- USB Wi-Fi adapters are a popular option for adding networking to a PC, but there are three reasons to avoid them: limited reception, slower speed, and lower durability compared to PCIe Wi-Fi cards.
- USB Wi-Fi adapters have limited reception compared to PCIe-based solutions, and their range is often limited.
- USB Wi-Fi adapters may provide slower speeds compared to other options, which can negatively impact online experiences.
- USB Wi-Fi adapters are cheaper but also easier to break, making them less durable than PCIe Wi-Fi cards.
- The best alternatives to USB Wi-Fi adapters for a PC are Gigabyte GC-WBAX210 PCIe Expansion Card, TP-Link AX3000 PCIe Card, and TP-Link AC1200 PCIe Wi-Fi Card.
USB adapters are a popular option if you’re building a PC or want to add networking to an existing system. While simple, there are three reasons I would avoid a USB Wi-Fi adapter for a PC. They may not be deal-breakers if you’re trying to add connectivity to a PC quickly, but they are important things to keep in mind nonetheless.
My Reasons to Avoid a USB Wi-Fi Adapter for a PC
USB adapters designed to give laptops and desktop computers Wi-Fi are easy to use. They also don’t require any technical know-how to install. These gadgets are popular for a reason, but they’re not the best choice for many people, myself included, due to these reasons.
The biggest drawback to a USB Wi-Fi adapter is the reception. Most don’t compare to a PCIe-based solution like a Wi-Fi card, even if they have an external antenna.
Most USB Wi-Fi adapters resemble a thumb drive and plug into a USB port on a PC. The tech that allows you to connect is inside these little gadgets, which limits their capabilities. While there are travel-friendly models with dual-band Wi-Fi, the range is limited.
Wireless USB Wi-Fi adapters for PCs with antennas will increase range and connectivity but can present their own set of problems. Placement can be an issue on cases under desks, and you’ll lose access to a port. If you have limited ports, you’ll definitely want to avoid a USB Wi-Fi adapter.
Nobody wants a sluggish connection to the net. Whether you’re simply browsing the web or want to play games, poor speed can ruin your online experience. A USB Wi-Fi adapter will allow you to network, but you might be surprised and disappointed by the speed.
An example is the TP-Link Nano AC600. This thumb-sized Wi-i adapter has dual-band Wi-Fi and works on Mac or Windows-based PCs with a USB port. While it has WPA/WPA2 encryption, speeds are listed at 200 Mbps on 2.4GHz and 444Mbps on 5GHz.
While that’s more than sufficient for most folks, it depends on your connection and signal strength. USB adapters with a dual antennae design can increase the speeds, but that design can present other problems. While I’ve tried both and love the thumb drive adapters for convenience, I do not love the speeds.
USB Wi-Fi adapters are cheaper than their PCIe counterparts but are also easier to break. This is something I’ve experienced firsthand — bumping into a wireless dongle on my PC case did it in. Some models are built better than others, but these adapters aren’t known for their durability.
Breaking a $12 adapter may not seem like the end of the world, but failure is also common on budget-friendly models. When you begin to look at the cost of a replacement compared to the cost of one internal Wi-Fi card, USB adapters are not as appealing.
I’ve owned both styles and have a USB adapter currently collecting dust in a drawer. The card I installed in my case has not let me down and comes with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi 6E support. Speeds are much better, and I can connect with an Ethernet cable as well.
Alternatives to a USB Wi-Fi Adapter for a PC
With some types of tech, there are multiple options to consider when one type of product doesn’t work out. With USB Wi-Fi adapters, the only real solution is a PCIe Wi-Fi card like the models below.
Gigabyte GC-WBAX210 PCIe Expansion Card
Gigabyte produces PCs and a range of components under several lines. While not as popular as TP-Link with PCIe cards, the GC-WBAX210 is our premium pick for the best USB Wi-Fi adapter alternative.
This expansion card will provide top-tier connectivity options across the board. It’s a tri-band system with a built-in Wi-Fi 6E module and Bluetooth 5.3 support. It can handle speeds up to 2,400Mbps, while the adjustable AUROUS smart antenna ensures a steady connection on every band.
This PCIe Wi-Fi card isn’t cheap, but it will keep you online for years before you need an upgrade. Tri-band support is the biggest selling point, and the only downside is the antenna if you don’t dig that type of design.
TP-Link AX3000 PCIe Card
TP-Link sells a variety of USB Wi-Fi adapters and other networking gear, including PCIe cards. If your PC case will get good reception with rabbit ears, the TP-Link AX3000 is an excellent choice.
TP-Link’s PCIe card takes a different approach from the Gigabyte GC-WBAX210 but still has many of the same key features. This card has a dual-antenna system on the back with antennae that swivel 360 degrees. It provides a smooth experience on both bands with excellent range and Wi-Fi 6 technology.
From Bluetooth 5.3 to MU-MIMO tech, the TP-Link AX3000 brings a lot to the table and doesn’t break the bank. The range is solid, and it has a more discreet design than cards that rely on a magnetic antenna array.
TP-Link AC1200 PCIe Wi-Fi Card
Building a PC can be expensive, but not every component needs to carry a premium price tag. The TP-Link AC1200 is a great example of that and a card to keep in mind when you want something affordable and effective.
The Archer T4E from TP-Link doesn’t support Wi-Fi 6 but has solid speeds on 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. It has a streamlined design with two external antennae connected to the back and a heatsink that keeps things cool. This PCIe card also comes with a low-profile bracket to make installation easy with different types of PC cases.
While not as fast as our top two picks, this PCIe card is suitable for online gaming and streaming or simply browsing the web. It meets all the basic criteria and is more reliable than cards from lesser-known brands, although it doesn’t have Bluetooth support.
There are advantages and disadvantages to using a USB Wi-Fi adapter to add Wi-Fi to a desktop PC. Is it the right choice for your system? That depends on how much you plan to use it and how you feel about cracking open the case on your PC.
While we feel that a PCIe Wi-Fi card is the best solution considering its permanent nature, adding internal components isn’t something everyone is comfortable with. A USB Wi-Fi adapter can alleviate those concerns but is a temporary and somewhat unreliable solution if you plan to use the net on a daily basis.
Best Alternatives to a USB Wi-Fi Adapter for a PC Summary
|1. Gigabyte GC-WBAX210 PCIe Expansion Card
|2. TP-Link AX3000 PCIe Card
|3. TP-Link AC1200 PCIe Wi-Fi Card
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