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WiFi has become almost as ubiquitous as the iPod and in doing so has developed into a common technology we come to expect in our day-to-day lives. However, as with other common technologies there has been little attempt at catering to non-mainstream consumers or creating truly unique products (wireless frequency improvements aside). Alfa Network, a relative newcomer, has decided to introduce a truly unique product within the flooded networking market, the Alfa "AWUS036H" or 802.11g USB 2.0 Adapter.
• IEEE 802.11b/g
• USB 2.0
• 1 x 2.4Ghz SMA changeable connector
• 27 dBm / 500mW output
• 8.5x2.2x6.3cm, 38.5g
Alfa's Product Page
Price $59.95 @ Microcom
The box used is that of standard issue for most networking components. I am glad that they decided to stick with the "age old" tradition of cardboard instead of turning to evil blister packaging. The top of the box lists some of the important specifications and towards the bottom of that list is a neat little graphic showing with quite a bit of exuberance how your "Signal Increase!!"; I know it's not intentional, but the graphic has the stronger signals getting weaker and the weaker stronger (maybe this foreshadows the test results). Also, the front of the box shows something of key interest - Windows 98, Mac OS, Linux, XP, 2000, and Windows CE support. Thanks to Alfa and the RTL8187 wireless chipset, it looks like almost every platform imaginable is supported. The back of the box lists more specifications but neglects to mention the output power and actual dB of the included antenna (2dB).
Inside the Packaging:
Included is the driver(s) CD (which actually includes drivers for all of the mentioned platforms - a first, really) the 2dB antenna, a dual USB to mini-USB cable (yes, this monster of a wireless card actually requires two USB 2.0 ports), and the unit itself. The cable/unit is backwards compatible with USB 1.1, but I highly suggest using USB 2.0 to get all the high-speed goodness offered. Also, I'd suggest running this off of your motherboard and not via any USB hub.
The Alfa Itself:
The unit itself is a little on the larger size for a USB WiFi adapter (but still very small and portable). The front/top of the unit features a mini-USB connector and a green LED that blinks during periods of activity. The bottom includes all the information you need to know about the unit (MAC address, etc.) and a little bit more (apparently this adapter is so powerful it destroys trash cans - avoid them at all cost).
Most networking companies seem to be forgetting to include an SMA connector on their USB WiFi adapters. Thankfully, Alfa has decided to slap one onto this adapter. That means you can throw out the included 2dB antenna and go accessory crazy; parabolic dishes, 20dB antennas, large things on your roof for no apparent reason - Alfa's letting you go the distance! This also means all you war-drivers, network stealers (WEP hackers are included in this, you dirty dogs - how are terrible hotels/coffee shops suppose to make money?), and unfortunate College kids can position this adapter exactly where they want and use it exactly how they need it. I would have liked to see the connector on the side, so all the "normal" folks using this can easily fold down the included antenna without risking seperating/losing it.
NetStumbler (there are no N-networks in my area, so this method is fine)
BELKIN F5D7050 802.11g USB 2.0 Adapter (some integrated nonsense) $29.99 @ Newegg
Alfa AWUS036H 802.11g USB 2.0 Adapter (standard 2dB antenna)
USB 2.0 compatible computer on second story (pretty shielded compared to most users setup - walls and all that)
In our testing, the Alfa adapter recognized three-point-five times the amount of connections that the Belkin adapter managed to pickup (making this absolutely perfect for wardriving, even with the dingy 2dB antenna). However, the two that the Belkin connector picked up happen to have (if I'm reading this damned thing right - negative values, etc.) slightly better signals. One may attribute this to the external versus internal antenna.
Yet, based upon my knowledge of this neighborhood it is safe to assume that the maximum distance increased over six times that of with the Belkin.
You may be thinking that $59.95 is too much for a wireless adapter, if you are thinking this then this product is not at all for you. Considering mid-range routers debut for more than $59.95 and the tested Belkin adapter cost $59.99 when first purchased, the asking price becomes easily justified. If you're looking for one of the most powerful/expandable USB based WiFi cards avaliable that runs on almost every platform (Linux / MacOS users might have some problems), then look no further. While I can't recommend this product to the every-day consumer, this product is fantastic for enthusiasts and corporate users who need that extra oomph.
Fairly compact size
Wide platform support (included drivers give you the ability to quickly connect and download updated drivers)
Multi-USB design can be a little irritating
Would have liked to see connector on side
A better included antenna would have been nice
This needs to be easier to purchase / find (eBay is the scum of the 'net)
Linux / MacOS included drivers are a little wonky
Closer connections may have slightly less performance
Thanks again go to Alfa for the opportunity to take a look at such an absurdly powerful WiFi adapter!
Great review. This thing works. Backtrack 4 support out of the box and packet injecting and its POWERFUL I'm thinking about getting a router with a usb port and use this adapter to steal internet from my neighborhood. But I would like to know if it works with the XBOX 360?
Great review. I have both the Rockland n3 and the Alfa awus036h. They are both great wifi adapters, but afaik the Rockland (slightly better pickup) has not been successfully used with bt or other cracking sw. The Rockland has type N capability and a far better utility to control it. However I don't think type n is an advantage at long distance (especially on the 5 ghz band which afaik doesn't travel as far as 2.4). So other than it being the latest I don't see the advantage of type n for distant APs.
The utility for the Alfa sucks imho. It rarely shows more than half the APs that Inssider shows. There also seems to be some conflict with XP so I ended up turned the Alfa utility off. Another thing Alfa does in XP is replace some of the windows drivers with different system drivers, which forces you to log on at start up (and I had forgotten my password). For one final Alfa gripe, the utility causes a conflict with Netstumbler in XP that seems to cause the 036 to shut down. This requires operating the 036 in a Vista machine (no Netstumbler) to return it to normal operation. One final final gripe is I've emailed Alfa several times and have yet to hear back, so support is poor.
For the third final gripe the Alfa says it works with Windows ME. I can't get it to work in WPA mode at all, and performance on unsecured APs is too slow. Trying to install the drivers in ME results in a message saying you don't have the required clearance to install even though to my knowledge ME doesn't use clearance levels like XP. I know I know I should get rid of the WME, but it's a fast little machine and Alfa is supposed to work with it.
All that aside the Alfa 036h cracks wep APs in minutes with bt3. It's a super cracker when you have it running right.