PROS / Excellent range and speed. Dual band technology reduces the chance of interference.
CONS / Compatible only with Windows Vista and Windows XP operating systems.
VERDICT / An excellent adapter if using Windows XP or Vista. Make sure to get WPS functionality.
When looking for networking hardware, D-Link is the first name that comes to mind for many people. They have a well established reputation for versatility and innovation. Top Ten Reviews Silver Award winner D-Link DWA-160 Xtreme N is an excellent dual band wireless adapter that meets the requirements of the high speed Wi-Fi n standard. For other top rated products in this category, check out our Wireless Adapter review site
Data Transfer Performance
MIMO, or Multiple-Input/Multiple-Output, is a fundamental technology that distinguishes “n standard” Wi-Fi devices from previous versions. The DWA-160 uses this technology to achieve far greater range than was possible with past Wi-Fi devices. Signals that bounce off of walls, furniture and the like used to confuse Wi-Fi, creating dead spots and reducing range. With MIMO, the reflected data is redirected in such a way that dead spots are effectively reduced and a typical house is generally completely covered.
Being able to select between the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency ranges makes it possible to avoid conflict with other devices, like cell phones and kitchen appliances. The lower frequencies work fine for surfing the web and communicating via email and IMs. It’s also ideal for most interaction with other devices in the network such as file sharing with other computers. The frequency range is, however, subject to occasional interference simply because of the number of devices that use it. Switching to the 5GHz range can avoid that primarily because there aren’t many products using the channels. The higher frequencies also facilitate streaming of graphics-intensive content such as gaming and HD video content. Another valuable use of the range is for internet, or VoIP, telephone calls including video phone calls.
The wireless n standard employs Wi-Fi Multimedia technology often referred to as WMM. This functionality allows the user to prioritize different types of network traffic so that less time-critical data doesn’t override more sensitive transmissions. The result is an improved experience particularly with audio, video and voice applications.
The DWA-160 is backwards compatible with Wi-Fi g and a standard devices. Interestingly, it won’t operate with Wi-Fi b products. That won’t be an issue for most people in that the b standard is the least capable of all available Wi-Fi. We make note of the caveat for those rather few users that may need to link to a device that has only b standard connectivity.
There are always security issues when employing wireless networking. The D-Link DWA-160 incorporates Wi-Fi Protected Access, WPA, for data protection and network access control. More importantly, the newer WPA2 encryption protocol is in place. It incorporates Advanced Encryption Standard, AES, to keep would-be hackers away from sensitive data. AES is widely used by governments and major corporations to protect information and, at least to date, there is no record of the standard having been broken.
The device also employs the original Wi-Fi encryption standard known as WEP, or Wired Equivalent Privacy. While useful, WEP has some well-known vulnerabilities and should not be used as a sole protection layer for sensitive information. Users should be aware that if any device on a network complies with only WEP requirements the entire network shares its shortfalls.
Like most wireless n products, this adapter makes Wi-Fi Protected Setup, WPS, available. The feature allows for the adapter to be mated to the wireless router securely with the touch of a button. It should be noted that only hardware version A2 of this product offers this feature. It’s easy to spot the difference because it adds a small, orange button, located by the activity LED, to the device’s exterior. Check out our screenshots to see the difference.
Ease of Use
Initial setup of the adapter is made easy by the D-Link Quick Adapter Setup Wizard that is included on the installation CD. Network connection can be achieved with the push of a button using the WPS feature. See the security section of this review, above, for an important limitation.
This device operates only with PCs using the Windows XP or Windows Vista operating systems. If compatibility with other OSs becomes available, a firmware update will be made available on the company’s website.
Help & Support
D-Link technical support can be contacted by toll-free telephone number 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Their website also offers a form-driven email option. A large number of customer questions can be answered by the site’s searchable FAQ section. The product is covered by a 1-year limited warranty.
The D-Link DWA-160 Xtreme N is a worthy competitor among dual band wireless adapters. In that the WPS capability is so useful, we recommend making sure that it’s included when shopping for this device. Consumers who use Mac or Windows 7 also need to check elsewhere for a top wireless adapter.