Wireless USB: Was it worth the wait?

WUSB promised the ability to print, save data and show presentations without cables. Does it work? We've tested five peripherals to find out.

1 2 3 Page 2
Page 2 of 3

Wireless USB hubs

Neither of the hubs that I tested offered speed, range and compatibility at the right price.

The D-Link Wireless USB Starter Kit and the IOGear Wireless USB Hub & Adapter Kit each provide four USB ports. Both come with dongles that plug into your system's USB port, but the IOGear's device includes a swivel extender and the D-Link hub includes a short USB extension cord.

Setting both of them up was stress-free, with integrated software installations and detailed instructions. Each took about 5 minutes to install; the devices paired in less than 15 seconds and connected on the first try. Although both dongles have hidden antennas, their hubs have adjustable ones that can be aimed; the IOGear's antenna is also removable.

D-Link Wireless USB Starter Kit
D-Link Wireless USB Starter Kit

They both come with software that sets up and monitors the wireless connection and shows its signal strength. IOGear's software has the signal strength in a pop-up window. It also shows a list of which devices are connected and which drive letters they are using -- a great way to keep an eye on your peripherals and help troubleshoot an errant connection.

The beauty of WUSB technology is that it lets you use your current USB devices, although neither of the hubs achieved a perfect score with the nine devices I threw at them. The IOGear wireless hub could not connect to an iPod, while the D-Link hub couldn't connect with my external DVD drive.

Using a Passmark USB2 loopback device (which measures the theoretical peak throughput), I measured the devices' performance at a range of 5 feet. The IOGear did somewhat better, moving 202Mbit/sec. as compared to D-Link's 170Mbit/sec. When I plugged an external USB hard drive into each hub, they came in neck and neck: The IOGear hub moved 27.5Mbit/sec., very slightly ahead of the D-Link's 27.2Mbit/sec. Note that these results are a lot slower than the 93.4Mbit/sec. I got when I plugged the hard drive directly into the computer using a 6-ft.-long USB cable.

As far as range goes, the IOGear hub lost its connection at 25 feet, barely outdistancing the D-Link hub, which lost contact at 23 feet. The good news is that both reliably reconnected as soon as they were back within range. They both worked with the WUSB equipped Fujitsu LifeBook A6220 notebook, although it sometimes took a couple of tries to connect.

While I find the lack of perfect compatibility with the iPod a potential problem, my choice is the IOGear hub, mainly because of price -- the IOGear hub costs $130 while the D-Link hub does roughly the same thing for $200.

Cable replacement kit

The simplest and least expensive WUSB product available today is the Cables Unlimited Wireless USB Adapter Set. While it provides a single USB port, as opposed to the four provided by the wireless hubs, you can always connect it to a normal hub.

It comes with a USB dongle, a base, an AC adapter and the usual drivers and connection software. A snap to set up, the Cables Unlimited kit was up and running in about 5 minutes. My only problem was with its 3-in. mini CD, which kept popping out of the Vostro 1510's slot-loading optical drive. Despite this issue, the kit paired on the first try and was beaming data moments later.

Cables Unlimited Wireless USB Adapter Set
Cables Unlimited Wireless USB Adapter Set

Longer and narrower than the other WUSB dongles, the Cables Unlimited device swivels and tilts but gets by without an external antenna. The printed setup cartoon that's included offers a simple explanation of how to get started, but I prefer the detailed instructions that came with the other WUSB products.

The associated software offers basic information, including the host's ID and signal strength, but doesn't list what devices are actually connected. On the other hand, of all the WUSB connection devices I looked at, only the Cables Unlimited kit aced my compatibility test, connecting to all nine USB devices without a snag. On the downside, the USB slot and power jack on the receiver's base are so close that I had to use a USB extension cord when plugging in my USB voice recorder.

When I measured performance at a range of 5 feet with the USB loop-back device, I got a scorching 327Mbit/sec. (the top speed of all the products reviewed here). Keep in mind, though, that this speed is the theoretical peak that the device can deliver. With the external hard drive connected, the Cables Unlimited kit could move only 15.7Mbit/sec.

The Cables Unlimited WUSB kit is also the long-distance winner -- it was able to stay connected at 38 feet, more than 10 feet longer than the hubs. It reconnected automatically as soon as it was back within range and worked well with the WUSB-equipped Fujitsu LifeBook A6220 notebook (although it -- like the others -- sometimes took a couple of tries to connect).

At $100, the Cables Unlimited WUSB kit is one of the cheapest WUSB products around (although it comes with a one-year warranty, not the three years of coverage provided by D-Link and IOGear). Although the Cables Unlimited Wireless USB Adapter Set isn't the fastest connection around, it has an impressive range and can work with all sorts of different USB devices.

Related:
1 2 3 Page 2
Page 2 of 3
Download the 2018 Best Places to Work in IT special report
  
Shop Tech Products at Amazon