With that background in mind, we set out to both objectively and subjectively test wireless AC USB adapters. In the scientific method (remember that from your high school science class?) this is known as quantitative and qualitative testing.
The quantitative method focuses on data gleaned from benchmarks. It needs to be generated in a reproducible fashion, under controlled conditions. To that end, Tom's Hardware has invested in setting up a new hardware testing laboratory to generate networking results. In the area of wireless networking, the important metrics include data throughput and signal strength on the two frequencies that are used: the original 2.4GHz that goes all the way back to the 802.11b standard, as well as the 5GHz band first introduced in 802.11a. The 5GHz frequency was mostly used commercially, while more commonly used in households as part of the 802.11n specification, and was pushed to the forefront by 802.11ac.
While not data-based, qualitative observations are also important in choosing the best gear. This subjective evaluation includes the overall design of the adapter, the internal contents of the device, the installation process and the included software. While not quantifiable like a speed metric or signal strength on a chart or graph, these more subjective points are also critical if the adapter comes with unstable software or protrudes too far from the USB port, for example. The affordability factor of these devices is also a consideration, as many users want good value for their money.
With a comprehensive methodology to evaluate wireless AC USB adapters, we selected several major manufacturers and asked them to submit some of their current models. Some of the products we received will be tested in upcoming articles.