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Upgrading Macs to 802.11n wireless with USB adapter

I recently found an affordable solution for upgrading an older Mac Computer to the newer and faster 802.11n wireless standard.200802081654.jpg

My wives computer is a 1.66 Ghz Core Duo Mac Mini that includes an internal 802.11 b/g airport card. She connects to the home network wirelessly and sometimes suffers slow or unreliable network access. The home router is a 802.11 b/g/n wireless D-Link DIR-655.

I’ve been considering how to upgrade her Macs wireless network connection speed and at the same time improve the reliability of the connection. One option, replacing the internal Airport card in the Mac Mini with a 802.11n capable wireless card, could cost over $150. That’s not cost effective for this system in my opinion.

Looking for another solution, I discovered an Encore 802.11n Wireless USB Adapter (ENUWI-N) that functions well in a Mac. This adapter not only has the higher speed of 802.11n but seems to have better range and reliability from being outside the metal case of the Mini. It also supports older 802.11 b/g standards.

The Encore USB Adapter comes with a very short USB extension cable but will plug directly into one of the four USB plugs on the back of the Mac Mini without blocking the other USB ports.

For this adapter to work on a Mac, free OS X 10.4x (Tiger) or 10.5x (Leopard) drivers must be downloaded from Ralink and installed. Set-up is straight forward using the USB setup utility (apps folder) that is installed along with the drivers.

Network connections with this adapter seem strong, stable and fast.

The Encore USB Adapter list for $40 but is currently on sale at NewEgg for $30.

30 Comments on Upgrading Macs to 802.11n wireless with USB adapter

  1. A lot of times an antenna can help with reception. They are usually cheaper, but still wouldn’t upgrade her to 802.11 N.

  2. Eduardo Rizo // 30 Apr ’08 at 2:40 am // Reply

    Hi,

    Just wanted to say thank you for this information. I too have a Mac mini I need to boost to 802.11n.

    Waiting for the adapter in the mail.

    Have you experienced any problems since updating your Mac mini?

    Thanks again.

  3. @Eduardo: It seems to still be working well.

  4. Eduardo Rizo // 10 May ’08 at 1:19 am // Reply

    Hello Earl,

    Simply wanted to follow up and let you know that I received the adapter in the mail and everything is working perfectly with the Ralink driver and Encore adapter.

    Thanks again for the great information.

  5. @Eduardo : Glad to hear that you’ve also had a positive experience with the Encore adapter. Regards…

  6. I too, have a Macbook with a troublesome wifi adaptor.
    I also have the latest D-Link DIR 655 router. My Windows computers work fine, the Macbook doesn’t.

    I have ordered the Encore ENUWI-N.
    In the article you mentioned the driver from RaLink.
    They have several can you please advise which one I should use.
    Thank you for any assistance.

  7. @ John: Under the OS X System Profiler it identifies the Encore ENUWI-N USB Adapter as a RaLink 2870.

    Therefore the proper driver would be the Ralink RT2870 for OS X 10.3/10.4/10.5 (currently the top one in the list).

    Good luck and enjoy!

  8. I have an Asus WL-160N wireless-N USB adapter which also uses the Ralink RT2870 and uses the same driver. It can be found for as little as $36. Very good price for a brand name and works very very well. On a Windows computer it connects after reboot. I need to verify if it behaves the same on the Mac Mini Intel core2 2.0ghz.

  9. @Will: Thanks, good information to know. Please leave a message here if you can verify it working on the Mac.

  10. The Asus WL-160N works great on the Mac Mini with only 2 minor issues.
    1) Is not enabled at boot-up. Must unplug it, then plug it back in to be recognized. If anyone knows a way around this then its good to go. Otherwise avoid rebooting the Mac. Logging out is okay.
    2) Would be nice to have a tool bar signal strength icon.

  11. I bought a “New Apple MacBook PRO Wireless Card 802.11n AR5BXB72″ from Ebay last week and just installed it last night. I am actually lucky enough to be close to the 2 vendors in the Pacific NorthWest (adds2it and matashardware) ~$20-$30. It’s a replacement for the internal wireless-B/G card (Atheros-chipset) mini-PCI-e card. It is also an Atheros-chipset Ar5008 I believe and was brand new sealed. Popped open the Mini and switched the cards, except that the original had 2 connectors with wire on one (#main) and this one has 3 connectors (connected it to #2). Within 25 feet of Linksys N-router it works great, recognized as Apple supporting b/g/n and shows in the tool bar signal meter.

    • Question Will,
      I bought the AR5BXB72 for an older Macbook with the two connectors. It seems you did the same. Can you tell which two terminals you used out of the three? Thanks.
      Brian

  12. @Will: Hey, thanks for the info. That’s good to know for those who want to open up their Mini and upgrade to a new card! Regards

  13. My wife has an older macbook with 802.11g card. Would the Encore USB adapter work with the Airport Extreme Base Station at 802.11n speeds? The USB adapter is available on Newegg for $20 right now!! :-) Should I go for it?? Thanks for the help. I just want to make sure it will be compatible with the Aiport Extreme 802.11n base station.

  14. Eduardo Rizo // 19 Dec ’08 at 1:29 am // Reply

    @Tony: My ‘N’ network is handled by an AirPort Extreme N. My Mac mini has this USB adapter attached and it connects with the AirPort Extreme N just fine. I don’t see why it wouldn’t work on your wife’s macbook.

  15. Thanks Eduardo! I made an executive decision and purchased two! at $20 bucks a piece! What a steal! I’ll be using one on the wife’s macbook and the other on an older pc laptop i’m using for a media pc. Currently have it connected to the new Airport Express (802.11n) and the connection rocks… but I want to use the AExpress for my brother’s PS2. Thanks for the feedback! Woohoo! I love faster connection speeds!! :-)

  16. I just received my ENUWI-N USB Adapter. I downloaded and installed the drivers from Ralink. I plugged it in and the USB Wireless utility popped up and I selected my wireless network and put in my password….but when I go to safari it says it is not connected to the internet? Any help would be appreciated. Thanks.

  17. Hey Tom,

    What are you plugging it in to? I had to disable to airport card on my wife’s macbook in order for the USB adapter to connect. Go to network settings and turn off airport… that might work…

    Tony

  18. @Tom: Tony is correct in that you will probably need to disable your internal airport card and use the utility that came with the USB Adapter to setup and connect to the wireless network. I remember now I had to do that on my Mac Mini.

  19. Help!

    I just received my Encore USB adapter, panicked until I found this web site and successfully downloaded the Ralink driver, BUT…

    On my Powerbook G4 1.67ghz, after installing the driver, I turned off the airport and plugged the adapter in. Instantly, the wireless utility opened, but said “DISCONNECTED” without my doing a thing.

    Then, since I really bought the adapter for the desktop (a Quicksilver 733mhz running Tiger 10.4.11 just as the Powerbook is), I thought I’d try it there. I installed the driver. As the system was restarting after the install, I plugged the adapter into the free USB port on my keyboard, and I got a kernel panic. I rebooted, waited for the system to settle, plugged the adapter into the keyboard again, and instantly, a kernel panic.

    My tower has never experienced a kernel panic in the seven years I’ve owned it.

    So, I thought maybe to try plugging the adapter directly into the tower – why it would matter, I’m not sure. So, better luck. No kernel panic, but also, no networks appeared when the wireless utility opened.

    I know there’s wireless here, and I’m surprised (disappointed?) that the wireless adapter isn’t getting a signal let alone a stronger one than my laptop’s airport card does.

    Any thoughts?

  20. any more issues with this USB adapter? also, with the new internet setup, how does it work with those 5 GHz n signals?

  21. @Ben: The USB adapter very worked well until a physical move of the Mac Mini made it no longer necessary. The Mini currently sets close to an Ethernet hub and is connected via RJ-45. Humm…It would be interesting to connect the USB adapter again to see how it copes with the 5Ghz signal. I may give that a try.

  22. well, i wouldn’t mind a future proof 802.11n usb adapter, but looking around, not sure if anyone makes one at 5 GHz. also, i can’t even find the asus one a previous poster had mentioned. that is quite a steal on the encore one. let me know how the testing works. i have a box running 10.5.5 that i wouldn’t mind using this for.

  23. Just an update, the Ralink drivers (March 10, 2009) for RT2870 USB now enabled after booting the Mac Mini. I find it has a faster connection than the upgraded internal 802.11n Mini-PCI-e replacement card I put in. The Mac Mac Mini (mid-2007 model Intel Core2 2.0ghz) only had 1 antenna connector for the original 802.11g card (2 connectors on board), but the new 802.11n card has 3 connectors! Needless to say the more antennas connected the better it would work. So the Asus WL-160N is working out better for me now even for wireless Time Machine backups to a network share on a Windows PC via Linksys WRT-160N 802.11n router.

  24. Does anyone have the Ralink drivers to share as the website/page seems to be unavailable!?

    Thanks

  25. Oops! Sorry, it seems to be working ok now!

    Cheers

  26. Here’s a higher power 802.11n usb adapter. It’s got an external antenna for even more range for just a little more ($49):
    http://www.macnn.com/articles/09/12/03/extends.80211n.wireless.signals/

  27. Leonardo // 4 Feb ’10 at 4:57 pm // Reply

    Hi
    i really need a favor… i got an Encore 802.11 usb adapter.. the problem is that i need the drivers of it, i have downloaded several times and always it is damage… could any body please help me with that driver or at least tell me where to find it? i need internet in my computer… i don’t like using my laptop at the office
    THANKS

    • @ Leonardo
      I found it here:
      http://www.ralinktech.com/support.php?s=3

      i’m downloading it now. hopefully it works!

      • Quan Nguyen // 13 Jul ’10 at 5:59 pm // Reply

        Hi all, My MacBook Pro duo core airport stopped working. I installed a new left hand i/o board along with a new airport card. Initially it worked, but after a few minutes it dies again. So I went to the usb route and bought an Airlink 101 wireless N 150 ultra mini usb adapter only to find out it didn’t come with any mac drivers. I’ve searched the internet but could not find anything at all. If anyone ever used this dongle successfully with a mac, please direct me to the right drivers. Thank you.

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