In the wireless world that we live in today, it’s actually kind of difficult to walk anywhere in town and not find at least a few wireless networks registering on your phone. The sinister, sleeping killer in all of this is…noise. Wireless noise is what makes seemingly good signals useless. That said, maybe you want something that will better pick up your own wireless signal, whether it be noise in your environment or simply you’re pushing the boundaries of the 802.11 spec regarding distance from the router. One solution is to move your router closer to where you’re having issues. Another is to put higher gain antennas on your router (if it’s supported). But for the sake of this review, we’re going to look at a third option – USB high gain adapters.
Trendnet was kind enough to send us one of their new AC600 802.11ac USB adapters to test in our humble abode, to see if it is worth having this huge thing sticking out of our computer on a regular basis and of course, to see if it really does help with wireless range and speeds.
There’s really not much to talk about here. It’s more or less a small USB plug with a giant antenna on it. That’s it. For what it’s worth, the hinge seems sturdy enough that it’ll stand up to a decent amount of wear and tear. Though, we do worry that it will get loose after a year or two, turning your stiff and positionable antenna into a floppy mess.
While the hardware is unassuming and easy enough to grasp, the software isn’t exactly consumer friendly. It’s definitely not for grandad to use. As you can see from the screenshot above, it’s overly geeky in presentation to the point that it even took me a couple minutes to get what was going on. But even after a couple weeks of using the utility, it’s incredibly frustrating to use more often than not. There’s no real clear indication of if it’s in the process of connecting, what step is going on, what is needed, etc.
In short: if you’re looking for a wireless antenna such as this and are looking for something simple and quick to pick up and use, take note. This is going to take a few minutes to understand how to get it to work. And even once you “get it”, it’s never really all that intuitive to use.
Software gripes aside, the performance will make you (hopefully) forget any past troubles. With our AC signal being slightly weak (and in an environment full of multiple networks/noise), the Trendnet high gain adapter certainly helped make latching onto that 5 GHz AC signal quicker in raw transmission speeds and of course, added some range to the “usable” distance we could be from the router itself. When things got really bad on the 5 GHz network, flipping over to the 2.4 GHz network was met with even more increases in range and speeds thanks to the better penetration of the lower wavelength. In all, we were able to get usable signal (for things such as web browsing, streaming audio and even Netflix in most situations) a solid 15-20 feet further than without the adapter. Mind you, the “clincher” spot for us is a spot in the garage that is roughly 130′ from the router and is separated by 3 solid walls (one of them brick) and a metal exterior door. If your environment isn’t as wirelessly hostile, well, your results will be even better. All in all, we were able to get ~30% better speeds on the AC 5 GHz channel at any given area from our router compared to if we were without adapter and just using the builtin one on our mobile device (LG G2 w/ AC support). On the 2.4 GHz band, there’s not as much to gain in terms of raw speed so improvements while welcome, are more in the 10-20% range. As touched on above, though, the ability to go farther from the router is a huge plus that cannot be understated.
Getting a higher gain adapter is really something to consider if you have range/speed issues. And the AC600 by Trendnet is a cheap way to accomplish that task.
For ~$32 and if your device doesn’t have 802.11ac capabilities, it’s almost a no brainer. If you feel confident enough that you can either 1) figure out the clunky wireless utility software or 2) simply ignore it enough to enjoy the speeds, the Trendnet AC600 802.11ac USB adapter is worth adding to your collection of gadgets.
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