July 12, 2011

TechBargains: BearExtender PC Scores 5 out of 5

If you're a fan of The Office, you're familiar with Dwight Shrute's PSA regarding bears (FACT: Black bears weigh between 200 and 500 pounds; brown bears weigh between 300 and over 1,000 pounds...). But missing from his spiel is our new favorite breed of bear, the BearExtender PC.
 

The BearExtender PC gets its name from Berkley's campus wide wireless network called AirBears and is the PC equivalent of the BearExtender n3 for Macs. Its original purpose was to help Berkley students connect to the AirBears network from areas where the signal might be weak or nonexistent, and it's now been let out into the wild.

 

Inside the BearExtender PC are dual high sensitivity receivers that work in tandem to grab hold of Wi-Fi signals, especially at long range. It supports Wireless-N networks and all the modern day encryption protocols, like WEP, various flavors of WPA, and WPS. But does it work? We'll get to that right after the technical specs:

 

  • 700 mW maximum power output
  • -92 dBm sensitivity
  • 802.11b/g/n
  • Supports WEP, WPA, WPA2 Personal, WPA-Enterprise, and WPS Encryption
  • 2.4GHz operation up to 150Mbps
  • USB 2.0
  • Proprietary Monolithic Microwave Integrated Circuit (MMIC)
  • RP-SMA antenna port

What We Liked:

  • Easy Installation: There's nothing overly complicated about the setup process, though you do need to do things in the right order. To get up and running, pop in the CD and install the driver, plug the BearExtender PC into a free USB port, disable your current network adapter, and you're all set. The BearExtender PC uses the built-in Microsoft Windows interface, so to connect to a network, just click the icon in the lower right-corner like you normally would.

  • Compact and Portable: Anyone rocking a Windows PC with a USB port can use the BearExtender PC, but notebook users are the real target audience. They're the ones that are most likely to tote their system into the backyard to stream Pandora during a bar-b-que, or punch their fist through a hotel wall because the Internet connection dropped out right in the middle of a crucial file download. The BearExtender PC owns these situations and makes a fantastic travel companion due to its size and weight.

  • Won't Wreck Your Notebook: The BearExtender PC latches onto your notebook's lid using a universal clip, and that can be a little unsettling if your chassis is made of brushed aluminum or any other material prone to scratches. Little rubber strips on both sides of the plastic strip are subtle touches that completely negate this concern.
  • Works As Advertised:
  • The million dollar question on everyone's mind is, 'Does it work?' and the answer is a resounding 'You betcha!' We tested the BearExtender PC with a Netgear WNDR3700 router and Asus G73Jh notebook. With notebook in hand, we marched outside and strolled down the street taking measurements along the way (and waving to the cars who must have thought we were hacking the neighborhood). At just 20 feet away (and through a single wall), there wasn't much difference in signal strength and we measured around 31Mpbs downstream and 3.1Mbps upstream speeds with and without the BearExtender PC. At 80 feet, we finally started to see a bit of separation, measuring 21.6Mbps downstream and 3Mbps upstream on the stock network adapter, and 28.4Mbps downstream and 3.1Mbps upstream with the Bear Extender PC. At 160 feet, the BearExtender PC improved our downstream from 3.9Mbps to 12.4Mbps, a 67 percent improvement, but that was just the beginning. At 350 feet, our router's signal finally started to fade and was no longer picked up by our notebook, while the BearExtender PC managed 1.4Mbps downstream and 693Kbps upstream. At 400 feet, the BearExtender PC squeezed 511Kbps downstream and 353Kbps upstream from the signal, and then our notebook battery died. Based on our data, we probably could have managed a weak signal at 450 feet or thereabouts.
  • You Can Afford It: At less than $45 retail, we don't consider the BearExtender PC a luxury for road warriors, it's more of a no-brainer.

What We Didn't Like

  • Takes Up A USB Port: If you absolutely, positively must have something to gripe about, this is it.

Our Verdict:

We don't hand out perfect 5 out of 5 scores easily, and we suppose we could have knocked the BearExtender PC down half a point because it takes up a PC slot and its glossy finish is a fingerprint magnet. But we'd be stretching if we did that. Simply put, we're impressed with the BearExtender PC on all fronts. It's compact and portable, it grabs hold of weak Wi-Fi signals when most other network adapters would wave the white flag, and it's priced appropriately so that college students won't have to cut into their beer fund to be able to afford it. If you're a road warrior or simply want an insurance policy against weak Wi-Fi signals, do yourself a favor and adopt a BearExtender PC.


Our Score: 5 out of 5