Netgear A6200 review

Netgear A6200

The Netgear A6200 USB dongle allows you to experience some of the performance of the latest 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard. Some care seems to have been taken over the design of this adaptor, making it stand out against much of the competition. See all Wi-Fi and Networking reviews.

The Netgear A6200 uses high-quality plastics with many triangular-shaped vent holes on the back. The front of the body can be pulled outwards to extend the receiving area from the laptop. And the USB connector itself can be rotated, allowing the adaptor to stand up vertically when attached to a laptop’s USB port.

More mounting options are available thanks to a 1 m USB extension cable with a small stand to fix the adaptor vertical and raked backward. The stand may not have the premium feel of that found with Asus’ USB dongles but it does provide the necessary functionality. There’s a single button on the device to make connections using WPS rather than the safer password-only setup.

While this adaptor may follow the current draft wireless 802.11ac standard, it will never reach the maximum speeds of this technology, since the specifications suggest it only has two antennae inside, and it follows the slower USB 2.0 standard rather than USB 3.0.

To test the performance of the adaptor, including performance at range, we devised three tests. Firstly a maximum throughput test to determine the highest data rate at short range, conducted at a distance of 1 m.

Second test was outdoor at a distance of 18 m in free space. This was achieved by placing the router in a 5th floor window and venturing 10 m outside on the ground (total distance 18 m). In the final test the adaptor was moved 82 m from the router to determine its performance at extreme range.

In the first test the A6200 allowed a data rate of 184 Mb/s, identical to the that achieved by the built-in 802.11n of our test laptop. So at short range you may not notice much difference in speed between this 11ac dongle and a decent three-antennae 802.11n setup.

Things changed in the second 18 m test where the Netgear A6200 sustained a speed of 140 Mb/s which was considerably higher than the 67 Mb/s reached by the 11n laptop alone. So at greater range this adaptor significantly improved our wireless data throughput.

In the final 82 m test the adaptor maintained its speed of 140 Mb/s which is inline with the other best-performing adaptors we tested. This speed was much greater than the 86 Mb/s acheived by the 802.11n test laptop.

Go to the next page to read the review from PCWorld.com

If you need to connect several wired clients to your 802.11ac network, you should set up a wireless bridge. If you have just one client - especially a laptop, or maybe a home-theater PC - Netgear offers a better, cheaper alternative: Plug its Netgear A6200 USB Wi-Fi adapter into your PC and establish a wireless connection that's fast enough to stream Blu-ray-quality video. See also:Group test: what's the best wireless router?

The Netgear A6200 is a dual-band adapter capable of operating on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency bands (as an 802.11n device and an 802.11ac device, respectively).See all Wi-Fi and networking reviews.

We tested both scenarios, comparing its 802.11n performance with that of the Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 Wi-Fi adapter integrated into our AVADirect gaming laptop, and its 802.11ac performance with that of Cisco's Linksys WUMC710 wireless bridge.

Being a USB adapter, the A6200 draws the power it needs from the computer, whereas the WUMC710 requires AC power. Netgear's device, however, can transmit and receive only two 802.11ac spatial streams (900 mbps aggregate), whereas Cisco's supports three (1.3 gbps aggregate).

Bear in mind that those theoretical maximum speeds are nothing close to what you'll get in the real world, and that the USB 2.0 interface the A6200 uses maxes out at 480 mbps anyway (the Cisco product's physical connection to its clients is either 10/100 ethernet or gigabit ethernet).

Netgear A6200: performance tests

In any event, in our tests the A6200 delivered considerably less throughput than the WUMC710 did, particularly at close range (with the client in the same room as the router, separated by 9 feet). Nonetheless, the A6200 provided more than enough bandwidth to stream Blu-ray-quality video from a home server to the client regardless of distance: 221 mbps at 9 feet, 154 mbps at 35 feet, and 152 mbps at 65 feet.

(We used SlySoft's AnyDVD HD to rip the movie Spider-Man 3 from a Blu-ray Disc and saved it as an ISO image on the server. We then used SlySoft's Virtual CloneDrive to mount the ISO image on our laptop and streamed it over the network via CyberLink PowerDVD 12 Ultra.)

The A6200 is also a good 802.11n network adapter operating on the 2.4GHz frequency band. Here again, the A6200 supports only two spatial streams (300 mbps aggregate), whereas the Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 built into our test laptop supports three (450 mbps aggregate).

Intel's adapter stomped the A6200 at close range (with signal oversaturation being the likely culprit), but Netgear's device pulled out wins when the client was in a home theater 35 feet away from the router and in a home office 65 feet from the router.

Those results are likely due to the fact that the Netgear's two antennas were outside the laptop's enclosure, while the Intel product's antennas were tucked inside it.

Speaking of antennas, the A6200's USB connector can pivot from 180 degrees to 90 degrees, and its antenna can rotate from a negative 180 degrees to a positive 180 degrees (this flexibility adds 1 inch to the adapter's length, which could increase its range depending on the router's location and the antenna orientation).

Netgear also provides a USB stand with a 3-foot cable that gives you many more options when it comes to placing the adapter. Netgear recommends using the stand, and that's how we tested the adapter.

Netgear A6200: Specs

  • 802.11ac wireless adaptor
  • USB 2.0
  • 2.4/5.0 GHz
  • WEP, WPA2
  • WPS
  • external stand with 1 m cable
  • 95 x 31 x 14.3 mm
  • 19.5 g
  • 802.11ac wireless adaptor
  • USB 2.0
  • 2.4/5.0 GHz
  • WEP, WPA2
  • WPS
  • external stand with 1 m cable
  • 95 x 31 x 14.3 mm
  • 19.5 g

OUR VERDICT

The Netgear A6200 11ac adaptor provides good performance at range which can be more than double that of a current 802.11n laptop 3x3 MIMO setup. The addition of an attractive design and the ability to mount this in a USB slot vertically are an added bonus. For the best of the bunch though look to the Asus AC-56.

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