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AC1200 USB Wi-Fi Adapter Round-Up

D-Link was founded in 1986 and manufactures a variety of networking products, including routers, Wi-Fi adapters and even wireless security cameras.

Figure 1 - The D-Link DWA-182 shown with its protective cap on the USB connector. Note the WPS button bottom left of center.

While it DWA-182 does support the AC1200 standard, it's listed as "Draft AC" on D-Link's website, suggesting that it was not designed on the final 802.11ac standard. It takes a long time for the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) to fully ratify a new wireless networking standard, so manufacturers sometimes release products based on the draft specifications.

I was nevertheless assured by D-Link's engineers that there were no changes from the draft to final release of 802.11ac that affected this adapter, and that its DWA-182 is fully 802.11ac-compliant. We'll see how it holds up against the rest of the field. D-Link's DWA-182 came out in the spring of 2013, so it is fairly old, after all.

Specs

  • AC1200, up to 300 Mb/s on 2.4GHz and 867 Mb/s on 5GHz bands
  • USB 3.0, backward-compatible with USB 2.0
  • Broadcom controller
  • Internal antenna
  • OS support: Windows 8, 7, XP (SP3)
  • 802.11ac (Draft), 802.11n, 802.11g, 802.11a

What's in the Box?

Figure 2 - The D-Link DWA-182 outside box.


The following items are included in D-Link's packaging:

  • DWA-182 Wi-Fi USB 3.0 adapter with protective cap
  • Software CD
  • Quick-start guide

Figure 3 - The contents of the box for the D-Link DWA-182.

Despite the DWA-182's age, we're fairly certain the hardware has undergone multiple updates. The version we're testing is labeled C1. According to D-Link's website, the A1 version was lighter at 16.7g, it came with a USB cradle, but was limited to the slower USB 2.0 interface and its 480 Mb/s transfer rate. C1 is slightly heavier at 20.5g, but benefits from USB 3.0 interface, capable of 5 Gb/s. That shifts the bottleneck over to to the Wi-Fi controller, rather than USB.

The DWA-182 has a WPS button and a single green status LED. Consider avoiding WPS for security. While the technology is convenient, there's an inherent risk to using it.

Finally, there is a user manual in PDF format on the CD, which is fairly typical these days as manufacturers move away from printed documentation.

Features

The D-Link DWA-182 features AC SmartBeam, which, rather than sending a signal omnidirectionally, works to send each device an individual signal to deliver the fastest connection possible. This is D-Link's implementation of beamforming, a technology designed for directional signal transmission, which uses an intelligent algorithm to detect where the device is and where it's going to send a focused, direct wireless signal.

AC SmartBeam is a proprietary chip-based (as opposed to antenna-based) implementation of beamforming that employs optimized drivers between a D-Link router and D-Link adapter. Of course, 802.11ac beamforming will work with this adapter and any other 802.11ac-capable router, but without AC SmartBeam's additional optimizations. AC SmartBeam only works on the 5GHz band, and only with D-Link's latest driver package. The company claims this technology increases throughput specifically in the middle of the adapter's range, but does not serve to increase range overall.

D-Link's bundled software found my home network and prompted me for my WPA2 password. It also revealed the Wi-Fi channels utilized by surrounding networks to suggest potential interference issues.

Standouts

Figure 4 - The D-Link DWA-182 seen along its edge. Note the ventilation slots that run the length of the adapter.

D-Link's DWA-182, even more than the other USB-based Wi-Fi adapters, feels like a large flash drive. And not a high-end one, either. With its cap attached, the thin plastic device just doesn't exude quality.

General Observations

The DWA-182 has small slits on its sides for ventilation. They appear to be functional too, since the adapter didn't get hot through our testing.

Figure 5 - Anatomy of the D-Link DWA-182

1: USB 3.0 connector
2: RF shield
3: WPS button
4: Dual internal antenna

It's interesting that the DWA-182 employs two antennas internally, since multiple antennas are required for client-side beamforming (electronically focused communication back to the router).

Management

Figure 6 - The D-Link software handles the connection duties of the adapter, and provides useful information, including the available networks, and the channel number used.

D-Link Wireless Connection Manager facilitates the DWA-182's connection to your wireless network. We used version 3.03.B04 for testing. If a network is not detected (should you choose not to broadcast your SSID, for instance), the software lets you manually configure the connection.

The software is stable and frankly easier to use than Microsoft's built-in configuration utility. More advanced options include security settings (WEP, WPA-Personal, WPA2-Personal, WPA-Enterprise, WPA2-Enterprise) and the ability to set up your network as infrastructure or ad hoc.

Availability, Warranty & Pricing

D-Link's DWA-182 has the most expensive list price of the adapters tested, at $75. It is available for less on Amazon, sporting a street price of $47.88. Warranty coverage lasts one year.