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AC1200 USB Wi-Fi Adapter Round-Up

Netgear A6210

Neagear's A6210 includes a number of features that set it apart from the competition. One is the company's Beamforming+ technology, which purportedly enhances speed, range and reliability. Again, beamforming is an open standard of 802.11ac designed to enhance the range and speed of compatible devices. Most manufacturers incorporate it into their ac-capable products, and it should be interoperable between them. However, Netgear says that it implemented driver-level improvements for better performance and range, which is where Beamforming+ comes from. In order to derive a benefit from Beamforming+, the router and wireless adapter both need to come from Netgear and support Beamforming+ technology. If you don't plan on using a Netgear router, don't write this adapter off, though. Our testing showed it to be adept at connecting with other manufacturers' equipment.

Figure 7 - The Netgear A6210 with its WPS button at the USB connector end, and the extendable antenna (shown raised). The WPS button has a white LED to illuminate it, although no status LED.

The A6210 doesn't feature a slim profile. Instead, it sports a high-gain antenna, which flips up to increase the adapter's wireless range. This was also the only product to include a docking cradle. 

Specs

  • AC1200, up to 300 Mb/s on 2.4 GHz and 900 Mb/s on 5GHz bands
  • USB 3.0, backward compatible to USB 2.0
  • Flip-up antenna housing; dual antennas
  • Supports 802.11ac, 802.11n, 802.11g and 802.11a

While all of the adapters support 300 Mb/s transfer rates on the 2.4 GHz band, Netgear's A6210 claims 900 Mb/s at 5GHz compared to the competition's stated 867 Mb/s. At first I was skeptical that this was just the marketing department prettying up its numbers or trying to one-up the rest of the field. But in our testing, Netgear indeed proved quicker.

What's in the Box?

Figure 8 - The outside of the Netgear A6210 box.

The Netgear A6210 ships with:

  • A6210 Wi-Fi adapter
  • Resource CD
  • Quick-start guide
  • Desktop dock, including integrated extension cable

Figure 9 - The contents of the Netgear A6210. Note the desktop cradle with the integrated USB 3.0 extension cable for optimal positioning both of the adapter and the antenna.

Features

The A6210 features an extendable antenna, a docking station, a WPS button and Netgear's Genie software.

That antenna is a double-edged sword in that it improves reception, but also makes the adapter more prone to getting knocked out of the USB port since it's pretty big.

This is also the only adapter in our round-up with a desktop cradle. Although it's superfluous for most notebooks, it is quite useful on a desktop; any adapter will work better when it gets a little distance away from the metal case of a full-size PC.

Standouts

Figure 10 - The Netgear inserted in its desktop cradle. This elevates the adapter, and makes it easier to position for a stronger signal.

Again, Netgear's A6210 is one of two adapters we're testing with a flip-up antenna for better reception. What makes the adapter's design unique is its flip-up form factor and dual antennas required for client-side beamforming.

General Observations

Figure 11- Screenshot of the Netgear Genie software. Note the graphical representation of the network map, with data presented, including the signal strength, the channel connected on, and an estimate of the throughput.

Netgear's Genie software can be used to manage the A6210. Part of its interface has a similar-looking network map as what's built in to Windows. You also get signal strength in a five-bar metric, a throughput estimate, Wi-Fi channel information and the currently-connected network. While Windows' native network settings show the same statistics, you click around more to find them. Netgear Genie, in comparison, puts everything in one place.

The A6210 has a dedicated hardware WPS button, which is back-lit. Unlike the other adapters, there is no status LED.

Figure 12 - Anatomy of the Netgear A6210

1: USB 3.0 connector
2: RF shield
3: WPS button
4: Dual antenna connection
5: Flip-up antenna array

Management

I installed the software from a bundled CD. It prompted me to connect to the Internet and offered to download a newer build. There is also an option for standalone driver installation for power users. The software version used for our testing was version 1.0.0.30. Since you'd probably want the latest version anyway, Netgear provides plenty of prompts to get you to update.

Availability/Warranty/Pricing

The Netgear A6210 has a list price of $70, with a street price on Amazon.com of $50.