Wireless AC or 802.11ac technology has been available for well over a year now. But most laptops cannot take advantage of it because only a fraction of laptops made in the last six months have 11ac wireless capability – most still contain 802.11n adaptors. See all Wi-Fi and Networking reviews. However you can connect one of a new generation of wireless USB adaptors to your laptop to have a taste of 802.11ac's improved performance. We say a taste advisedly as to feel the benefit of increased throughput you'll need a multiple antennae setup. These are usually arranged around the inside of your laptop screen to get a good distance between them which helps performance and range. Portable USB adaptors don't have much space for multiple antennae, although the specification for this enclosed design suggests there are two inside.
The design is slightly cheap looking and it feels rather flimsy, however it does come with a small stand which is useful. With this accessory you can site the adaptor away from the computer and upright for potentially better reception. There is also a button for WPS connection. We connected the adaptor to a laptop already fitted with an 802.11n 3x3 MIMO internal Wi-Fi card. The laptop was then placed at 1 m to determine maximum throughput. To test the all-important range aspect the laptop was taken outside and 10 m from the building with the router stationed at a 5th floor window (total distance 18 m). This test was also repeated at distance of 80 m (total distance 82 m).
The throughput for the DWA-182 at 1 m using 802.11ac was 180 Mb/s while the 802.11n adaptor achieved 184 Mb/s. So at short range there was no real advantage. For the first outside test the DWA-182 returned a speed of 125 Mb/s which was significantly higher than the 67 Mb/s of the laptop's built-in 11n wireless. At 82 m the results were even more impressive for 11ac, with the DWA-182 returning a speed of 140 Mb/s while the 802.11n sustained an 86 Mb/s throughput. The speed tests show that in our test setup at least the D-Link DWA-182 could maintain a higher speed at distance than an 802.11n MIMO 3x3 solution. It's worth noting that the D-Link DWA-182, in common with other 802.11ac adaptors we have tested, provided very low data rates for the first minute of operation, generally 8 Mb/s. After that the data rate shot up to the higher levels we recorded.
The D-link DWA-182 adaptor provided higher performance in our long-range 82 m outdoor test when compared with built-in 802.11n. Short range speed was little different to that of a three-antennae laptop, which is impressive for a two-internal antennae dongle. The DWA-182 would be a good choice for these extended range scenarios, or to upgrade basic 11n Wi-Fi in budget laptops.