The relationship between high-end 802.11ac routers and most 802.11ac Wi-Fi adapters is akin to the relationship between hot dogs and hot dog buns: There’s a mismatch. Hot dogs come 10 to a package, but the buns come in eight packs. High-end 802.11ac routers send and receive three spatial streams, but most 802.11ac Wi-Fi adapters are 2x2 models—and the ones in smartphones are often 1x1 devices (the MacBook Air, to Apple’s credit, is an exception in that it has an integrated 3x3 adapter).
D-Link’s odd-looking DWA-192 sports three internal antennas and delivers honest-to-goodness 3x3 streaming support in a not-too-ungainly package. Actually, its spherical form factor should make it a better road partner than the more typical USB stick design. I’ve been using Asus’s USB-AC56 adapter almost as long as I’ve been testing 802.11ac routers, and I’ve discovered its pivoting antenna to be just a little fragile. I’ve also long wondered how much router performance I wasn’t measuring because of its 2x2 design.
As it turns out, I wasn’t missing much at short or even medium range. The DWA-192 was just 5Mbps faster than the USB-AC56 at close range (when the client laptop was in the same room as the router, nine feet away). And when the client was in my great room, 33 feet from the router with one insulated wall separating them, it was a dead heat: Both adapters delivered TCP throughput of 277Mbps. But when I moved the client into my sun room, 65 feet from the router with two insulated walls in between, the 3x3 D-Link adapter lost just 9Mbps of speed where the 2x2 Asus dropped a whopping 62Mbps.
Neither adapter had trouble streaming high-resolution video over any of those distances, but when you’re transferring large files—or lots of small files—you want all the speed you can get. Both adapters have USB 3.0 interfaces and come with USB 3.0 cables, but the D-Link doesn’t need the optional stand that comes with the Asus.
The DWA-192 is a dual-band adapter, meaning it can operate on either the 2.4- or 5GHz frequency bands. It’s rated to deliver a maximum physical link rate of 600Mbps on the latter and up to 1300Mbps on the latter. A blue LED belt around the middle of the sphere lights up when the adapter connects to your router (it will blink if it can’t establish a connection). If you find that too garish or distraction, you can turn it off with the press of a button on the back of the adapter.
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