With new laptops now hitting the consumer market that come with modern WiFi capabilities built-in, you could be forgiven for wondering just how much market appeal a plug-in USB WiFi adaptor would generate, or warrant. It’s a fair question, but the answer is quite simple – upgrading older hardware to extend its useful lifetime. The greater majority of regular-Jo users are running older WiFi-4 or WiFi-5 rated hardware on modern WiFi-6 capable networks, which means their datastreams are bottlenecking, not making the best use of the available bandwidth the new WiFi-6 network access points allow. And that is where this little beauty really comes into its own.
Providing older hardware with access to the new big-bandwidth 802.11ax protocol is a great way to make the older hardware still relevant and give it the extra functionality you want without having to spend up big on a new laptop or desktop system. Another issue that this unit can help address is, of course, providing high-throughput WiFi for systems that don’t have WiFi at all and instead rely on a cable connection – which as we all know can be a real pain to implement – it requires either holes being drilled through walls or floors, or carefully running cables in such a way that you don’t trip and injure yourself during a midnight fridge-raid.
It is worth noting that this unit does not share the ultra-miniaturised esthetic that you may expect based on previous devices of a similar ilk. Most likely due to the large internal aerials required to maintain such high bandwidth, this USB dongle is likely to look huge to the eyes of the modern generation, but quite relatable to anyone who got into computing when Windows had version numbers that matched the year of release. However, it is not stupid-big, just bigger than expected – about 10cm long, 3cm wide and roughly 12mm thick – and yet is light enough that it’s quite possible there’s more air-space inside the shell than actual hardware. To make things easier, especially for those with laptops or desktops with USB ports tucked around the back, a dinky dongle dock also came in the box, which allows you to have the dongle in a location easy to reach, should you want to grab it and go mobile, or just avoid the risk of breaking it if your system sits in a confined space. Because it is internally powered via the USB bus, you also don’t need to worry about crawling around under the desk trying to find a spare power socket, or heading off for a road-trip and realising that you’re stuck offline because you left the PSU plugged in at home. It is totally self-contained and self-reliant, which is a total boon for those who spend time travelling.
On the more technical side, the device doesn’t require you to download Windows drivers, as it has a small self-mounting storage space inside that has everything you need. When you first plug it in, it registers as a USB thumbdrive, in which you will find the drivers as a self-running installer. When you stop to think about it, it makes absolute sense to supply drivers this way… after all, with optical drives having fallen away from common usage, the only other way to supply software is via an online portal, which of course requires a network connection… the very thing you might not actually have until AFTER you install this device! So, after running the installer, and a quick reboot, the device will appear in your device manager as a new network adaptor, and you are online at a relatively blazing speed, cable-free. Now, I have pretty good WiFi in the building, and the new laptop is WiFi 5 rated so I wanted to find something that would really show what sort of performance boost is possible. Digging through the cold-storage boxes I unearthed an older laptop that has no network capabilities at all since the onboard WiFi adaptor doesn’t seem to want to work and it hasn’t got an ethernet port at all, however it does sort a single USB 3 port. The perfect test subject if ever there was one. ANY network connection would prove to be an improvement over its current state, and I had been holding on to it with the plan of one day getting a USB network adaptor so I could use it as the control station for my still-in-planning home theatre set-up.
Setup took less than 2 minutes, including reboot – gotta love SSDs over HDDs – and after a few moments to create shortcuts to my various NAS boxes, it was online and streaming movies to the AnyCast dongle plugged into the big TV. Network speeds to the laptop were blazing along, and running a speed test showed that I was getting the maximum throughput possible, up- and down-stream. No buffering, no juddering, no lags and most importantly no drop-outs. Because I was connected to the 5GHz band, I was very pleased to see that I was pulling better than 100MB/s consistently – it often sat up around 110MB/s, only dropping below that briefly as one movie or show ended and the next one in the playlist cued up.
For the more technical, this unit has WPA3 128-bit encryption built-in, so it doesn’t rely on the host system’s software to support secure connections. It also has MU-MIMO capabilities, so multiple devices or connections will be handled seamlessly, such as a connection to the modem and another to your phone while you upload the day’s crop of selfies to InstaFaceTok. It is also fully backwards-compatible with the older 802.11a/n/ac networking standards as well as the latest 802.11ax standard. This means that if your system is too old to support those protocols, or you are using this to connect older devices to your network, you can still get the benefits of more modern, secure connections. Because it all operates behind the scenes, you may not see the benefits, but you will still be getting them.
Overall, this is the first real USB WiFi-6 network adaptor, and it’s very good, but I can bet you it won’t be the last. I fully expect to see D-Link release a new model within the next year or so, probably with a smaller form or something extra added in. The only small pinch-point for me was that connecting to your WiFi was a manual process – I would have thought that, with the proliferation of one-touch WPS connectivity across their range, D-Link would have had a WPS Connect button located on there somewhere. There certainly isn’t a shortage of space for one, since the only visible thing is the LED that tells you when it’s on and data is flowing. An important thing to keep in mind is that this unit won’t give you an edge in gaming if you are on a slow connection with your ISP. The real benefits come from accessing internal LAN connections, not the internet unless you have ultra-fast fibre to the door. This is at its best in a home-office or small-office situation where your modem sits in another room and you really don’t want to run cables. Perfect for the New Age of the COVID Work-From-Home era.
Reposted in partnership with: KIWIreviews.nz
Disclosure Statement: This unit was supplied by D-Link expressly for the purposes of review. No fee was offered or accepted for this impartial review.
Delivering a simple, affordable upgrade to Wi-Fi 6 performance for existing desktop and notebook computers, the DWA-X1850 is the world’s first Wi-Fi 6 USB 3.0 Adapter in the market. Featuring the latest 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 technology, it delivers smooth, reliable combined speeds up to AX1800 (574Mbps + 1200Mbps), ideal for large file transfers, online learning lessons and gaming. The Adapter also features 128-bit WPA3 encryption giving customers added peace of mind over network and device protection.
You can read the original press release [-here-]