A few weeks back, someone in the Forums asked whether teeny, tiny 802.11ac USB adapters were any good. Being a data driven kinda guy, I decided to see.
I gathered up the eight small 1x1 AC USB adapters shown in the opening photo and table below. Our class designation for this flavor adapter is AC580, because they produce maximum link rates of 433 Mbps in 5 GHz (with 80 MHz bandwidth mode) and 150 Mbps in 2.4 GHz (with 20 MHz bandwidth mode).
The product table shows ASUS, TP-LINK, TRENDnet and Edimax opted for the more optimistic AC600 moniker, Buffalo undersold itself with AC433, Linksys went with the most accurate AC583 and NETGEAR skipped the whole thing, not even mentioning "AC" in its official product name. No wonder consumers get confused!
One of the eight adapters, Edimax' "nano" sized EW-7711ULC is 5 GHz only. Since 802.11ac applies to 5 GHz only, Edimax figures your notebook's existing 2.4 GHz radio will work just fine. As a payoff for this tradeoff, the 7711ULC is the smallest of the adapters tested, barely larger than the USB connector itself.
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|Chipset||FCC ID||WPS Button|
|ASUS USB-AC51 Dual-Band Wireless-AC600 Wi-Fi adapter||$40||22.214.171.124||MediaTek MT7610U||MSQ-USBAC51||N|
|Buffalo WI-U2-433DM AirStation AC433 Dual Band Wireless Mini USB Adapter||$25||1024.1.719.2013||Realtek RTL8811AU||FDI000000017||N|
|Edimax EW-7711ULC AC450 Wi-Fi USB Adapter-11ac Upgrade for Laptops||$25 (available soon)||126.96.36.199||MediaTek MT7610U||NDD9577111306||N|
|Edimax EW-7811UTC AC600 Wireless Dual-Band Mini USB Adapter||$17||1024.9.1219.2013||Realtek RTL8811AU||NDD9578111305||Y|
|Linksys AE6000 Mini USB WiFi Wireless AC583 Dual-Band Adapter 802.11ac||$33||188.8.131.52||MediaTek MT7610U||Q87-AE6000||N|
|NETGEAR A6100 WiFi USB Mini Adapter||$39||1024.2.618.2013||Realtek RTL8811AU||PY313200228||Y|
|TP-LINK Archer T2U AC600 Wireless Dual Band USB Adapter||$30||184.108.40.206||MediaTek MT7610U||TE7T2U||Y|
|TRENDnet TEW-804UB AC600 Dual Band Wireless USB Adapter||$18||1024.4.910.2013||Realtek RTL8811AU||XU8TEW804UB||Y|
Table 1: The Products Tested
These adapters were tested with our latest wireless testbed and so use a newer test process than the one used in last year's AC1200 USB adapter roundup. The new testbed has higher path loss in 5 GHz than the previous testbed due to increased distance between the device under test and chamber antennas allowed by the larger RF-tight test chamber. So it's not fair to directly compare the results between the two round-ups. You can't really compare 1x1 adapters with 2x2 anyway, since the latter supports double the maximum link rate (300 Mbps / 867 Mbps vs. 150 Mbps / 433 Mbps).
All these adapters are pretty small, as illustrated in the line-up shot below. For reference, the leftmost TRENDnet TEW-804UB measures 38 x 19 x 8 mm (1.5 x 0.75 x 0.31 in.), while the rightmost Edimax EW-7711ULC 7.1 is only 18.5 x 14.9 x 7.1 mm (0.73 x 0.59 x 0.28 in.). The unmarked adapters to the left of the EW-7711ULC are the Edimax EW-7811UTC and Buffalo WI-U2-433DM. All use USB 2.0, which is plenty fast to handle the highest throughput any of these adapters can provide.
Eight AC580 adapters lined up
While this roundup includes eight different adapters, only two chipsets are represented. Half the group uses Realtek's RTL8811AU while the other uses MediaTek's MT7610U. It's interesting to note, however, each adapter uses a different revision driver. Go figure.
The ASUS USB-AC51 board marking reveals it's an Edimax EW-7711AUC in disguise. The chip to the right of the MediaTek MT7610U is a Skyworks SKY85702-11 5 GHz front end, which includes a 5 GHz power amplifier. Note the use of bent-metal antenna vs. printed circuit.
ASUS USB-AC51 board
The Buffalo WI-U2-433DM also uses a formed-metal antenna, but has no external amplifiers to beef up the Realtek RTL8811AU's signals.