The Alfa AWUS036AC looks like an overgrown USB stick and has no external physical characteristics that are particularly distinctive compared to other Wi-Fi dongles. Included in the package for this network adapter are two approximately 15-centimeter-long external antennas for the device, which, through the mimo technology, should guarantee both good reception and high speeds.
The adapter can be mounted directly in the USB port on your computer or in an included plastic stand some distance from the computer. Since the antennas tend to make the handling of both adapter and computer quite awkward, the latter is recommended.
Installation from CD
As far as installing the device is concerned, it is annoying that the drivers are supplied on CD, as quite a few laptops (including our test computer) these days don’t have a CD/DVD drive.
It would have been smarter, as some other manufacturers do, to deliver the drivers directly on the USB stick instead. Anyway, once we got the drivers on the computer, the installation went smoothly and an included paper instruction (the rest of the documentation is only digital) shows how it should be done.
Horn in the side. With giant antennas bolted onto the little stick, it’s not exactly practical to tuck into the side of a laptop. Luckily, you get a stand and an extension cord as well.
After installation, a program from Realtek is used to configure the adapter and network settings. Compared to Windows 8’s built-in functions for wireless network management, the program is both easy to understand and quick to use.
We immediately get a connection speed of 867 Mbit/s to the network, a speed which, however, should prove to be significantly more than what our USB memory card purchased for the tests is capable of.
Some risk of bottlenecks
To test how good the speed Alfa AWUS036CE delivers, we used a Netgear Nighthawk X4 AC2350 router to which we connected a Kingston Datatraveller USB memory stick containing a 1 GB movie file.
As a test computer, we used an Acer Aspire S7 with built-in support for 802.11 b/g/n networks. We distributed the contents of the USB memory card via the FTP function on the router and then transferred the file partly with the computer’s own built-in wireless network device and partly with the network adapter from Alfa.
The router was placed in the living room of our test apartment. Then we tested the speed in the same room as well as in the kitchen and bedroom, where both rooms are separated by thick concrete walls from the room with the router in it.
The maximum speeds in the tests stay at a rather modest 120 megabits per second, which can be explained by a bottleneck that has nothing to do with the network itself. Instead, it is the storage device in the form of the USB stick that simply cannot read data as quickly as the wireless network enables.
It is a phenomenon that is also quite symptomatic of networks like this – if you do not have really high-performance SSD disks on all network-connected devices, you will find it difficult to use the capacity to the full.
Since the adapter still managed to deliver high speeds even with longer distances and thick walls between computer and router, it is clearly worth the money for those who want a smooth experience of your local wireless network at home.
With the Alfa AWUS036AC, you can equip your computer with super-fast wireless network access for an affordable price. The product is easy to install and the included software provides access to settings in a way that is significantly more clear and easy to handle than what Windows itself offers in the way of wireless network settings. The question is, however, whether the rest of your hardware is able to take advantage of the high data transfer rates that the USB dongle enables.
Facts: Alfa AWUS036AC
Product type: External wireless network card.
Interface: USB 3.
Wireless Network: 802.11/a/b/g/n/ac
Frequency band: 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz
Security: Wep, wpa-psk, wpa2-psk
System requirements: Windows XP/Vista/7/8.1, OS X 10.5 or later, Linux.
Award: About SEK 630.
With built-in network adapter:
Living room: 126 Mbit/s
Kitchen: 43 Mbit/s
Bedroom: 122 Mbit/s
With Alfa AWUS036AC:
Living room: 127 Mbit/s
Kitchen: 104 Mbit/s
Bedroom: 122 Mbit/s
Delivers fast speeds and great reception at an affordable price
Many setting options
It’s almost 2015. Why do you send drivers on CD?