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Best Laptop Wireless Range Extenders

written by: M.S. Smith•edited by: Tricia Goss•updated: 3/4/2010

Laptops have built-in antennas or can connect to wireless networks with USB adapters, but there are ways to increase their wireless range. There are many types of wireless antennas available that are capable of connecting to wireless networking further away and/or providing a stronger connection.

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    In the Range

    Wireless Internet is becoming increasingly common. Restaurants and public locations from Starbucks to McDonalds now offer wifi hotspots of some sort. Many cities have also begun to set up citywide wifi networks.

    That said, there are still many places where wifi is hard to obtain. Even when near a hotspot there are certain conditions that can make receiving a signal difficult. Then there is the range problem itself. Perhaps the wifi works in the house, but will it work in the backyard?

    Laptop wireless range extenders (or, more simply, antennas) help overcome these difficulties. They are as easy to find as one might think, but the three options below all provide a noticeable boost in wifi reception.

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    Radiolabs Wireless Antenna

    This product's name precisely describes what this product is. It is an antenna about eight inches tall and can be mounted on a laptop in order to increase range. What is nice about the Radiolabs Wireless Antenna is that it is a purpose-built consumer device that does not look unusual or out of place. The antenna is slim, and fitting it to most laptops is not that difficult.

    Using the Radiolabs Wireless Antenna does require a laptop with an external antenna connector. These are not common and the lack of models that have this option is one of the driving reasons why so few wireless antennas are available. However, some laptop wireless PCI cards provide adapters so that this antenna can be used without a native external antenna jack.

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    Tritum Flatenna

    The Flatenna is cheap and works, but it is large and bulky 

    The Tritum Flatenna is a simple but functional device that can be added to a USB doggle. It is a small dish that is slipped over a USB doggle. It works exactly how one would expect, boosting the directional reception of the doggle by a moderate amount. Do not expect miracles, as the Flatenna is a very simple device. However, it is also a very inexpensive one, costing less than $20 dollars.

    On the downside, the Flatenna is not exactly elegant. Setting one up on a laptop in a coffee shop is going to be difficult, as it would require the USB drive to be mounted in such as way as to point in the direction of the wireless access point. Considering that one will not always know where the access point is located, this can be a problem. Home users, however, will probably be happy with its performance.

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    Rosewill RNX-N2X USB Wireless Adapter

    The Rosewill RNX-N2X has great range and can mount better antennas 

    Technically speaking, this product is not strictly a wireless ranger extender. It is really a quite large USB wireless adapter. It serves the same purpose, however, providing performance greater than what most notebooks are capable of in stock form. The adapter itself can be positioned in different locations around or on a laptop and has two small built-in antennas.

    What is attractive about the Rosewill RNX-N2X is that it opens the possibility of upgrading the antenna with larger, better models which could further increase wireless range. The adapter is also connected via USB cord rather than via a connector on the adapter itself, allowing the adapter to be placed in an optimal location. The downside of this is that while the adapter with two larger antennas will be heavy and obtrusive. The adapter itself is also $80 dollars. Those who find this to be too much might also be interested in the Rosewill RNX-G1, which also offers an upgradable antenna but is only $20 dollars.