2.4Ghz vs 5Ghz, D-Link DWA-160 short review, a kink, and the fix

After years of not having to worry about wireless, I was forced to buy a new router to replace a fried one (lightning) and was now looking at wireless-N. Where I was stuck was trying to figure out was if I should be going for one of these “Dual-Band” Wireless-N thingies or not. They supported both 5Ghz and 2.4Ghz but that’s all the box in the store told me (aside from the extremely helpful worthless marketing).

If you’re a bit new to this as well, keep reading. If you just want to see what I have to say about the D-Link DWA-160 Dual Band Wireless N USB adapter, skip down a bit.

2.4Ghz vs 5Ghz

Did some research. Here’s the best breakdown I found for 2.4Ghz vs 5Ghz (lifted from an old xirrus.com page that no longer exists):

5GHz2.4GHzAdvantage Defined
Bandwidth54/300Mbps54/300MbpsBoth choices support up to 54Mbps of bandwidth today and up to 300Mbps when the new 802.11n standard is deployed.
Channels243Restrictions in the 2.4GHz band limit the number of simultaneously channels to 3, while the 5GHz band offers up to 24.
Capacity3.45Gbps 450MbpsThe 24 channels available with 5GHz far exceed the capacity of 2.4GHz.
802.11a = 1.24Gbps / 802.11n = 3.45Gbps (5GHz)
802.11g = 162Mbps / 802.11n = 450Mbps (2.4GHz)
InterferenceLowHighWi-Fi in 2.4GHz competes with microwaves, Bluetooth, wireless phones, etc. resulting in a very noisy environment. The 5GHz band is considerably cleaner.
Channel PlanningFlexibleRestrictedWith 8 times the number of channels to chose from in the 5GHz band, planning is far simpler than the 2.4GHz band.
Triple Play SupportOptimalLimitedOnly 5GHz supports the bandwidth, capacity, and throughput required for enterprise quality voice, video, and data applications.
802.11nOptimalLimitedAlthough 802.11n supports both bands, the available channels, bandwidth, and client capacity makes the 5GHz band the obvious choice.
RangeGoodBetterEven though the 2.4GHz band has greater range than 5GHz, proper deployment using directional antennas can eliminate any issue.

Really, 5Ghz really has a lot going for it. The biggest downside is that the routers and network adapters that use it are a fair bit more pricey.

You don’t lose anything by getting “dual-band” equipment, and the plus-side (in the case of D-Link’s dual-band router anyway) is that you basically have 2 wireless networks going at the same time – one on 2.4 and one on 5Ghz. If anyone in your household is having issues on 1 band, they can simply try the other. I could see it being particularly great for those who throw a LAN-party and have some friends with finicky wireless on their laptops.

If you’re building (or replacing) a home network, it’s certainly something to consider.

D-Link DWA-160 Xtreme N Dual-Band USB Adapter Review (short)

The DWA-160 comes with an extender (cable’s about 4 ft long) and a driver CD. It’s got drivers for XP and Vista (32 and 64-bit).

Yes, unlike some USB stuff (keyboards, mice, storage devices, etc) you will need to install the drivers for this thing.

After installing and connecting to the network, I popped onto the D-Link forums and came across a thread with 300Mbps Connection Requirements. The short version is that you have to use these:

1) WPA2 and AES (not TKIP)
2) 24/40Auto as the Channel Width (set up in the router)

I set those up, and also chose “N-only” for the 5Ghz band. All of a sudden I couldn’t connect on that band anymore. I connected on 2.4Ghz, and ended up having to manually set a channel (5.745 Ghz although I’m sure you can try others and they’ll work – the “Auto Channel Scan” just wasn’t doing it for some reason). I was  then able to get back onto the 5Ghz channel.

I checked out the network “Status” from within Vista. For reference, the router and the USB adapter are 6 feet apart, separated by a wall. Here’s what initially showed:
Signal Quality: 5 bars
Speed: 162.0 Mbps

I was pretty pleased with the signal, but was really hoping for 300Mbps for the speed. I disabled/enabled a few times but no luck – 162.0 every time…

I decided it might be a good idea to get the latest drivers from the website, which I did. After installing, I was now at 300 Mbps!

After about 20 minutes, it dropped back down to 162.0 again, so I tried disconnecting/reconnecting and it went back to 300. I then tried the 2.4Ghz channel which also connected at 300. So far looking good!

In any case, I’m quite pleased. USB adapters are inherently poor when it comes to reception (the internal cards with the external antenna are much better) and I’ve heard of people being next to the router and getting poor signal with USB adapters. This wasn’t the case with me.

If you’ve got (or are looking to buy the DWA-160), here are a few notes to keep in mind:

  1. Get the latest drivers from D-Link’s website (browse through dlink.com).
  2. If you’re using authentication to connect to the router (name/password), use WPA2/AES if you’re hoping for 300Mbps.
  3. Make sure 20/40Auto is set in the router settings (for D-Link routers anyway).
  4. Check the network status from within Windows periodically. If you’re always getting exactly 130.0Mbps, read this thread. If you’re getting something else (but not 300Mbps), make sure you try both 2.4Ghz and 5.0Ghz – see which works best.

2 Comments | Leave a Comment

  1. Daniel on January 23, 2010 - click here to reply
    But I will just get 300Mbps if I have a 300Mbps DSL bandwaith right?
    Thank you!
  2. Dennis on December 26, 2011 - click here to reply
    Appreciate the info, I was having some problems and it helped me tons. Greatly appreciated

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