AC1200 USB Wi-Fi Adapter Round-Up

Routers get all attention when it comes to Wi-Fi networking, but picking the right adapter is just as important. Today we test four 802.11ac USB adapters.

Despite the performance advantage of wired network connections, many of us prefer the convenience of Wi-Fi. And when our computing devices don't have Wi-Fi controllers built-in, it's hard to get any more ubiquitous than a USB-based adapter. The speediest dual-band models fall into the AC1200 standard (as a reminder, AC1200 refers to the 2.4GHz band's 300 Mb/s maximum and the 5GHz band's 867 Mb/s peak).

Check out USB Wi-Fi Adapter 101 and and How We Test USB Wi-Fi Adapters if you would like more background.

In this piece, we take a look at a handful of modern USB-attached AC1200 adapters. After all, it is fine for manufacturers to talk about rated transfer rates and range, but we want to know which products go the distance (and for this type of device, we mean that literally in terms of throughput from range).

The AC1200 USB Wi-Fi adapters we're testing include:

  • D-Link's DWA-182
  • Netgear's A6210
  • TP-Link's Archer T4U
  • ZyXEL's AC240

Since they're compatible with the AC1200 standard, these dual-band devices can connect on the 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi frequencies. They also work with older Wi-Fi standards, including 802.11n, 802.11g and even the original 802.11b and 802.11a.

All four products, and in fact almost every comparable USB-attached Wi-Fi adapter, support the latest security protocols, including WPA, WPA2 and WEP. In order to accommodate 802.11ac's peak performance, the quartet also features USB 3.0 connectivity capable of 5 Gb/s transfer rates, though they're backward-compatible with USB 2.0 as well.

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  • SamSerious
    For notebooks these sticks look great, but as great as a flip-up antenna may be compared to the slim sticks, they will never be as good as those porducts where you can put a big omnidiretional antenna on. Therefore for users with bigger desktop computers, a PCIe adapter with multiple swapable antennas is still the way to go.
  • Math Geek
    did not take me long to realize that a usb stick on the back of a pc under a desk surrounded by a massive bundle of various cables was not the optimal way to go about wifi on a pc :)

    i always get the stick up in the air and away from the pc and easily see double the performance this way. can't tell you how many times i went to a client's house to see about wifi problems and fixed all the problems by simply putting the usb stick on an extension cable and taping it to the wall above the pc. BOOM instant signal and throughput gain.

    as a result i look for internal cards with antennas on cables i can raise up or usb sticks that come with extension cables. just my personal experience anyway.
  • tb75252
    Do any of these products work under major Linux distros?
  • gangrel
    Math Geek: yes! It applies to any kind of wireless. I like Logitech keyboard/mouse because the Microsoft transceivers have been far more problematic, and I greatly prefer wireless. Shifting that away from the chassis is helpful...and having it too near a WiFi antenna does increase problems.

    tb7: check the manufacturers' pages to see if they're showing Linux drivers, at least as a first step. Not, as I think you know, that this guarantees they'll work. But it'll be a heckuva lot faster for you to do the research, than to wait on the chance that someone here has done it. Better chance is to skip USB and go PCI; for whatever reason, PCI network cards install much more often, and more easily.
  • Math Geek
    here's another thought since am actually in the middle of trying to figure this out. i wonder if the writer of this article knows a bit more about the features on these dongles?

    my lg phone is very easy to connect to my roku stick using the miracast feature. win 8.1 had this as a beta feature and i was able to use it on my laptop. win 10 has finished this feature and it is now built into windows. sadly, the finalized version does not work on my laptop like it did on win 8.1. best i can tell is that the wifi card is too old and does not support the finalized feature. i can get over that as the laptop is a few years old.

    i would also like my desktop to connect the same way but my even older wifi dongle (n rated one) on my pc does not support it either. i can't find anything in any feature list for any brand wifi stick that says it supports the wifidirect standard that miracast uses.

    does anyone know how/where it is listed or is it safe to assume it is there for any newer dongle i buy. i was going to try my luck and get a new ac model assuming it would be new enough to have it supported but would rather not play the guessing game with multiple models if it is not going to be universally supported. i can't find a list of supported hardware online nor any reference to wifidirect on any info sheet anywhere. :(

    anyone know anything about this as it would be nice to wirelessly share my pc with my roku stick in another room. my phone does this no problem and it is a cheap model so this is not exactly a high end feature just one that lg supports very well.

    note: wifidirect/miracast is not the same thing as the dlna that some other options use. i have no interest in buying a chromecast stick or anything else other than a new wifi stick. i want to use the roku stick i already have and use daily. :)
  • gangrel
    Look here:
    https://www.wi-fi.org/product-finder-results?subcategories=23

    Not many right now.

    Readiing here:
    http://www.broadcom.com/blog/home-entertainment/a-miracast-enabled-future-next-gen-screencasting-brings-your-content-to-life-video-demo/

    the problem would appear to be, that router support is required, and may not be all that common. That suggests support in adapters will be slow.
  • Math Geek
    Anonymous said:


    i have been on that site and played with the search feature but was not able to get this subcategory. i only found a bunch of monitors and routers that worked :(

    but hey thanks. now maybe i can finally figure out what i need to buy. book marking that search so i can find it again :D
  • dstarr3
    Quote:
    For notebooks these sticks look great, but as great as a flip-up antenna may be compared to the slim sticks, they will never be as good as those porducts where you can put a big omnidiretional antenna on. Therefore for users with bigger desktop computers, a PCIe adapter with multiple swapable antennas is still the way to go.


    Well, I'm building a mini-ITX build for the living room, and the only PCIe slot will be consumed by the GPU. There are motherboards with WiFi built in, but there are better boards that don't. So, this is a very good solution for those kinds of builds, as well.
  • gangrel
    Math: check the Broadcom blurb I posted a bit late. :)
  • Math Geek
    Anonymous said:
    Math: check the Broadcom blurb I posted a bit late. :)


    interesting article but that goes against what i thought wifidirect/miracast does. the feature uses the wifi cards in both devices to make a direct connection and pass data between them. a router should not come into play here. i think the article is saying the router will able to connect through miracast and then anything connected to the router will be able to use the data. at least this is how i read it :)

    for instance just for giggles last time i was in sam's club i connected my phone to one of the lg tv's (miracast actually recognized about 10 different ones i could connect to) and mirrored my screen to the oohs and aaahhhhhs of the other shoppers who did not now they could do this. now this was done without any wifi connection at all. i was not on the store network and the tv was connected to none either. a couple other shoppers pulled out their phones and in a few minutes of showing them where the settings were, we had about 6 screen going with our phones mirrored.

    this is why i read the article the way i do, since i know no actual wifi is needed, only compatible wifi cards. this is how it kills latency and such by being a direct connection between the devices with no middle man. it really is a neat feature and once it takes off, we'll all wonder how we lived without it. i watch movies from my phone to my tv all the time since it is easy to do and much easier than connecting my pc to my tv in the other room. hence my wish for a wifi dongle that works so i can do this from my pc and save my phone battery some :)
  • gangrel
    Mmm...ok, that does make sense.

    Maybe the issue is, the Miracast hardware in your Roku, or in your TV, is 2.4 GHz and 802n only. The dual-band, 802ac adapters might be slow to do it to avoid additional cost/complexity until there's more demand to do it, and it has to increase driver size/complexity. PCs have less need for it...not no need, but less need. Android has strong reason to do it to overcome the small screen size.
  • Math Geek
    Anonymous said:
    Mmm...ok, that does make sense.

    Maybe the issue is, the Miracast hardware in your Roku, or in your TV, is 2.4 GHz and 802n only. The dual-band, 802ac adapters might be slow to do it to avoid additional cost/complexity until there's more demand to do it, and it has to increase driver size/complexity. PCs have less need for it...not no need, but less need. Android has strong reason to do it to overcome the small screen size.


    no problem, the wifi alliance site had some good info on compatible parts but no specific dongles. instead it seems to give the actual chip model number from broadcom and other oem's. i can look and see if this is listed on the spec sheet for the actual dongles to find something. there seems to be a good number of chips compatible, i only need to find what dingle has these chips in it :)

    or maybe i'll just wait until next year when the masses figures out how neat the feature is and they begin actually advertising it on the boxes.

    what does suck is that apple does not support this so far as i can find. my main phone is an iphone but my secondary one is the android lg volt. kills me that my $40 phone does something my $700 one won't do :( i bet the wifi chip can do it but so far i can;t find a way to enable it. was hoping the jailbreaking crowd would do this but again so far this is a new thing and no one is working with it much yet.
  • gangrel
    Don't hold your breath. From what I read, Miracast is a Microsoft/Intel-driven capability. Second, probably worse: it can be seen as competition for Airplay. Maybe not in its current iteration, but moving forward. Apple supports Apple, and largely ONLY Apple. Or, something they can re-craft to impart an Apple spin. That's pretty much my bitch with them; Windows often makes you jump through a lot more hoops to get something to work in an atypical way...but with Apple, there is only one way, and it is the Apple way.
  • Math Geek
    that is so true and i agree fully and know apple won't ever put it into ios on their own.

    i was just hoping that someone in the jailbreaking world would add the feature. there are many great features added in by this method that apple has refused to do. they have added some features based on their extreme popularity in the jailbreaking crowd but many others get passed on based on not being "apple" enough.

    if it is only a matter of basically a firmware flash for the wifi chip, i'd suspect that this will be done eventually. again basically as soon as miracast/wifidirect becomes mainstream enough. no way the jailbreaking side of apple users (not exactly the same herd mentality as normal apple users) will leave it alone if it is simply a firmware update to the wifi card. i wait patiently for when it finally gains mainstream acceptance and the smart minds turn their attention to all it can do and how many different ways it can be done. :) sure airplay will get it eventually but as soon as the "android can do this but ios can't" commercials start, someone will go "oh yah, firmware flash.... now we can too"
  • griffon9
    you forgot ASUS AC56 !!!! It's said to be the best. I just bought Netgear A6210 it is also said to be the best. So a comparison between these two would be very helpful!
  • jt AJ
    i loved the review tomhardware, especially the part where you disassemble even the USB wifi module its awesome, and of course the 5 feet to 25 feet test, it'd be nice to see a 15 feet test too. I donno much about how wifi n stuff work but I do got a question though. that metal lid RF shield, i always thought its used as heatsink to release heat but does it have other purpose of being there?

    if anyone knows pls answer too.
  • chalabam
    Jonas DeMuro: May you please, repeat the test with all the 4 devices working simultaneously? I mean, interfering with each other.

    I find a robust connection more important that pure speed.
  • jasonelmore
    netgear is making some really good hardware nowadays.. Even their mobile hotspots are 2nd to none. And they give people features everyone wants, like hotspot router docks/cradles with quality mobile apps.
  • RedJaron
    Anonymous said:
    Well, I'm building a mini-ITX build for the living room, and the only PCIe slot will be consumed by the GPU. There are motherboards with WiFi built in, but there are better boards that don't. So, this is a very good solution for those kinds of builds, as well.

    What boards are you looking at right now? Even if the board doesn't have the greatest WiFi card, most of them are simple mini-PCIe cards that can be swapped out for something better for only $20.

    But on a full desktop, I agree. A basic USB adapter is ok when you need one in a pinch, but if you're using one on a daily basis and you're spending $40, I prefer an actual card with external antenna. I'm using a Gigabyte adapter right now that has a magnetic antenna base that's great for mounting on your case for best signal. And it's just a PCIe to mini-PCIe with an Intel minicard, meaning I can upgrade it down the road for cheap.
  • SamSerious
    I'd definitely prefer a miniPCIe card over a USB solution, just make sure it is compatible with your system. Most of these cards use intel chips that often do not work on AMD systems.. External antennas are great, but the cables musnt be to long or more signal will get lost due to the (often) poor cables than can be gained from a better position of the antenna.