8 September 2015

FEATURE: Connectivity for students

Staying connected at university.

Ah, our uni days... we remember them well: crappy first year dorm rooms with rubbish TV reception, a perpetual damp smell, and the only internet connection being a mile away in the computer lab. Happy days. If you're venturing off to university or college for the first time this month, or returning there to a rented house in a dodgy area (yay!), here are four handy gadgets to make sure you never miss a tweet. Erm, we mean... do research.

Instead of simply looking at WiFi routers (which we've done in the past), we've decided to gather a few portable devices that could make your flat or uni house that little bit better connected. All four come from 'The Links'; that's D-Link and TP-LInk. We assume they're related. Perhaps the Links are a very well-to-do family in Taiwan.

D-Link Powerline AV2 1000 HD Gigabit Starter Kit

What a mouthful. Granted, D-Link could have come up with a more evocative name (our suggestion of 'The Data Creeper' was completely ignored), but this powerline starter kit is both cheap and relatively powerful. For those who don't know, you plug one of the two units into a wall socket by your router, connect them up with an Ethernet cable, then plug the second unit elsewhere in your house where you need the internet. The system then uses your home's electrical network to piggyback data, so you can plug in at the other end and enjoy super quick speeds.

We've written before about how bloody handy a kit like this can be, even if you predominantly use WiFi at home. The second unit can be connected up to a smart TV, a games console, or even a desktop computer that isn't usually portable. For a uni house, with lots of people connecting to the same network, and lots of walls and floors to get through, this could be invaluable.

This particular set is capable of pushing the net around your new digs by up to 1000 megabytes per second, which, as you might imagine, degrades the further apart you space the two units. In our tests we found that even over three floors and several rooms, the speed was still registering at 300-500 mbps, making the connection more than good enough for streaming Netflix, downloading a crap-load of stuff, and playing online games. And for all that, you really can't go wrong at just...

Around £35

D-Link Powerline AV 500 HD Starter Kit

Staying in extremely familiar territory, our next product from D-Link is the little brother of the one above, and once again the Taiwanese tech giant has nailed it with the sexy name. This is essentially a scaled-down version of the AV2 100 product, making it ideal if your uni digs are smaller, along with your budget and available space.

As you might have gleaned, Sherlock, the AV 500 starter kit tops out at 500mbps making it half as fast as the previous. However, if your house is smaller and you are placing the units closer to each other, the resulting speeds might not be all that different. Plus, these plug units are slightly smaller and slimmer and the AV2 1000 pair, making them easier to fit in around other existing plugs.

Plus, you know, the box is smaller. Just saying... because you're moving home and that. And look, they're only...


TP-Link 300Mbps Wireless N Nano Router

Yet more gorgeous names to turn you on, this time from China in the form of TP-Link. Whereas the two D-Link products were all about creating a decent wired network, the Wireless N Nano Router is all about keeping your wireless... wherever you go. This is essentially a WiFi router that can fit in your pocket, making it ideal for dorm rooms, as well as trips away to hotels and other people's houses.

Plug it into an existing wired network, and the Nano Router will project a WiFi field up to 300mbps in speed. This then allows you to connect your phone, tablet, or laptop – wirelessly – to a network that previously only supported a wired connection. See where we're going with this? Combine this with either of the powerline products above to create your own private WiFi network in your room. Score.

But as well as that, the TP-Link 300Mbps Wireless N Nano Router has several other modes, making it a damn handy thing to have. It can act like a repeater, strengthening an existing WiFi network (you could try stealing your new neighbour's WiFi*), and also has a client mode to make previously wired-only devices (like an older desktop computer) wireless. Altogether, an extremely useful thing to take with you to uni.

Around £20-25

TP-Link USB 3.0 to Gigabit Ethernet Network Adapter

Steady on guys, that's an awesome name. Surely we shall name our first-born child that in honour of you. Regardless of the dull name, this teeny tiny bit of kit (one that could so easily be dropped into your day pack and forgotten about until you need it) is another very handy accessory for students. The trouble with most modern laptops and Chromebooks is that they tend not to feature a Ethernet port anymore. So how the hell are you expected to connect to an Ethernet cable as so many networking gadgets require you to? Easy, with this baby.

This folding dongle has a Ethernet port on one end (we think it's the 'female' type because... well, you know) and a USB 3.0 connector on the other. That way you are able to plug an old-fashioned Ethernet cable right into your brand new, hyper modern laptop. It really is just plug and play too, which is a massive bonus if you're using a computer onto which you can't download the required driver. Because you don't have the internet working yet. Makes sense, eh? And look, they've even done you a lovely video to show how easy plugging things in can actually be.


We hope these few gadgets help to keep you online all throughout your university career. But just remember, Albert Einstein himself once said "Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school." Just saying. We'll see you in the Students' Union bar!

*Joke. Seriously.

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