Asus PCE-AC68 Wireless AC1900 Network Adapter review

Asus PCE-AC68

The Asus PCE-AC68 is an internal 802.11ac wireless adaptor for desktop computers. Since it's a new standard, still in draft form, there are few 802.11ac wireless adaptors on the market, making this one of the few desktop wireless cards we've yet seen that supports the standard. (See all Wi-Fi and networking reviews.)

There are three main components in the package. The card itself, which measures just 103 x 69 x 21 mm, so you should have no trouble fitting it into the smallest of cases, handy if you're building a Mini-ITX PC. There's also a set of three giant antennae, which can either be connected directly to the back of the card, or to a supplied extender, a black triangular module. This has a strong magnetic base, so it attaches securely to the top of a metal PC case. If you opt to use the extender, three wires provide ample room to move the extender around if you're trying to get a better signal. A backing plate with three holes in it is included to cover the rear of your PC case.?

The drivers come with an Asus software utility that provides a slightly more accessible way to connect to wireless networks and run simple tests than Windows' built-in software. It shows more detail about each wireless network in range, its channel number and security type. There are checkboxes to turn on and off features such as beamforming, turbo QAM and interference mitigation and for completely disabling the wireless radio. There's also a built-in ping tool, a handy alternative to using the command prompt, plus easy access to the commonly used IP release and renew options.

Although it's still early days for 802.11ac, most of the hardware we've seen so far has delivered significantly better speeds and range than 802.11n. The PCE-AC68 is another great example of the improvements the new standard brings. We measured 480 Mb/s at short distance and 460 Mb/s at 10 metres on 802.11ac. This isn't quite as high as some of the speeds we measured using a Broadcom 802.11ac chipset in a 2013 iMac, but still a great improvement over what's possible from any 802.11n device.

Given that we weren't expecting terrific speeds when testing the PCE-AC68 on an 802.11n network, its results were generally favourable. 148 Mb/s at short range and 110 Mb/s at distance aren't bad over 2.4 GHz, and compare well with other wireless adaptors.??For many, old-fashioned wired ethernet is the preferred way to connect desktop computers to a network. That's fine if your computer is within physical range of the router, but for other parts of the house, wireless or power-line ethernet are the only ways to avoid messy cabling. Start a huge data transfer though and the limitations of these networking technologies becomes apparent. With 802.11ac you can expect speeds approximately half of what you get on Gigabit ethernet, but without the need for network cables, which is especially handy when copying a few 50GB Blu-ray rips onto the hard disk of a living room PC, equipped with a wireless desktop card such as the PCE-AC68.

??You may also wonder why anyone would consider an internal wireless network card when USB adaptors do the same job, without being fixed inside a desktop computer. The answer is that only the PCI Express bus is fast enough to ensure it can never be saturated with the mountain of data from 802.11ac. Not all manufacturers' implementations of USB are as good as they could be, so there's some potential for a USB 3 802.11ac wireless adaptor to bottleneck transfer speeds.

Asus PCE-AC68 Wireless AC1900 Network Adapter: Specs

  • 802.11ac/n/g/b/a
  • 3x3:3 MIMO
  • 2.4 / 5 GHz
  • dimensions: 103.3 x 68.9 x 21 mm (WxDxH)
  • 3 external dipole antennae
  • Windows 8 / 7 / Vista / XP support
  • 802.11ac/n/g/b/a
  • 3x3:3 MIMO
  • 2.4 / 5 GHz
  • dimensions: 103.3 x 68.9 x 21 mm (WxDxH)
  • 3 external dipole antennae
  • Windows 8 / 7 / Vista / XP support

OUR VERDICT

When paired with a compatible router, the Asus PCE-AC68 is a great upgrade for desktop computers that need excellent network performance without the wires. It's not the cheapest option - neither 802.11ac routers nor adaptors are as inexpensive as 802.11n equipment or power-line networking kit, but for now it's most definitely the most convenient and cable-free way to connect.

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