Asus USB-N66 Dual-Band Wireless-N900 USB Adapter review

Pros

  • Can use as an access point
  • Supports dual-band 802.11n
  • Impressive 3x3 antenna configuration
  • Quite striking looking device

Cons

  • Did not report correct wireless band
  • Slower than integrated adapter

Before I tell you what I thought of the Asus USB-N66 Dual-Band N900, I should admit up front that I'm generally not a big fan of USB wireless adapters. In my experience, it's too often the case that the USB connection slows the performance of the wireless network.

Now, of course, if you have an older laptop that, for instance, only supports 802.11b or g and you connect an 802.11n USB wireless adapter to access an 11n WLAN, then yes, you are going to see throughput improvements. However, when it comes to adapters, an on-board, 3x3, 802.11n affair beats 802.11n adapters as far as performance and signal reliability goes.

Asus' USB-N66 (which retails at £50) is a dual-band 3x3 wireless adapter and while it does not eke out the same performance as my laptop's on-board 3x3 Intel Centrino adapter, for those with older laptops that don't have on-board 11n adapters, it's a decent enough solution. And there's another benefit to the USB-N66 – it can also function as an access point.

The USB-N66 is a dual-band wireless adapter that supports theoretical speeds of up to 450 Mbps. It boasts a unique pyramid design, so it's not a USB stick like many USB wireless adapters on the market. According to Asus, this design is a patented orthogonal antenna that boosts Wi-Fi coverage.

It's certainly an intriguing looking device, a real geek conversation starter. When powered up, this silver and black futuristic looking pyramid attaches to a USB 2.0 port, and is lit up with blue LEDs.

The back panel has a micro-USB port and a toggle switch to operate the device in either standard (STD) or high power (HI) mode. Using a Y cable (sold separately) is recommended when operating in HI mode.

Setup

The USB-N66 can be used with Windows, Mac, or Linux. The adapter ships with a CD which contains a setup program, along with the usual documentation. Running setup on my Windows 7 laptop gave me the option of only using Windows' wireless function, or Asus' WLAN utility. I opted to use the Asus utility.

After the installation had finished, I had a new shortcut on my desktop to the Asus USB-N66 WLAN Control Centre. When I first double clicked the shortcut, I received a cryptic error message: "Asus Wireless LAN cards is taken apart from your desktop." And nope, I have no idea what that means, either.

I did have the adapter connected before installing, so I removed it and reconnected. I was then able to get into the Asus Control Centre.

Asus Control Centre

The utility performs a wireless survey of all access points in proximity. All nearby WLANs were displayed including details such as channel, security type, encryption level, MAC address, and signal strength represented by bars.

You can quickly connect to a WLAN via the utility. Once connected, the interface provides a status of the connection: The signal strength (measured in dBm), frames sent and received, and a line graph showing connection quality.

IP information is also provided. From the Control Centre, users can check the IP address assigned to the adapter as well as subnet mask, gateway IP, and DHCP server address. The utility allows tasks such as releasing or renewing an IP address, or doing a ping, to be performed.

There are some advanced network management capabilities as well. Once connected to a WLAN, you can adjust very specific settings including RTS threshold, preamble mode, change the channel, or adjust the data rate. You can specify whether to use WPS or PIN numbers by default when connecting to access points, plus you can turn the wireless adapter radio on and off.

Access point

Imagine you are in a hotel room with access to one wired Ethernet cable for Internet. You can connect that cable to a laptop and connect the USB-N66 to the laptop's USB port. You can switch the adapter into Access Point (AP) mode by clicking a button in the Control Centre utility, and you can set up a wireless LAN. The USB-N66 turns into a portable router with the soft AP feature.

Performance

I expected a slightly slower performance using the USB-N66 to connect to a wireless router compared to my laptop's on-board 3x3 adapter, and I did get slower throughput. Here is a chart comparing throughput connecting at 5GHz to Asus' RT-AC66U router with the USB-N66 and with the integrated Intel Centrino adapter in my laptop:

Also, browsing web pages generally seemed a bit slower using the USB-N66 than with the laptop's integrated adapter.

I noticed a few issues with this Asus adapter's software. When connected to the 5GHz band of the wireless router, the Control Centre utility insisted on reporting my connection at the 2.4GHz band. The problem cleared up if I turned the adapter's radio on and off again, but would reappear whenever I reconnected to the 5GHz SSID.

I also did not find any way to disconnect from an access point through the utility. You will also want to disable any other wireless utilities you may have installed. I found the Asus utility conflicted with the Intel wireless manager that is installed on my laptop by default.

Verdict

The USB-N66 did not further endear me to USB wireless adapters. As is usually the case in my experience, it's just not as robust a performer as using a 3x3 on-board adapter. However, if you don't have a laptop with an 802.11n adapter, it's not a bad choice. The bonus feature is the ability to use it as an access point, but there are a few software issues to be aware of with this Asus product, too.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Product

Asus USB-N66 Dual-Band Wireless-N900 USB Adapter

Networking Options

802.11n (2.4GHz and 5GHz dual-band)

Access Control Lists based on MAC Addresses

Yes

Security

WEP, WPA, WPA2, WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup), WPA2-Enterprise