We’ve managed to test up to 8 wireless network adapters (6 USB + 2 internal) on BackTrack 5 to determine the signal strength of each device using the command “airodump-ng mon0” after putting the adapter in monitor mode . Obviously the adapter that detects the most access points with lowest signal level (PWR) deserves to be crowned as the best compatible USB wireless adapter for BackTrack 5.
You’ll find that Alfa AWUS036H is the most recommended USB wireless network adapter because it is very stable and works right out of the box for BackTrack 5. If you don’t mind paying the extra premium price for an adapter with no support for 802.11n wireless standard, then it is quite a good choice. Because Alfa AWUS036H is so popular, there are counterfeit versions being sold online. We recommend you directly contact Alfa Networks if you’re looking for an authorized local distributor.
The AWUS036NHR is currently the most powerful wireless adapter by Alfa with very good signal strength. It may seem to be plug and play in BackTrack 5 because you can put it in monitor mode and passes the injection test, but unfortunately it is very unstable because the chipset is not recognized in BackTrack 5 R3.
TL-WN722N is a cheaper alternative to the Alfa AWUS036NHA which uses the Atheros AR9271 chipset. It is claimed to be high gain and comes with a 4dBi detachable antenna where you can upgrade to a more powerful antenna to achieve better signal. Although this product was released back in 2009, it is still listed in TP-LINK’s official website and can be easily purchased from many sources on the Internet. There is another very similar model which is the TL-WN722NC. It is exactly the same as TL-WN722N except it comes with an additional cradle.
4. ASUS USB-N53
ASUS USB-N53 uses Ralink RT3572 chipset and is fully compatible with BackTrack 5 but is not recommended due to the poor performance.
This USB wireless network adapter uses the same chipset as ASUS USB-N53 which is Ralink RT3572 and has been discontinued. If you check the results at the end of this post, you’d notice that the performance of this adapter with the USB-N53 is very similar.
This adapter is the oldest in the list and it is no surprise that it performed badly on the test. Comparing with the best adapter, DWA-110 merely detected 3 out of 9 access points.
7. DELL 1510
Although it seems to have better performance that some of the external USB wireless adapters, only monitor mode works but not injection due to the Broadcom chipset.
8. Intel 5100
Interestingly the Intel 5100 did quite well and the performance is comparable to the TL-WN722N. However do note that the TL-WN722N uses a 4dBi antenna in this test which can be upgraded to a better one to achieve better signal strength. Both monitor mode and packet injection works perfectly.
Results and Summary
The result table below shows the number of access points the adapters can detect and also the lowest signal level.
Summary: Although AWUS036NHR is the successor of the popular AWUS036H which has better signal strength, unfortunately it is currently not supported on BackTrack 5. Alfa AWUS036H is still the best choice, followed by TP-LINK TL-WN722N especially if you can get a higher dBi antenna. There is no harm trying out your internal card to see if it works on BackTrack 5 but take note that internal cards will only work on Live CD/USB but not on virtual machine such as VirtualBox/VMware.