Netgear's Under-$60 802.11ac Solution
Today we look at the Netgear A6200 USB (2.0) 802.11ac Network Adapter. This adapter is designed for those users who are looking to upgrade their current network equipment to match that of the newest Wi-Fi protocol, 802.11ac. 802.11ac provides the fastest wireless speeds theoretically topping 1GBps.
The Netgear A6200 WiFi USB Adaptor has been designed to connect your notebook or desktop computer to an 802.11ac network to give you lag-free HD streaming of multimedia or maximum throughput on wireless data transfers. This, of course, is tremendously important for those trying to wirelessly game or who just want the fastest speeds that their network can provide.
You can find the Netgear A6200 USB adapter today for $59.49 shipped from Amazon. We think this a great price point that will attract a number of users who have already upgraded their home or office network and who still have the need to upgrade their ‘legacy’ laptop or PC.
The Netgear A6200 has a number of features that should separate this adapter from others on the market including the Netgear “Push ‘N’ Connect” feature that lets you securely connect to your router (and thus the internet) with the simple push of a button. No more fussing around with remembering complicated passcodes.
The A6200 is designed to work with different computer form-factors. Whether it’s your laptop or your desktop PC, the engineers at Netgear have provided a dongle that is versatile in how you place it to use on your machine.
Of course the biggest feature of the adapter is its ability to connect with the fast routers on the market using 802.11ac speeds. This dual-band adapter functions over 2.4GHz and 5.0GHz frequency bands for speeds up to 1200 Mbps. Be careful when you look at these speed numbers since the 2.4GHz channel tops out at 300Mbps and the 5.0GHz channel provides theoretical speeds of up to 834 Mbps.
Netgear A6200 802.11ac Wireless Adapter Key Features:
- Ultimate range and performance with 802.11ac
- Adjustable antenna for improved performance
- 802.11ac provides gigabit Wi-Fi with speeds up to 1.3 gigabits/sec
- HD streaming throughout your home
- Compatible with next generation Wi-Fi devices
- Backward compatible with 802.11n.
- Window 8 compatible
- 1 year parts & Limited warranty
Let’s now take a look inside the box to see what you get and just how easy the A6200 setup is.
Netgear A6200: Setup and Configuration
Netgear ships the A6200 WiFi USB Adapter with a desktop dock, USB cable, Installation Guide, and Netgear Genie installation software. The USB cable is permanently attached to the desktop dock and is just over 3-feet in length.
The Netgear A6200 itself has only one button in its body and that is one-touch WPS connect that securely connects your device to your router. There is also an LED right next to the WPS button that gives feedback to the user as to the state of the adapter. Other than these two items, there are not other buttons or indicators on the body of the A6200.
The A6200 can be connected to your laptop or desktop PC in a number of different physical configurations. The top part of the adapter can be extended by another inch to make the adapter 5-inches long. You can actually rotate this same top section to 90-degrees to help maximize your signal strength. At 1.6” thick, the adapter is thin enough to stack another USB dongle above or below. For people with limited space, this WiFi adapter will not take up all of the space on your notebook computer.
Before actually using the Netgear A6200, we need to install the Netgear application and driver from the included CD. We had the Netgear A6200 v1.3 driver, which includes version 22.214.171.124 of the Netgear Genie Application, where Netgear made the A6200 compatible with Netgear’s “Beamforming” – which allows an 802.11ac router to create a stronger and faster connection with the client.
Once the application software was installed, we connected the A6200 to our laptop. The entire process took about 2 minutes after the software was loaded.
Here we see the install screen after selecting the “install Windows Standalone Driver” selection from the Netgear Resource CD. We installed Version 126.96.36.199 of the Netgear GENIE.
After the Driver is installed, the Netgear GENIE prompts you to select a network to connect to. If you have a hidden network, you need to select the “Manually Connect to a network” button and type in the SSID name and security password (if necessary). If you have never used InSSIDer, this program is good to see just how many connections you can pair to.
After you make your connection to the router of choice, you can see this visual which gives you a nice view of your network status at-a-glance. Notice the network MAC address, security, channel, speed, and signal strength are easily located.
Finally, we pull up the Windows 7 Network Connection Status window to confirm we are connected at the fastest possible speed. For the 5.0 GHz channel the maximum speed is 837Mbps, and for the 2.4 GHz channel, the maximum is 300Mbps.
Now, that we are connected, let’s see just how fast this adapter is at transferring data.
Netgear A6200: Wireless-AC Speed Tests
To test the throughput of the Netgear A6200, we paired it with a Netgear R6300 Dual-Band 802.11ac wireless router that is our current Legit Reviews’ Editor’s Choice. We wanted to see a real-world application so we took our Alienware M17XR4 gaming laptop and installed the Netgear A6200 to conduct our speed tests. The Alienware M17XR4 is already one of the best laptops on the market today in part because it features an Intel i7-3610QM CPU with 6GB RAM running Windows 7 64-Bit, and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660M. More importantly it is outfitted with a Qualcomm Antheros Killer Wireless-N 1103 Network Adapter already. The Killer 1103 is a three-antenna network adapter that connects at up to 450Mbps over 802.11n. We have written about the Killer NIC technology in recent years and there is no doubt that this 3-antenna solution will give us the best possible wireless-n throughput for our test.
Using the Netgear 802.11ac adapter should give us a nice comparison to what a user can expect in terms of performance step up.
As we have with our other wireless networking tests, we took our Alienware laptop connected to the Netgear A6200 Dual-Band Adapter and moved it 25-feet away from our Netgear R6300 802.11ac router. We didn't tell the client anything more than the 5Ghz SSID name for the router and let it automatically choose the channel to connect to. For more of a comparison to everyday laptops, we took a Dell Latitude E6410 laptop with an Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6200 AGN Wireless Adaptor and tested it against our Netgear A6200, the Killer NIC and the ASUS USB-AC53 that we tested recently. The Intel Centrino 6xxx series has been one of the most widely used mobile networking solutions ever. We set the router to “Unsecure Mode” (for fastest data throughput), and with WMM / QoS turned ON. After connecting, we ran the PC application LAN Speed Test (LST) to measure file transfer and network speeds.
LST builds a file in memory and then transfers the packet without the effects of windows file caching. It then reports the time and calculates the network speed. We repeated the test 2 more times rotating the AC adapter 90 degrees after each test to make sure that the speed wasn’t affected adversely by orientation.
Benchmark Results: Looking at the tests for our smallest data packet, we see that Qualcomm Atheros Killer Wireless holds its own outpacing the Netgear A6200 by almost 19% in Average Read Speeds. Write speeds performance are almost identical. The results are split when looking at the Netgear adapter against the ASUS USB-AC53. The ASUS is 13% faster than the Netgear in Average Read Speeds, but the Netgear is only 6% faster than the ASUS in Average Write Speeds. Both the Netgear A6200 and ASUS USB-53 are tremendously faster than our Intel Centrino 6300AGN.
Benchmark Results: We consider the speed tests with 100 MB data to be the most significant because this packet size simulates streamed multimedia via wireless. Looking at the tests for these sized data packet, we see that the the ASUS USB-AC53 adapter is 8% faster than the Netgear A6200 USB adapter. Both of these speeds are significantly better than our “stock” Intel Centrino Advanced-N wireless adapter. The Qualcomm Atheros Killer Wireless puts in a solid performance, but anyone can see that there are significant speed advantages to upgrading to 802.11ac no matter where you start.
Netgear A6200: Final Thoughts & Conclusions
After working with the both the Netgear A6200 for a few weeks on my home 802.11ac WiFi, we found the experience totally transparent to what we had in our old 802.11n device. Throughout our day to day activities, we didn’t experience any drop out of communication with our Netgear and ASUS routers. We were able to watch HD (720p) video streamed from our NAS with no stuttering or disconnects as well.
Netgear ships the A6200 Wi-Fi USB adapter with just enough to keep you running - nothing extra in the box whatsoever. The 3-foot WiFi extension/stand is useful if you have limited access to USB port on your machine. It would have been nice if the Netgear engineers would have included a clip of some sort that you could attach the USB dongle to the back of your laptop for a bit more elevation on your computer. These are minor issues really, and everything that you need to move your device over to Wireless-AC is included with the purchase of this adapter.
One of the most unique features on the Netgear A6200 is that it has an adjustable antenna and you can mount the USB adapter in a number of different ways to your computer. We experimented with the antenna in a few different positions but really couldn’t see a major difference in our throughput speed. There was much more of a difference when moving the entire notebook or rotating the router. However, the ability to make adjustments to the antenna makes up for the fact that Netgear only ships dongle with an extended cable dock and not a desk mount or extended antennas.
The version of Netgear’s GUI (Version 188.8.131.52) had everything that we needed to set up our USB adapter initially. It found the network that we want to connect to and after it connected reported all the statistics that we were interested in – the network name, security, connect speed, signal strength, etc.
Netgear is touting that this latest software version as one that contains ‘beamforming’ ability. This is where the router in the receiver works in tandem to know not only the best channel, but optimizes the channel for best throughput. Netgear has been consistently updating their firmware for their suite of routers so we expect this same dedication to continue with the USB adapter.
Speaking speed, we were hoping to get a little bit better performance out of the Netgear A6200 – especially since we paired it up with a Netgear R6300 router. The Asus USB-AC53 USB adapter performed slightly better in our speed tests but, as we said, at the end of the day we were getting solid signals and our speed was more than double than that of a stock wireless (802.11n) adapter.
As it was with the ASUS 802.11 AC adapter, someone will surely ask if the USB 2.0 throughputs are limiting the performance of these Network devices. We found that the Netgear approached the limitations of the USB port but we saw no indication that the port was saturated. We would imagine when manufacturers make USB 3.0 adapters readily available we will see theoretical speeds faster than 867 Mbps. For now, this sub-$60 adapter is a very good choice when wanting to upgrade your legacy PC.
The Netgear 86200 Wi-Fi USB adapter comes with the limited warranty depending on the country of purchase in the United States is one year.
Legit Bottom Line: While the Netgear A6200 didn’t perform at the top of our speed tests, it was very robust when comparing it to legacy WiFi devices. For those looking for an easy way to upgrade their computers to 802.11ac, this is certainly a solid choice.