Alfa AWUS036H 1000mW 1W 802.11b/g USB Wireless WiFi Adapter

This is a good little USB network adaptor and works as advertised.

Background: I have a Dell laptop with an internal network card. I travel a lot and use it in hotels and hot spots quite a bit. The signal I was getting on the internal card with its two internal antenna's was weaker then I would like and usually doesn't get a strong enough signal to maintain 54 Mbps speed. I was usually down around 11 Mbps in a hotel room.

Sometimes I have had to move to a different room, move to a balcony, or a certain point in the room to get a signal at all. In one hotel room I checked signal right after checking in and I could only get a usable signal near the door holding the computer up near the ceiling. I had to walk around the hotel to find a group of rooms that I thought would work and then coordinate with he front desk on availability and change rooms.

I researched many options, reading reviews, etc. Most other options were more expensive or problematic, including modifying my computer to install an external antenna. I looked at USB cards with the mail plug that plug into the computer without using an extension, pcmcia cards with external antenna's, directional antenna's, etc. Most of the reviews I read were from kids "War Driving" but still shed some light on how well this card works.

What I got: I went with the Alpha because of good reviews I read, and the fact that I can remote locate it using an extension giving more options then one mounted to the computer. The unit looks pretty cheap being plastic. Nothing special. It came with the two antennas. I ordered the two extension cables. One is passive and one is active (active is required for longer extensions).

Functionality/Results: It works well. So far I have not been in a Hotel where I didn't get an 88% or better connection (signal strength) with 85 or 90% link quality or better, and more importantly a link with 54 Mbps speed. I get many more signals too, but that is not what I was looking for in most cases. I have tried it in a dozen or so hotels and played with outside signals a bit. There are a lot of them out there.

The ability to move the antenna 10 to 25 feet away could be useful to get it on a balcony, outside a window, get around a concrete wall, etc. but I haven't had to do that yet with the Alpha. Once in the Bahamas, using the computers internal card, I had to get out on a balcony with a 40 mph wind coming off the ocean that would knock over the laptop if I didn't hold on to it, to get a clear shot to the hotel main building where the router was located.

I had to weather the salt spray and either had to hold the computer screen to keep it from swaying so I could see it or hold my wine glass to keep it from tipping over. I needed three hands and it was a tough decision as to which two things to hold. That is when I decided to order this card. I read about folks on sail boats running the Alpha up the mast and getting a signal 4 or 10 miles off shore and putting the unit in a zip-loc bag to keep it out of the elements.

If I had modified my computer for an external antenna, or gotten a pcmcia card with external antenna, I could have run coaxial cable to a remote antenna to get the same position benefits, but the signal losses are large that way and signal cuts in half with every few feet of coax.

With this adapter the antenna is run right into the transmitter/receiver and there is no loss, however you still have the ability to remote locate it up high in a room, outside a window, on a balcony, etc. without the loss. You don't get the signal loss from a USB cable, although you do run out of power if run too far. 25 feet with the two supplied cables is plenty for me.

Power: The high power is meaningless and probably a lie. I think they are claiming equivalent radiated power with a good antenna to some poor antenna standard like the antenna's printed on a pcmcia adapter card circuit board or something. Anyway it is not really a 1000mW adapter, but it does work well.

The allowable power output is somewhat complicated but is based on radiated power (the combined effect of the transmitter and antenna). Anyway a balance of output power, receiver sensitivity, and selectivity is what is important and this one does a good job. It gets quite warm too only having passive cooling (vents).

Antenna's: Like many folks have reported, the big antenna doesn't seem to work any better for me then the little one. Sometimes it will get a slightly stronger signal and more signals with it, but the link quality (signal to noise ratio) is worse. The little antenna has worked fine in all cases so far and just as well as the big one on comparison.

Software: The software installed easily for me with Windows XP and I have had no problems. The software is between OK to fairly nice. I can still enable my internal card and use it when the signal is strong and I don't want to carry the Alpha. I disable it when using the Alpha.

Works great. Hope it last a long time.

If you are looking for solutions for your home (or work) because of problems with range on your Wifi you might also try one of the homemade paper directional parabolic antenna's that you print off from the internet. They really work and also increase security if positioned properly by directing coverage to within your house and decreasing coverage outside.

They work will with this unit too. Requires a router with external antenna(s). You can also put one on the antenna of the Alpha and beam signals between the router and the Alpha. Quite effective. You print out a template from the internet, cutout a couple pieces of paper, cover one with foil or aluminum tape, stick the parabolic template together to the flat sheet to form the shape, and position the unit on the antenna of your router.