IN PICTURES: Wi-Fi’s latest speed boost: 802.11ac client radios

Here’s an alphabetic sampling of products; prices as of October 10, 2013, based on data from Google Shopping and Amazon.

  • The first 11ac adapters arrived in 2012, with lackluster performance. There are two basic models: thumb drive with internal antennas, and plug in with external, adjustable antenna. In 2013, 11ac adapters show much better performance and, increasingly, support for 5Gbps USB 3.0. Actual throughput is far below maximum 11ac data rates; sometimes is no better than 11n. Many of the plug-ins work best only with the same vendor’s corresponding consumer-grade access point. So check out reviews. Here’s an alphabetic sampling of products; prices as of Oct. 10, 2013, based on data from Google Shopping and Amazon.

  • Amped Wireless High Power 500mW Dual Band AC Wi-Fi USB Adapter ACA1 The ACA1, released in July 2013, is eye-catching, and the specs are impressive: USB 3.0, with included 3.5-foot cable; up to 867Mbps for 11ac; up to 500 milliWatts from the power amplifiers, to boost range and signal quality, and up to 5 dBi gain on the antenna system. But PC Mag's Samara Lynn found that it “registered some of the worst throughput among USB 11ac wireless adapters we've tested.” Customer reviews at Amazon are all over the map.

  • Asus Dual-band Wireless-AC1200 USB Adapter USBAC53 The Asus USB 2.0 dongle has a dual-band radio, embedded 2x2 patch antenna that is intended to improve signal range, and a clip and other accessories for more placement options. PC Mag’s Samara Lyn found “Very good throughput in 5GHz mode” but "poor" for 2.4 GHz.

  • Asus Dual-band Wireless-AC1200 USB 3.0 Wi-Fi Adapter USBAC56 The AC1200 was released in August 2013, with support for USB 3.0. The dual-band radio also supports a 2x2 high-gain external antenna arrangement. We were unable to find any reviews online at this time.

  • Buffalo AirStation AC866 Dual Band Wireless USB Adapter Released in May 2013, the AC866 is pretty standard: 2x2 antenna system, two spatial streams, and USB 2.0. Maximum 11ac data rate of 866 Mbps. Samara Lynn’s PC Mag review found “good performance with Buffalo's 11ac routers” but “the setup process was not without some hassle.”

  • D-Link Wireless AC Dual Band USB Adapter DWA-171 D-Link offers three 11ac adapters, with different maximum data rates and price points. All three are USB 2.0. The model 171, shown here, is the entry-level product: 433Mbps maximum for 11ac, indicating a single spatial stream.

  • D-Link Wireless AC1200 Dual Band USB Adapter DWA-182 First announced in November 2012, the AC1200 is USB 2.0 dongle that promises up to 867Mbps for 11ac. But PC Mag’s Samara Lynn found that the AC1200 “only slightly boosted performance over that of an 802.11n adapter” and via Wi-Fi Protected Access would connect only to another D-Link 11ac router.

  • Edimax AC1200 Wireless Dual-Band USB Adapter - EW-7822UAC Again, a dual-band radio with maximum data rate of 867Mbps. But it also supports USB 3.0. It’s a standout product, according to PC Mag’s Samar Lynn, who reports “Blazing throughput in 802.11ac mode,” an “intriguing” design, and a simple, smooth installation. It gets a lot of love in Amazon reviews.

  • Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260 Not everything is USB! This PCIe Half Mini Card is aimed at notebooks, ultrabooks and compatible desktops. It supports two data streams to deliver maximum data rates similar to its rivals: 300Mbps on 2.4 GHz, 867Mbps on 5 GHz. Bluetooth is built in. AnandTech’s Jared Walton tested it in a Mythlogic Pollux 1613 gaming notebook, along with a bunch of other 11ac-equipped gear.

  • Linksys WUSB6300 Wireless AC Dual-Band AC1200 USB Adapter Two internal antennas, dual-band, USB 3.0 and up to 867Mbps data rate for 11ac. No full reviews as of this posting but three of five NewEgg reviewers say they saw big performance gains with the right drivers for the chipset.

  • Netgear A6200 WiFi Adapter A USB 2.0 plug-in dongle with a maximum claimed data rate of up to 867Mbps for 11ac. PC Mag was not impressed, describing it as “among the slower-performing 11ac wireless adapters we've tested.”

  • TrendNet AC1200 Dual Band Wireless USB Adapter - TEW-805UB The specs read great: USB 3.0 dongle with claimed data rate of up to 867Mbps. Yet it "provided the worst throughput from an 11ac adapter I've tested to date," writes PC Mag's Samara Lynn. She was also forced to install a problematic wireless utility with the drivers.

  • ZyXEL Dual-Band Wireless AC1200 USB Adapter NWD6605 Released in July 2013, the NWD6605 is the high end of ZyXEL's offerings: dual-band, USB 3.0, 867Mbps for 11ac (at the low end is the AC600-NWD6505 with 433Mbps and USB 2.0). We couldn’t find any reviews at this time.

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