I’ve been given an assortment of TP-Link wireless networking gear to review, including the TP-LINK 150Mbps Mini Wireless USB Adaptor (TL-WN723N), the 300Mbps High Gain Wireless USB Adapter (TL-WN822N) and the 150Mbps Wireless Range Extender (TL-WA730RE). Below are my thoughts on the three devices based on my own usage scenario which is a home network in a traditional single level terrace house in Sydney built many many years ago. The problem with a house of this era is that it is built with a concrete/plaster wall that includes a chicken-wire like mesh that works as a Faraday cage for each room, prohibiting wireless signals travelling through walls with ease, as such Wireless performance at one end of the house differs greatly from the performance at the other end closest to the router (A Billion 7404VNPX).
Onto the hardware..
To test the hardware, I sat at the other end of the house and timed the transfer of a 1.2GB file from my media server to my laptop.
1) Broadcom Wireless G hardware built into my laptop – 11 Minutes 32 Seconds
2) Mini Wireless USB Adaptor (TL-WN723N) - 11 minutes 25 Seconds
3) 300Mbps High Gain Wireless USB Adapter (TL-WN822N) – 8 minutes 42 seconds
4) Wireless G with Wireless Range Extender (TL-WA730RE) – 14 minutes 53 seconds
The Mini Wireless USB Adaptor (TL-WN723N) performed about as well as could be expected for a USB WiFi dongle comparable in size to a piece of chewing gum, it Measures just 3.7cm long and 1.7cm wide. Despite being rated as 802.11N at the distances I was using it at, it rarely made it above a 54Mb stated connection speed, though this improved when moving to closer to my router. For a RRP of only $28 ex GST, it comes as recommended for situations where you have strong WiFi signal and are connecting to a Wireless N capable router.
The 300Mbps High Gain Wireless USB Adapter (TL-WN822N) was a standout in my testing, with the adapter showing 5 full bars of signal and a stated connection speed in the range of 130-160Mb connection speeds at the other end of the house. Being a bulkier unit than the Mini Wireless adapter above, it’s ideally suited to areas of poor WiFi reception, in particular in situations where plugging a somewhat ungainly looking device via a USB extension cable isn’t going to impede your mobility, such as a desktop computer set up at the other end of the house to a network connection, the unit retails for $42 ex GST and is something I’d personally shell out cash for.
I had a much more painful time with the Wireless Range Extender (TL-WA730RE), with the included mini-CD with installation files refusing to be read by my CD player, when downloaded the ‘easy setup’ application was unable to setup the device, returning an error. Downloading the product manual and setting up the device using the web interface proved more successful though, though took some fiddling with to pick up my integrated wireless adapter instead of it finding the router as the access point to connect to.
Over a larger distance than that tested, I can see a benefit to using the Wireless Range Extender (TL-WA730RE) device, with testing showing a significant improvement in the stated signal strength of the WiFi signal to devices connected while it’s on. But as a trade off for higher ‘local’ signal strength, the repeater hurts total bandwidth when relaying connections through to the original access point. In my testing situation above however, it delivered lower throughput than if the WiFi adapter was connected to the access point directly, despite reporting lower signal strength. As such, I would definitely recommend ensuring wherever you purchase this device from has a strong returns policy before buying the unit to evaluate whether it suits your own needs. Though at $55, if it doesn’t work as hoped, I suppose it doesn’t break the bank.
All of the above TP-Link devices came equipped with a technology called Quick Security Setup (QSS) that allows users to simply press the “QSS” button on the device to establish a secured connection (supports WEP 64/128/152 bit encryption) in under a minute.
It’s a pity my Billion 7404VNPX didn’t support the protocol as well, as it made connecting the TP-Link WiFi adapters to the Wireless Range Extender device a breeze, if you are looking to setup a new wireless network, this feature will make the process so much easier.
Disclaimer: I was given the above hardware to keep in return for my review, if you feel this is likely to have biased my writing, accept my recommendations with a grain of salt. While I endeavored to ensure the above post is free from any bias, your mileage may vary.