There are several options for increasing the useful range of your Wi-Fi network. You can replace your main wireless router with a more powerful device, or try more effective antennae. You can use wireless range extenders to relay the Wi-Fi to more distant areas, or mains powerline adaptors. See all Wi-Fi and Networking reviews.
But when you're out of the house in a café or hotel room where you can't get decent signal strength for effective wireless data connections, these options are simply not available to you. Unless you have a premium laptop with well-engineered radio and antennae, chances are the laptop itself could benefit from improvement. See also TP-Link TL-WN8200ND review.
This is where USB wireless adaptors come in. Edimax produces the EW-7612UAn V2 which aims to give your Wi-Fi range a boost.
On first unboxing the EW-7612UAn V2 is a rather small unassuming looking device. The electronics are built into the end of the USB connector and are barely longer than your thumbnail. Joined to the end is an omnidirectional 3dB antenna to receive and send radio data.
Also included is a very useful USB extender cable which, while only 5 inches long, contains a semi-rigid core. This can be used to raise the Wi-Fi adaptor up and away from the laptop body to improve reception. The device includes one button for WPS W-Fi security and has a single connection light. Overall it's a very compact and easy to use package.
Setting up the adaptor is straightforward, and drivers are available for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X (although the 10.8 driver is listed as beta). We tested the Edimax adaptor in Windows.
Windows 7 and 8 now allow you to run more than one Wi-Fi network adaptor concurrently; in the past installing two adaptors could spell trouble when trying to switch back to the built-in card.
The setup utility provided by Edimax is also straightforward and provides signal strength and signal quality information. A useful feature here is to disable the adaptor without having to go into Windows' device manager.
For testing this adaptor we conducted a series of tests at everyday and longer ranges. For typical use we placed the laptop either 5 metres from the router within line of site, or at 10 metres and around a corner (which obstructed a direct signal path).
For the line-of-site test the adaptor hit 38 Mb/s which is disappointing given the size of the aerial, although it just beat both the internal laptop adaptor and the larger TL-WN8200ND from TP-Link.
In the longer-range 10m test the adaptor provided a data rate of 25 Mb/s which is again nothing special.
To really push this adaptor we placed the laptop 1, 2 or 3 floors up from the router in the stiarwell of a concrete building.
On floor 1 the EW-7612UAn V2 achieved a datarate of 27 Mb/s which is about the same as its TP-Link rival. On floor 2 the data rate was 13 Mb/s. To put this into perspective the built-in laptop Wi-Fi only reached 8 Mb/s at this point.
On floor 3 the data rate fell to a just-there 125 kb/s, which is better than no connection at all.