There is ample evidence that the popularity of portable computers is driving the decline of desktop computers. Sales of notebooks and netbooks are rising fast as falling prices make them more attractive than desktops. Instead of upgrading old computers, many owners are disposing of them and buying new portables. One of the reasons why they are so popular is the large number of wireless (WiFi) hotspots that are available in most cities and towns. A WiFi USB adapter is a great accessory for a portable computer that does not have an internal antenna.
A WiFi USB adapter gives you access to a wide range of internet services, provided that you stay within range of a hotspot. You can browse nearly four billion websites, use email and instant messaging, listen to music or watch movies, make VOIP telephone calls, and do anything else you would normally do with an internet connection. Even better, there are now many hotspots that are free for everyone to use, such as those in public libraries. Some hotspots require you to sign up and pay a small hourly fee, but this is modest compared to the cost of using 3G mobile broadband. You can also use a WiFi USB adapter to connect a wireless controller to certain video game consoles.
At first glance, you would be forgiven for thinking that a WiFi USB adapter is just a USB flash drive. They both look very similar and have a USB plug on the front, often covered by a protective cap. You can get compact adapters that are half the length of a standard ones, but they often have less range due to their shorter antenna. On the other hand, a long-range adapter looks nothing like a USB flash drive because it has a flexible antenna and a plastic stand, which is connected to a long USB cable. The advantage of this adapter is that it can be placed higher up to get better reception.
Not surprisingly, many people confuse WiFi with 3G mobile broadband. A 3G USB modem does look similar to a WiFi USB adapter on the outside, but the technology on the inside is very different. A 3G mobile broadband account normally has quotas or high data charges that limit what you can download, but free hotspots often have no limits except for the speed of the connection. You can stay online and download as much as you like without worrying about huge bills at the end of the month. If someone does get booted off a free hotspot, it is usually because they have been abusing the service.
There are several important features to check before buying a WiFi USB adapter. First and foremost, the supported 802.11 standards have to be compatible with other your WiFi devices. The adapter should have security features to prevent data being intercepted by a third party. If the adapter is Microsoft WHQL certified, it is guaranteed to work with Microsoft operating systems. If you plan on using the adapter with a video game console, check that it is compatible with both the console and controllers. There are plenty of adapters on the market that do not work with any video game consoles.
To install a WiFi USB adapter, you simply plug it into a spare USB port and let the operating system do the rest. On notebook computers, these ports are usually located on the sides next to the keyboard. Like all USB devices, an adapter can be plugged in without turning off the computer first. Software drivers may need to be installed on the computer before the adapter is used for the first time, and they will need to be reinstalled if the operating system is changed. If you should misplace the discs containing the software drivers, copies can usually be downloaded from the manufacturer’s website.