Netgear A6100 WiFi USB Mini Adapter AC600 Dual Band review

Netgear's new A6100 wireless adapter is a tiny wireless USB adapter that supports connection to 802.11ac routers. The only real benefit to having the Netgear A6100, is to use it to connect to the router at 802.11ac mode, otherwise more robust, on-board 802.11n routers are speedier.

Netgear’s new A6100 wireless adapter is a tiny adapter that’s very similar to another tiny adapter I reviewed; Linksys’ AE6000 Wireless Mini USB Adapter AC58 Dual Band. As with the Linksys adapter, the only real benefit to having the Netgear A6100 is to use it to connect to the router at 802.11ac mode. Otherwise, my 3×3 built-in Intel Centrino wireless adapter makes my laptop connect much faster to Netgear’s 11ac routers in 802.11n and other legacy modes.

Setup and Specs
As mentioned, this is a small piece of networking hardware, although not quite as miniscule as the Linksys AE6000. The A6100 ships with a resource disc. You will need the disc to install the hardware, at least I did, because when I connected the adapter to my Windows 7 laptop, the OS could not auto-install the drivers.

The disc auto-plays and gives you the option of checking for updates, or you can just install from the disc. A Netgear Genie app for the adapter is installed on your system. It’s a sharp-looking interface and is consistent with the Genie app for Netgear’s routers.
The adapter has a soft, white LED that lights when connected to a network. It’s also WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) compatible. It supports up to a theoretical 130Mbps on the 2.4 GHz band and 433Mbps at 5GHz.

Features and Performance
One feature I do like better on Netgear’s little adapter than Linksys’ is the Genie app. It doesn’t list all wireless networks in range, but it gives pretty detailed information, including a network map, which shows how all devices in the network are connected with one another (called network topology) and other cool information such as amount of packets sent and received, IPv4 and IPv6 information, and diagnostics logging.

I really didn’t find the adapter’s performance all that impressive in 802.11n mode at 2.4GHz. In fact, I received worse performance using it to connect to the Netgear Nighthawk router than I did with my laptop’s on-board Intel Centrino 3×3 wireless adapter. This inferior performance was consistent whether I connected at 2.4 or the 5 GHz band in “Mixed” legacy or 802.11n-only mode.

For example, from a distance of 15 feet from the router, my laptop averaged throughput of 78 Mbps in 2.4 GHz 802.11n mode. The Netgear adapter only managed 42 Mbps.
Netgear’s adapter didn’t fare as well in 5 GHz 802.11n-only mode, either. My laptop’s throughput against the tiny USB adapter’s: 109 Mbps from 15 feet versus the AC6100′s 90 Mbps.

Now, the slower performance from the Netgear adapter isn’t particularly surprising, as I am comparing a 3×3 powerful, business-class wireless adapter to a USB adapter. So this definitely isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, as far as specs go. Still, I was surprised by how different throughput is between the two in testing.

Where the little adapter proved itself was in 802.11ac performance. It achieved triple-digit numbers when tested with the Nighthawk router, and gave some of the fastest 802.11ac speeds we’ve seen from an 11ac adapter. Of course, my laptop’s adapter only supports 802.11n so I don’t have a comparable test using the laptop’s built-in adapter. Click the image for performance results.

An Ideal Adapter at 802.11ac
The best usage case for Netgear’s adapter is a good on-board 802.11n adapter and an 802.11ac router you want to connect to—especially if you are considering the Nighthawk router. You can flip back and forth between the two depending on the standard you want to use to connect. For example, if connecting to 802.11n you use the built-in adapter, and, if trying to connect at 802.11ac, you connect the Netgear adapter to the USB port and disable the built-in adapter.

The A6100 is not ideal for use at the 2.4GHz band, but it is absolutely fine at 5GHz in 802.11n-mode and blazes in 11ac mode with Netgear’s Nighthawk router (and can be used with any 11ac router). Plus, the Wi-Fi software is well-designed. The Netgear A6100 earns three and a half out of five stars for USB.

Specifications
Device Type Wireless USB Adapter
Networking Options 802.11ac draft
Access Control Lists Based on MAC Addresses No
NAT No
IPv6 compatible Yes
Security WPA, WPA2, WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup)
Stateful Packet Inspection No
Parental Controls No

Verdict
Netgear's new A6100 wireless adapter is a tiny wireless USB adapter that supports connection to 802.11ac routers. The only real benefit to having the Netgear A6100, is to use it to connect to the router at 802.11ac mode, otherwise more robust, on-board 802.11n routers are speedier.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc