Asus USB-AC53 Dual-band Wireless AC1200 USB Adapter Review

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The Asus adapter will deliver fine speeds in 5GHZ mode. However, many users will still want to connect at the more common 2.4 GHz band. 2.4 is not as broad a band as 5 GHz and throughput will be slower on that band, but it shouldn’t be as slow as the throughput I saw with the Asus adapter.

(2.5 out of 5)

Pros

  • Very good throughput in 5GHz mode

Cons

  • Poor performance in 2.4GHz mode
  • No USB 3.0 support

Asus’ Dual-band AC1200 USB Adapter may be the chicest wireless adapter around. It’s got the same diamond-patterned décor as Asus’ RT-AC66U Dual Band 3×3 802.11AC Gigabit Router. Blue LEDs shine from inside the device when it’s connected to a laptop and wireless network, giving this piece of networking hardware a jewelry-like look.  Not only is it pretty, but it’s also got very good throughput at 5GHz and it comes with a decent wireless utility. However, perplexingly poor performance in 2.4 GHz mode makes the adapter fall far short of greatness.

Specs
The USB-AC53 is a selectable dual-band adapter capable of theoretical speeds of up to 867 Mbps at 5GHz and 300 Mbps at the 2.4 band. It features two embedded patch antennas called PIFA (Planar Inverted-F Antenna). The device ships with a netclip for clipping to a laptop screen, USB extension cable, and cradle accessory— providing some flexibility in placement of the adapter.

An accompanying disc contains the driver and utility. This utility provides a site survey, details on wireless networking in your location, and a WPS wizard.

The Asus adapter supports 64- and 128-bit WEP security, WPA/WPA2-PSK, and well as WPS. It only supports Windows.

Unfortunately, the device also only supports USB 2.0. From my testing, USB 3.0 is the better option since its faster speed does not impede network performance. I discovered how fast a USB 3.0 11ac adapter can be when testing Edimax’s AC1200 Wireless Dual-Band USB Adapter.

Setup
Setting up the adapter on a Windows 7 laptop was a fairly simple affair. You run the setup executable from the disc. You can choose to install only the driver or the driver and wireless utility. Typically, I am leery about running third-party wireless utilities over Windows’ native wireless management because I have found that can cause some issues with managing the Windows’ client’s wireless connection. Asus software, however, did not give any issues after install. I did find it strange that software that runs exclusively on Windows could not be verified by Windows during install, though.

The utility performs a wireless site survey so it shows all nearby wireless network. It displays whether the adapter is connected to a network or not, as well as each network’s channel, security, encryption level, the MAC address of each access point, and displays signal strength. Signal strength is displayed the same way as in Windows; represented by up to five bars—the more the bars, the stronger the signal. I prefer getting an actual RSSI number for signal strength, but that is usually found in dedicated wireless management and troubleshooting software such as inSSIDer.

Performance
Asus adapter provided the second-fastest performance I’ve tested among wireless adapters—at least in 5 GHZ mode. In 5 GHz 11ac mode testing with Edimax’s 11ac router, the Asus adapter managed an impressive 148 Mbps testing 5 feet from the router. That did drop to 104 Mbps by the time I tested 30 feet away, but that is still very good throughput.

In 5GHz 802.11-N mode, the adapter averaged a very nice 130 Mbps testing 15 feet away from the router.

The only other adapter I’ve tested that beat that performance in 5GHz mode is the Edimax 11ac USB adapter. This is why I was puzzled why the Asus adapter gave lousy performance in 2.4GHz mode. At about 15 feet away, Ixia’s IxChariot testing software only registered 15 Mbps at about 15 feet away from the router. That’s the lower throughout I’ve seen among these new 11ac USB adapters. At 30 feet, that speed dropped to 11 Mbps. I was so confused by that slow speed that I disabled the Asus adapter, enabled my laptop’s on-board wireless adapter and ran the exact same test without moving the laptop or my position. I wanted to see if something was going on with my laptop. Sure enough, at the same distance with the on-board my laptop’s adapter managed about 40Mbps—average speed in my test bed.

A Fast and Slow Adapter
Obviously, the Asus adapter delivers fine speeds in 5GHZ mode. However, many users will still want to connect at the more common 2.4GHz band. 2.4 is not as broad a band as 5GHz and throughput will be slower on that band, but it shouldn’t be as slow as the throughput I saw with the Asus adapter. The Asus adapter gets 2.5 out of 5 stars; the Editors’ Choice for wireless USB adapters remains the Edimax AC1200 Wireless Dual-Band USB adapter.

By Samara Lynn, PCMag

Specifications

  • Networking Options: 802.11ac
  • Device Type: Wireless USB Adapter
  • Access Control Lists Based on MAC Addresses: No
  • Parental Controls: No
  • NAT: No
  • Stateful Packet Inspection: No

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