I've been itching to get a wireless adapter for my laptop to take advantage of the public Wi-Fi internet hotspots in my area. But there were a few decisions I had to make first before settling down on the best wireless network adapter for my own needs. And those decisions required that I do a little research first to find out what my different Wi-Fi laptop connection options were.
Do I want a PCMCIA adapter or a USB adapter? My laptop can take either one, but the advantage of the USB adapter is that I can use the supplied USB cord to move the USB adapter around to find the best Wi-Fi reception, something I can't do with a PCMCIA adapter card.
Do I want an ultra-cheap 802.11b, a medium-priced 802.11g, or a high-priced 802.11n wireless standard for my USB adapter? The 802.11b standard came out in 1999, supports a bandwidth of up to 11Mbps, meaning that it can only support a few simultaneous internet users, and has the smallest signal range of the three. The 802.11g standard came out in 2002, supports a bandwidth of up to 54Mbps, has a greater signal range, and is backwards compatible with 802.11b network adapters. The 802.11n (IEEE draft) standard came out in 2006, supports a bandwidth of up to 300Mbps to allow for the most number of users or biggest audio/visual file transfers, has the greatest signal range of the three wireless standards, and is backwards compatible with 802.11b/g.
The biggest advantage of the newly developed 802.11n standard is that virtually all of the 802.11n wireless networking products will "play nice" together now regardless of their brand or model, something that wasn't true of the proprietary G or B wireless networking products that came before. But the high price of an 802.11n USB adapter is daunting, and so I've been reluctant to buy one. On the other hand, I didn't want to buy outdated technology that wasn't going to "play nice" with a range of different router brand names and models.
I headed up to www.pricewatch.com to do some comparison shopping for an 802.11n wireless USB adapter, just to see if I could find anything cheaper than $70. I had already heard of D-Link, LinkSys and Belkin wireless adapters from reading Sunday newspaper circulars from Circuit City and Best Buy. But the best price quote for an 802.11n wireless USB 2.0 adapter was for a TP-Link model, a brand name that I had never heard of before. TP-Link was $20 cheaper than the cheapest, comparable D-Link USB adapter, so it was worth researching. I went to www.tp-link.com to find out more about this company and the other networking products they sold. Then I went to www.microbarn.com and ordered a TP-Link TL-WN821N Wireless N USB 2.0 Adapter for $29.99 plus USPS shipping.
What a thrill to find my TP-Link Wireless N USB adapter in my mailbox only two days after I ordered it! That was incredibly fast shipping service from an online company. The TP-Link Wireless N USB adapter supports WEP and WPA/WPA2 encryption, and can work with Windows 2000, XP, and Vista. A 2 foot USB adapter cord is provided as well as a small CD with the drivers and a Quick Installation Guide. One of the things I love about USBs is their Plug 'n Play value that makes setting up so easy. I just put the driver CD into the drive bay, plugged in the Wireless N USB adapter into one of my available USB slots and I let Windows XP search for new hardware from there.
Once set up, I took a drive with my laptop on to find wireless hotspots nearby and test out my new TP-Link Wireless N USB adapter. I am happy to report that I am currently writing this review from a wireless hotspot that is using a Belkin 54g router, and I'm getting an 11Mbps transfer rate on a "very low" signal strength of 1 out of 5 bars. To compare, my coworker is using a wireless G PCMCIA card in his Sony Vaio and picking up 2 bars out of 5 from the same Wi-Fi hotspot. The TP-Link wireless adapter is about the same length as my index finger, and the casing isn't particularly fancy, just a white plastic cover on top of a black base, and the name brand and model number are printed in black. A flashing green LED light lets me know when I'm receiving a signal or transferring data. And a more detailed user's guide is available for download from www.tp-link.com
For $30, the TP-Link Wireless 802.11n USB adapter is a GREAT buy for the money that works good, and the shipping service from www.microbarn.com was very fast. I would highly recommend this product if your eyes for the latest technologies are bigger than your pocketbook, but it is well known that you will get the best results from your wireless devices if you stick with one brand name for the entire set, the router, the USB adapters, etc. And TP-Link is not a well known brand name in the United States yet.