4 Alfa AWUS036 series USB wifi networking cards compared

The gear needed for wardriving

14 posts • Page 1 of 1
I have been using an Alfa AWUS036NH wifi networking card for wardriving for the past 6 months or so with satisfactory results, however I became curious about how it stacks up against Alfa's other products, and since they are not prohibitively expensive, I also purchased an AWUS036H and an AWUS036NHR to run some tests & hopefully improve my wardriving results. I did not purchase an AWUS036NHA because the site where I purchase my cards seemed wary of its Linux support. (*REVISION*: I have since acquired an NHA. Test results are in a post below dated March 17, 2013.) I drove all three cards over the same route. Unfortunately, I could not control for passing wifi-enabled smartphones. Hopefully, someone will find the results informative.

My rig: ASUS EeePC running Kismet on BackTrack Linux R3 with FAB corp. mag-mount antenna and BU-353 GPS dongle. I left the built-in card on the EeePC running also, but since it's down in the body of the car, I don't think it will effect the results very much.

The results (in the order I ran them):

AWUS036NH: 977 networks seen
AWUS036H: 1017 networks seen
AWUS036NHR: 244 networks seen

Just for kicks I then ran the AWUS036NH and AWUS036H at the same time using a cheap antenna on the AWUS036NH: 1112 networks seen.

Obviously, the results for the NHR were disapointing, especially since the buzz on the net seems to be that it's a better card than the H. I figured that the Linux drivers for the NHR weren't working, and that the results were only those APs seen by the EeePC's built in card. I spent some time trying to compile the drivers, without success. Apparently the sources available are for kernels older than the 3.2 version in BT5R3. I may get around to trying again.

So I dug out my Windows laptop and installed the drivers supplied by Alfa and the BU-353 drivers. I installed Netstumbler. The GPS refused to work on the Windows machine (it was plug and play on Linux, which is FREE). After switching the BU-353 from SiRF to NMEA mode, I got it to work. Netstumbler STILL refused to recognize the Alfa card or the GPS. Hmmm, it seems Netstumbler hasn't been updated since 2005. Install InSSIDer. InSSIDer recognizes the Alfa card, but not the GPS. Dear Google, what is going on? It seems that the BU-353's own test software, which I used to verify that it was working, "locks up" the GPS and won't share the results with other programs. Restart. InSSIDer now recognizes the Alfa card and the GPS. Woohoo! I drive the same route as before, substituting only the Windows laptop and InSSIDer for the BT5R3 EeePc and Kismet.

Results? 302 networks seen.

I have sent an e-mail to Alfa asking them to check whether my AWUS036NHR is counterfeit.
Last edited by bigstape on Mon Mar 18, 2013 2:03 am, edited 2 times in total.
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I've been outside the box. There's a bigger box.

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and eventually you will run out of fish.
UPDATE

Alfa says my AWUS036NHR is genuine.

Today, after patching a flat tire incurred during last night's wardriving, I re-ran the same route using the AWUS036H and InSSIDer. I also had wiglewifi running on my razr maxx.

Recall that the AWUS036NHR saw 302 APs on this route.

Today's results:

AWUS036H: 877 APs
Droid RAZR Maxx: 420 APs seen

CONCLUSIONS:
The AWUS036NHR I received is doubleplusungood. It really effing sucks. I cannot overemphasize how awfully bad it is at detecting networks. I suspect that a five-year-old child with a nintendo and graphing paper would be more useful for wardriving. Seriously, MY SMARTPHONE IS BETTER AT DETECTING APs.

I will be sending e-mails to Alfa and my card retailer for a refund or replacement.

So, currently I'm running the AWUS036H as my main card on the FAB corp. antenna, and the AWUS036NH on the $7 antenna, since Kismet splits channels between the cards (this makes me wonder if it would be better to disable the internal card). I have an N-type connector splitter on the way from China so I can try running both cards off the FAB corp. antenna.
Image

I've been outside the box. There's a bigger box.

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and eventually you will run out of fish.
Thanks for the informative review. I have an Alfa AWUS036H card, and always wondered if any of the others were better. The place I buy from ranks the H model ahead of the others in terms of range (http://store.rokland.com/collections/to ... rall-range).

One thing I should mention that can probably make a difference for you is that maybe your USB port is not outputting enough power. My card works just fine when I plug it into the rear USB port, but refuses to detect any network when plugged into the front USB port! This is on a GeForce6100PM-M2 mobo. The only difference is that the rear port is directly connected to the mobo, and the front port is connected via small cable to the USB header. I should get a multitester and see what the voltage difference is.

Perhaps you could try the same experiment with another laptop.
I used 2 different computers to run my tests, a netbook and a laptop.

The AWUS036NHR is supplied with a cable with a "Y" connection drawing power from 2 USB ports, and Kismet supposedly only listens without transmitting, so I wouldn't think power levels would be an issue.
Image

I've been outside the box. There's a bigger box.

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and eventually you will run out of fish.
UPDATE

Alfa has offered to exchange the NHR.
Image

I've been outside the box. There's a bigger box.

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and eventually you will run out of fish.
Let me know if the exchanged card is any diiferent.
UPDATE

Alfa has offered me an NH in exchange for the NHR. Since I already have one, I'm going to try to get them to send me an NHA instead, so I can have a complete test run of the 036 series.

So, it looks like my review of the NHR will have to stand as-is. Unless someone wants to give me a free, working NHR. :mrgreen:
Image

I've been outside the box. There's a bigger box.

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and eventually you will run out of fish.
UPDATE

The NHA has arrived! I features a sexy black housing (yes, I need to spend more time socializing) and is plug and play with BackTrack Linux 5 R3. Joy! Curiously, it does not come with the "Y" USB connector that comes with the NHR.

My first test run was with Kismet: 1004 APs seen. Not bad.

I then ran the NHA and the NH over the same route with InSSIDer. InSSIDer is a pain to work with, but because it doesn't register EVERY passing wifi device like Kismet does, I think it gives a fairer comparison of the cards.

I'll just give a summary of the InSSIDer results for each card, in the order run:

NHR: 302 APs
H: 877 APs
NHA: 760 APs
NH: 759 APs

Conclusions: The H is phenomenal. There's little obvious difference between the NH and the NHA. I'm assuming the NHR I got was bad, but I don't feel like going to the trouble of ordering another one to find out, and I suspect it would perform about the same as the NH or NHA. If anyone else has better success with the NHR, please post your results. I am planning on running the H in combination with the NH or NHA because I suspect that the H may not detect 802.11n-only APs. Does anyone know if this is the case? Google has failed me.

If anyone knows of a better card than the Alfa AWUS036H, kindly let me know about it. :mrgreen:
Image

I've been outside the box. There's a bigger box.

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and eventually you will run out of fish.
Thanks for taking the time to conduct these tests, and more importantly, post this information for the rest of us. Much appreciated!
Update

After further experience with these cards, it appears that kismet doesn't load very good drivers for the NHA. So for now I favor the H and the NH.
Image

I've been outside the box. There's a bigger box.

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and eventually you will run out of fish.
Having gone through my kismet logs, it seems there are some APs that the NH sees that the H does not. However, these are usually a single packet, so I'm not sure whether this is due to channel-hopping at high speed, or detection of exclusively "N" APs.
Image

I've been outside the box. There's a bigger box.

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and eventually you will run out of fish.
Hi,

I just joined to let you know that the 036H, one of the major issues with the card is that is not an N network card. It can connect to them, but the rate is limited to the same speed as b/g networks! Good comparison though, I have the H & NH and am just looking at getting something a little different to add to the collection and was just looking into the NHA so am glad you managed to get a swap to finally review the NHA. Thanks
Speed isn't so much an issue with wardriving; sensitivity is more important, and at this the H excels.

I suggest adding a awus051nh to your mix of cards to capture 5ghz APs, which seem to be growing in popularity.

I currently run with 3 Hs, a NH, and a 51.
Image

I've been outside the box. There's a bigger box.

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and eventually you will run out of fish.
I just ordered a 51. I'm looking forward to putting that card into the mix. While using inSSIDER on my laptop at work, I noticed quite a bit of 5GHz activity.

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