Many Wi-Fi users struggle to get a strong signal when they're several rooms away from the access point. Most network cards have piddling antennae with a mere 2dBi (decibels) gain, and this, plus a few thick walls, can mean a weak signal, or no signal at all.

One solution is the Hi-Gain USB Wireless-G Dish Adapter from Hawking. This resembles a little desktop satellite dish; it's highly directional and therefore allows focused reception. It can thus provide an 8dBi gain, much more than conventional antennae.

LEDs on the front indicate signal strength – the idea being that you fine-tune the angle without referring to the software display. However, we found the software method easier to use. You can rotate the dish horizontally and vertically, but the range is limited. This becomes an issue if you want to wall-mount the HWU8DD.

Usefully, the device is self-powered via the USB. Many current laptops come with Wi-Fi already built in, so buying the HWU8DD may lead to a degree of hardware duplication.

In use it didn't disappoint – the quality of Wi-Fi connections around the house leapt from good to excellent. Pointing the HWU8DD out of the second-floor window was a revelation, revealing half a dozen or so additional wireless networks that were invisible to existing Linksys and USR Wi-Fi cards.

There are a number of rough edges to the HWU8DD. The misspelling of 'signal' silk-screened on to the front is slap-dash; more importantly, the Wireless Tool utility has an awkward interface. And if you go to the Hawking website to look for updated drivers, the one you can download is older than the one on the CD.

Hawking HWU8DD: Specs

  • Directional 8dBi dish antenna
  • USB 2.0
  • Windows 98/SE/Me/2000/XP/2003 Server
  • transmit power 22~24 dBm (typical)
  • frequency band 2.4~2.4835GHz (Industrial Scientific Medical Band)
  • 64/128/256bit WEP data encryption
  • WPA (IEEE 802.1x with TKIP) and AES
  • 89x114x74mm
  • Directional 8dBi dish antenna
  • USB 2.0
  • Windows 98/SE/Me/2000/XP/2003 Server
  • transmit power 22~24 dBm (typical)
  • frequency band 2.4~2.4835GHz (Industrial Scientific Medical Band)
  • 64/128/256bit WEP data encryption
  • WPA (IEEE 802.1x with TKIP) and AES
  • 89x114x74mm

OUR VERDICT

You can buy high-gain antennae for access points to improve broadcast range, but the HWU8DD is a more flexible setup that markedly improves reception in poor Wi-Fi signal areas. Worth considering if you suffer from low signal strength.

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