What external adapter is best to improve WiFi signal reception and transmission?

Andrew Lindsay July 30, 2011
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I travel a fair amount and often end up in locations where the hotel’s WiFi signal is too weak to be useful with my laptop’s built-in antenna. I understand an external/USB adapter would improve both the reception and transmission signal strengths. But if I’m going to go with an external device then I’d like to get some experienced opinions on what is best.

– I’d like something that will use USB power (I have enough adapters!)
– Smaller is better.

  1. Mike
    July 30, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    If you want buying advice you should chose the question title accordingly.
    External adapters are usually better because they feature a larger antenna.Therefor your request negates itself: You cannot improve/maximize reception with a smaller is better adapter. Especially if you want an directional antenna there is no way of it qualifying as small.

    Besides of that there are too much variables to give you an answer. 
    For example if you are running Linux you cannot buy any adapter suggested ~ not all of them are compatible. Another question would be whether you want a Wireless-A/B/G/N adapter and if you need 5GHz compatibility.

    And to finish it up availability is also an issue. North America for example only allows the use of WiFi Channel 1-11 while most of Europe allows channels 1-13. Because of this technical point and regional difference in general availability of adapters differs quite a lot.

    • Andrew Lindsay
      August 1, 2011 at 4:52 am

      Thank you for your response.  I appreciate your feedback; please let me
      clarify.  I do not wish to leave my needs ambiguous.

      Yes, I do desire buying advice.  I was entering the question from my
      phone while traveling (as a passenger).  I did not note that I typed
      "Why" and not "What".  My apologies for the misdirection.

      I am using Windows 7 (both 32 and 64 bit).  I absolutely need Wireless-A/B/G, yet I could use
      and would prefer to have N capability as well.  5Ghz compatibility
      would be a bonus; it is not required.  The adapter will only be required
      for use in North America.

      The 'smaller is better' phrase is pertinent.  In the scenario I described, where I'm receiving a marginal or useless (although still detectable) signal in a hotel, I don't need a device that will receive or transmit to a device 1000 feet away.  I just need to make the existing signal usable.  All other factors/constraints being equal, smaller is better - I have enough devices in my laptop bag to make it bulky and heavy enough to serve as a small watercraft anchor.  This is why I desire USB power - I do not want any other rectifiers and long cables in the bag.  I doubt a 'micro' adapter will fit my needs, but on-the-other-hand I don't think I need a cantenna.

      I've seen advertisements displaying 'stick' adapters that rotate 'to improve performance'.  But I do not have the technical knowledge to know if this is a gimmick, a valued feature, or a feature I would need.

      Likewise, do I need a device that will both improve transmission and reception?  Or is it likely that the output of any brand name laptop is perfectly adequate and only reception needs to be improved?  I do not have the knowledge to know.

      Given all this, I am asking for buying advice.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, of A/B/G/N stick-type or pole-antenna adapters on the market.  I do not have the technical knowledge to know which perform the best, how to determine if the adapter will improve both transmission and reception (or only reception), where size seriously degrades the performance I require, and whether (for my needs) directional control is even needed.

      With all the MakeUseOf readers out there, I'm thinking you or someone can say something like, "This is a device I have used successfully in your situation."  I suspect there are hundreds of devices that will fit my needs.  I'd just like to be pointed to a few that experienced users know will work for me.

      If there are any other variables where I need to provide some clarification, please let me know.

      Thank you again,

      • Mike
        August 2, 2011 at 8:04 pm

        Thanks for clarifying in detail what you are looking for. I'll try to answer your question in short:

        Likewise, do I need a device that will both improve transmission and reception?  Or is it likely that the output of any brand name laptop is perfectly adequate and only reception needs to be improved?

        Since all WiFi devices are doing both, transmit and receive you obviously want to boost both at best (this is merely an  information since it doesn't really apply to your initial question)

        Obviously, you will always benefit from using an external adapter because
        (1) internal there is only "so much space" to put an antenna in
        (2) within a laptop there are a lot of signals (interference) within a very small area

        I don't need a device that will receive or transmit to a device 1000 feet away

        If you did I would have suggested the UAWIFI (www.uawifi.com) which is kind of the "Ferrari" within USB WiFi Adapters

        In general I believe everything from D-Link, Linksys/Cisco, Netgear or Belkin is a good choice. Although I have no experience with their products both SMC and Edimax are said to be good too.

        Although I don't have hands on experience I would suggest one of the following

        D-Link DWA-160
        Linksys WUSB600N

        all support 2,4GHZ b/g/n, 5GHz a/n and offer drivers for Win7 x32 + x64

        Maybe as an extra note the DWA-160 is the only adapter reported to be working on Ubuntu out of the box ~ although this can change with any update (for good or bad).

      • Lon1
        January 13, 2012 at 11:06 am


        • Memphisss
          July 2, 2012 at 5:15 am

          I agree the UAWIFI UA3 is one of the best. Thanks for info Mike.

          David Kenth