Is USB wifi better than internal wifi?

Discussion in 'Networking and Wireless' started by bjcadstuff, Dec 9, 2009.

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  1. bjcadstuff

    bjcadstuff Notebook Consultant

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    I suspect EVERY laptop computer you could buy now would come with wifi builtin, but would better performance be had with an external USB wifi adapter?

    The reason I'm wondering is that I was considering buying an ASUS UL30 for my daughter but after reading about horrible wifi performance in the ASUS subforum I had second thoughts. Then it occurred to me that you can buy USB wifi adapters and add them on pretty easily. Also in my research I found that some people added antenna's to their builtin wifi cards, but got much better performance when they let the antenna hang out of the laptop vs. tucking it all in.

    You never know how good the wifi in a given machine will be until you buy it. Even if reviews test the wifi they usually just test the speed with the laptop in the same room as the router, they don't test it for range. I've been in hotels and so forth where I might not be able to pick up their wifi, or maybe I could just barely pick it up. I wondered if I could have bought a good external wifi adapter and added it to my laptop for better performance. This was with an old Dell Inspiron 8600. Sitting in the same room with my daughter and her Dell E1505 she could usually get better reception than I could. I've since bought a Dell E6500 and I spec'd the Intel 5300 wifi card on that one, trying to get the best wifi range I could get.
     
  2. surfasb

    surfasb Titles Shmm-itles

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    Theoretically, an Internal Wifi is faster, since USB's max rate is theoretically slower than Wireless N's max rate.


    In practice, both will be limited by packet overhead, so the speed difference is often unnoticable.

    You can definitely buy an external wifi card and use it with your laptop. I have the same configuration as I use powered antennae to hunt down pesky unauthorized wifi spots at the workplace.

    Keep in mind most of the USB wifi won't let you connect an external connector. So make sure you can connect an external antennae before you buy it.
     
  3. MGS2392

    MGS2392 NAND Cat!

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    Chances are, an internal WiFi card is going to get better reception. The antennae is actually located in the display lid for most laptops, which sure beats a tiny little USB stick.
     
  4. Bog

    Bog Losing it...

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    Agreed. Added to that, some internal chips can use up to 3 separate antennae that are housed in the lid (ex, Intel 5300).
     
  5. blue68f100

    blue68f100 Notebook Virtuoso

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    Don't put much faint in what is reported as Signal strength, bars. It's only a indicator with NO reference to performance and/or speed. I've see 2 bar perform better than 4. Years back with the 11g there was more conflict between chip sets, this still applies. Except it is more complicated with the 11n to create more possibilities.

    If you want gain by using a external antenna get a high power beam antenna. You will have to figure where the signal is coming from to sight it in, but once done your signal will be higher with less chance of interference.
     
  6. bjcadstuff

    bjcadstuff Notebook Consultant

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    I'm not a lot concerned about speed. I'm more concerned about travelling and not being able to pick up a signal when I should be able to. Like I said before I've been in situations when my daughter's laptop and my mother's laptop could both pick up a signal and mine could not.
     
  7. Reezin14

    Reezin14 Crimson Mantle Commander

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    I agree with this.:D
     
  8. User Retired 2

    User Retired 2 Notebook Nobel Laureate NBR Reviewer

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    I can confirm internal 4965AGN with 2510P's internal antenna gets same or slightly better reception than a USB wifi with 4DBi antenna. Though that could vary depending on how good the internal antenna implementation is.
     
  9. newsposter

    newsposter Notebook Virtuoso

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    As you might have sorted out from the postings here, WiFi adapter performance is usually dictated by the antenna. The single chip radio/modem implementations are pretty much all the same. Same power, dB gain, sensitivity, etc.

    Internal adapters will have two or three antennas run through the laptop lid for the two or three WiFi bands they support.

    An external (USB) adapter will take one of two paths.

    a) the antenna will be fixed in place on the adapter and not moveable.

    b) the antenna will be removable/replaceable and thus moveable.

    There is nothing inherently wrong with either a) or b). It is the implementation of the antenna that counts, not the number of wires or the size.

    WiFi is highly susceptible to interference from a huge variety of sources including bluetooth, microwave ovens, cordless phones, wireless home water and electricity meters, etc. If you have any of those devices within say 100 meters of your machines (ask the neighbors) the resultant interference will degrade signal and throughput.

    So it's the flexibility of the antenna placement that becomes key to WiFi performance in marginal signal areas. Being able to move an antenna around and possibly point a directional antenna at a known WiFi AP is important.

    There is a class of external (USB) adapters that are of interest here. These adapters are designed for high performance and have better radios and antennas than either internal or standard USB adapters. Some of them have high-gain omni directional antennae. Some of them have directional antenna on a cable that you can twist and point to get the best signal/performance. And there are some that themselves are on a long USB cable so that you are moving the antenna and the radio/modem around. Again, nothing wrong with any of those approaches. Whatever works.

    The high-performance adapters usually cost around $50- (and up) and are advertised on specialty web sites that cater to highly mobile people like construction workers and RV/vacation home owners.
     
  10. surfasb

    surfasb Titles Shmm-itles

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    4dBi?

    Weak. Get at least a 7.
     
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