23 WiFi adapters review: upgrade your WiFi

Affordable models are also capable of very decent speeds

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Introduction

Routers are becoming faster and faster, however many laptops only feature poor WiFi. If you don't want to pull a cable up to your work space, a separate adapter is the perfect solution for you. Hardware.Info tested no less than 23 USB or plug-in card models.


At Hardware.Info, we test a lot of hardware, including about 300 laptops a year. Also, nearly every newly released router tends to find its way to our testlab which recently moved to Amsterdam. There we notice that the router manufacturers are still trying hard to beat each other in terms of speeds. Functionality tends to be mostly overlooked, as releasing incrementally faster models seems to be the most important thing right now. This doesn't come as a surprise: higher numbers usually sell easier than a complex story about smarter features.

Weirdly enough we don't see a similar battle in the laptop world, where the most important thing is lower numbers, at least: numbers with a pound sign in front of them. Due to the pricing pressure manufacturers cut corners wherever they can, and more often than not this includes the WiFi adapter. Despite the fact that a wireless connection is an obvious way to connect your laptop to your home network and the internet, even more luxurious laptops are generally equipped with very poor WiFi features.


ASUS PCE-AC88

Anno 2017 there are still plenty of laptops on the market with only a half baked 802.11n solution, that is honestly not even fit of that name, since it only features a single antenna and therefore only features a maximum throughput speed of 150 Mbit/s. More luxurious laptops often feature 802.11ac, which means that a connection is set up with two antennas and therefore a maximum speed of 866.7 Mbit/s is possible via the 5GHz frequency.

However, we also frequently see 802.11ac adapters with only a single antenna, which means that the maximum possible speed is 433 Mbit/s. It's nice to buy a router with exciting specifications, however in practice you won't really get much out of the router itself. Notebooks with three antennas, which should be capable of 1300 Mbit/s in theory, are truly rare. The only ones we know are the 15 inch MacBook Pro and certain variants of the Dell XPS 15. Remarkably enough in the past there were many laptops on the market with three antennas, however unfortunately that is no longer the case today, as we mentioned before. This is probably once again a result of cost savings.


Also read these network adapter articles on Hardware.Info

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