2.0 port. In fact, there was no discernable throughput loss on any of my tests when connected to the slower port.
The D-Link AC1900 Wi-Fi USB 3.0 Adapter (DWA-192) may cost more than adapters such as the Edimax AC1200 Wireless Dual-Band Adapter and the Totolink A2000UA AC1200 Wireless Dual Band USB Adapter, but it offered superior throughput and range performance in testing. It looks cool and is easy to install, but it takes up more space than a stick-style adapter and can be a bit of a hassle when moving from room to room. That said, if you want to increase your Wi-Fi throughput without having to replace your current wireless hardware, the DWA-192 is your best bet and is our Editors' Choice for wireless network adapters.