Cheaper laptops can suffer from poorer Wi-Fi wireless performance. Working in the same room as your router might be fine but reception becomes an issue as you move away from the router to different rooms. See all Wi-Fi and Networking reviews.
Helping to plus this gap in the market are high-gain Wi-Fi USB adaptors. These plug into a USB port on your laptop, routing data in place of the built-in solution. TP-Link offers its TL-WN8200ND, a single-band 2.4 GHz USB Wi-Fi adaptor with a claimed 300 Mb/s transmission rate. Take a look at our Netgear WN3000RP Universal Wi-Fi Range Extender review too.
The TL-WN8200ND certainly looks like it means business. It has two 5 dB gain antennas to improve signal reception and transmission. These can be rotated and positioned independently.
The whole adaptor sits at the end of a 1.5 metre USB cable which allows it to be placed up high or in some other suitable position away from the laptop for best results.
The setup of the adaptor was very simple for Windows 7 and 8. You can also run several wireless adaptors concurrently.
For setup you can choose either to install both driver and wireless utility or just the hardware driver. If you go the driver-only route you can still use the Windows wireless network manager to connect to networks and the adaptor will be given a name like Connection 2.
Alternatively if you decide to install the TP-Link Wi-Fi utility, your connection to the network will be managed by this separate program. An advantage of TP-Link’s Wi-Fi utility is a more accurate signal-strength indicator, as it provides percentage indicators for both signal strength and quality.
A network connection can be made via standard WPA2 password or WPS push-button security.
TP-Link TL-WN8200ND: Performance
To test this Wi-Fi adaptor we placed it in both common short-range situations and occluded long-range locations. Firstly at 5 metres in line-of-sight to the router, it achieved 30 Mb/s. That's a very long way behind the advertised 300 Mb/s speed.
At 10 metres and partly screened by a wall it achieved 24 Mb/s which is not even as fast as the 30 Mb/s from the laptop’s built-in Wi-Fi – a 3x3 MIMO antennae setup in a large 17in premium laptop.
To challenge the adaptor further we took it up 1, 2 and 3 floors away from the router in a concrete building. On floor 1 it achieved 19 Mb/s, on floor 2, 15 Mb/s; and floor 3, 8 Mb/s.
When using only the laptop’s internal wireless adaptor, the signal had dropped to 2 Mb/s on floor 2 and lost all signal on floor 3.
The performance of the TL-WN8200ND was not good but to really get the best out of it it’s probably worth moving the adaptor around and changing the position of the antennae to get the best signal.
One advantage of this adaptor lies in the detachable aerials. They use standard screw-in connectors. This means you can use higher gain (if much longer) 9 dB antennae, or a directional antenna to get a greater RF signal boost.
Note that this review was updated 24 June 2013 after an error in wireless performance figures was discovered. We mistakenly published kilobit-per-second results as kilobyte-per-second figures, with those results converted up to kb/s.