Wireless N Adapter
for fast Internet access and file sharing

If you've been working at wireless g speeds, fit a wireless n adapter to your laptop and enjoy the benefits that wireless n can bring when working on a Wi-Fi Local Area Network operating with wireless n. This should enable the fastest data throughput... until the next standard, wireless ac (802.11ac), becomes available.

Whether you want wireless access to the Internet or want to share files with others, moving to wireless n will let you do it faster, more reliably and more securely.

We’ll look at what wireless n adapters are, we'll cover the many benefits of wireless n (sometimes also called IEEE 802.11n, which is the standard that it works to) and look at the different types of adapter available.

What is a wireless N adapter?

It's a device you plug into your computer to let you connect wirelessly to a Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN).

Wireless n adapters enable a short-range Wi-Fi connection that allows several laptops to connect to the Internet through a single wireless access point, or to share files with other laptops and devices on the network.

With an adapter fitted, when you connect to a wireless n network you should be able to operate at wireless n speed.

Your adapter will also work on a wireless g or other 802.11 standard Wi-Fi networks, but as these are slower, you won’t be able to operate at wireless n speed.

Why? Because the wireless n adapter will recognize the type of network it’s trying to connect to and lower its speed to match the speed of the slower network.

However there are still other benefits of using wireless n. For example, wireless n range is greater, so this should give you more freedom over where you can use your laptop.

If you have a home wireless g network then it’s a good idea to buy a new wireless n router, preferably a dual frequency (5GHz, 2.4GHz) type.

You should be able to use your laptop further away from wireless n access points and find it more reliable in areas that have obstructions, or traffic that might degrade the radio signal.

Benefits of wireless n

What is wireless n technology?

IEEE 802.11n is a standard that brings significant benefits to wireless technology. The standard ensures wireless n compatibility between standard n devices, such as a router, a wireless n card or an xbox 360 wireless n.

Each knows how the other works. Each speaks the same language and uses the same set of rules.

The wireless n standard is the latest amendment to the IEEE802.11 wireless networking standard. A computer fitted with a wireless n adapter gets these benefits when it becomes part of a wireless n network.

When we consider the advantages of the new amendment over the last, it comes down to wireless n vs wireless g.

More information, faster

The data transfer rates are higher and this means that wireless n speed is higher.

The wireless n speed improvement may be up to 10x that of its predecessor, wireless g, so it’s well suited for multimedia, streaming high definition video and transferring large files quickly.

Greater operating range

Wireless n range may be up to 3x greater than wireless g. This gives you more choice when it comes to where you can connect your laptop.

Still not enough range? Add a wireless n range expander (sometimes called a wireless n signal booster).

More reliable connection

It’s less affected by interference and is often able to recover the information from marginal and fading radio signals.

There are several types of adapter.

Some have more antennas than others. Some have internal antennas and others have external antennas. Some have more transmit power. There are different adapters for different applications. The design determines how effective a wireless n adapter is.

Improved security

Security is very much better now than it was with earlier networks.

WPA2 (WiFi Protected Access) and AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) provide a significant improvement over previous security standards.

Learn more about the IEEE 802.11n standard (wireless n standard)

Types of wireless n adapter

Choose an adapter that’s compatible with your computer.

Wireless n adapter for laptops

PCI Express Mini Cards are the most common wireless interface card for internal fitting. A Mini Card is a quarter the size of a wireless n PCI adapter card.

Laptop and notebook computers often require an even smaller card, called a Half PCI Express Mini Card.

You need to open the laptop to fit a Mini Card, so best get it fitted when you buy it. If you open your computer it may void any warranty you have on it.

A simpler way is to use a USB network adapter if the convenience of ‘plug and play’ appeals to you. Simply plug it into a compatible USB socket on your laptop, then it’s easy to remove later to fit to another laptop if you want to.

However, this may be a disadvantage if it makes it too easy for others to borrow the adapter.

Because the adapter protrudes from the USB socket, its antenna isn’t as close to things that might degrade the radio signal strength and reduce the quality of the wireless connection.

If signal strength is still marginal, try a USB extension cable. This will allow you to get the antenna further away from the laptop, out into a more open area and away from immediate obstructions including the laptop itself that might reduce the signal strength.

Wireless n adapter for desktops

While you could use a USB adapter, a wireless n PCI adapter may be a better choice for a desktop.

However, there’s no need to go wireless if your desktop is close enough to the physical access point to connect them directly with an Ethernet cable.

PCI Express n adapters are physically bigger than USB or PCI Mini so can support more antennas. These antennas are external and likely have a signal strength advantage over internal antennas.

This means faster and more reliable operation.

Wireless n adapter specifications

Here are some things that are often used to specify wireless n adapters.

Form factor This specifies what it looks like; its shape and size. There are several styles available. USB PCI Express PCI Express Mini Half PCI Express Mini PCMCIA
Find out which of these is the correct one for your computer.

Computer requirements
Computer operating system for loading adapter software, eg. Windows (XP, 2000, Vista?); Mac

Is there a set-up wizard to help you to install it?

Wireless frequency band
Dual frequency (5GHz and 2.40 GHz), or single frequency.

Interface between the computer and adapter
Adapters need to be both physically (they need to fit) and electrically compatible with the computer they’re to work with.
If it’s a USB adapter, you need to make sure the USB versions are compatible. For example if the adapter specifies USB 2.0, you’ll need to be sure your computer has USB2.0, and not just USB 1.1.

Transmit power
Up to a certain point, more power should provide better range and reliability. But enough is all you need. More than enough won’t improve anything.

How many? More should improve connection quality. Internal or external? External is better for signal strength. Standalone antenna/adapter? Better still for signal strength.

Wireless transmission speed
Up to 300 Mbps, though the throughput of useful information will be less than this.

Wireless security
Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2), NIST Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)

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