Best Wireless Adapter
Wireless adapters let your desktop computer receive a signal from a router or similar device to connect to a wireless network. They typically come in one of two primary designs, either internal or external adapters.
Internal cards install directly onto the motherboard of a computer, typically in some type of PCI slot. These usually have one or more antennas that stick out the back of a computer to find the wireless signal, send, and then receive data over a network. External devices, on the other hand, usually plug into a computer through an input slot such as a USB port.
These devices come in a fairly wide range of designs and can either run small enough to easily fit in your pocket or end up being a bit larger. Internal antennas are quite common in such devices so they can remain small although some of them also have external antennas which can fold or flip out of the adapter. Be sure to look at the wireless adapter buyer’s guide below to help you pick just the right model for your system.
Netgear AC1200 Wi-Fi USB Adapter High Gain Dual Band USB 3.0 (A6210-100PAS)
Netis WF2561 Wireless AC1200 500mW High Power USB Adapter
D-Link Wireless Dual Band AC1200 Mbps USB Wi-Fi Network Adapter (DWA-182)
TP-LINK Archer T4U AC1200 Wireless Dual Band USB Adapter
Linksys WUSB6300 USB WiFi Wireless AC Dual-Band AC1200 Adapter 802.11ac
ASUS Dual-Band Wireless-AC1900 PCI-E Adapter (PCE-AC68)
TP-LINK Archer T9E AC1900 Dual Band Wireless PCI Express Adapter
Edimax Wireless AC1200 Dual-Band Detachable High Gain Antenna - EW-7822PIC
D-Link Systems AC1200 Wi-Fi PCI Express Adapter (DWA-582)
Rosewill RNX-AC1900PCE - 11AC Wireless PCI-E Wi-Fi Adapter
There's a lot to like about this USB wireless adapter which combines terrific performance and easy setup. This is a USB 3.0 adapter though it’s compatible with USB 2.0 if you need it, but 3.0 will give you the best speed and performance. Although this works with older 802.11n and previous versions of Wi-Fi for optimal connectivity, it’s designed to work with newer Wireless-AC1200 networks. This gives you a wireless connection that can handle up to 867Mbsp over a 5GHz network, much faster than older wireless standards. You can connect this adapter directly into a USB port which flips open to function as an antenna, but it also includes a connection cord as well. An included docking station lets you then set the adapter itself wherever you need to for the best wireless reception, giving you great set-up flexibility.
If you're looking for a USB wireless adapter that’s a bit more stationary, then give this one a good look. While somewhat portable, the very large antennas on this pick make it a bit less convenient than other models which fit into your pocket. This model uses a USB 3.0 connection for optimal transfer speeds, includes support for Wireless-AC1200 standards, as well as backwards compatibility for Wireless-N and earlier networks.
The adapter itself is fairly small and can connect directly into a USB port, though the large antennas can make it too heavy to easily sit in the back of a computer tower. This is offset by a USB cord and docking station that you can use to set the adapter in a more remote location to better pick up your wireless signal. The cradle is designed well and provides better support for the large antennas which makes this a great option for a more stationary setup. This high-power model is great if you need to pick up a wireless signal over a fairly long range as it has a boosted transmit signal so you can get data to and from wireless networks more effectively than with many other models.
This is a Wireless-AC1900 model which gives you pretty much the best speed and signal quality you’ll find on the market. It has dual-band support with 600+1300Mbps which lets you take full advantage of the best wireless routers and modems out there and it’s also backwards compatible with older Wireless signal types. The detachable antenna module gives you great options for picking up a wireless signal while its three antennas can be connected directly to the back of the card, or used with the module to position for the best signal possible. It supports 64-bit and 128-bit wireless security protocols and the custom heat sink is designed to handle long-term, demanding use without losing stability.
This is a solid wireless adapter overall, it's just not as fast as some other cards on the market. Wireless-AC1200 support lets you handle most tasks with great speed and performance, but Wireless-AC1900 just has better top-end data rates. This is still a great option for most tasks, with dual-band support that can handle web browsing, online chat, VoIP calling, as well as online gaming. You get two antennas with this card, which is sufficient but lacks some of the performance of three antennas.
This model can connect directly to the antennas, but also includes a module you can connect through a cable to position them wherever you need for optimal signal strength. If you don’t need Wireless-AC1900, then this is a great option and probably ideal for most such setups. Plus, it also has a great heat sink for handling intense, long-term use without losing stability or performance.
This is a solid wireless adapter which supports Wireless-AC1900 standards, so it runs fast and offers dual-band performance with 600+1300Mbps data rates. It is a great choice for demanding tasks such as streaming hours of HD media or playing online games that require low latency and fast data rates. You get three antennas on this card for great for signal reception and performance, but they only connect directly to the card. If your computer is in a location with good signal quality, then that is not a problem. However, the lack of a module means you can’t easily position the antennas in the optimal location. It has a very good heat sink to handle long-term use without heat issues. On a final note, Rosewill products aren’t typically found on a wide range of sites or in stores which limits where you can buy this model.
Wireless Adapter Buyer's Guide
When looking at different wireless adapters, you should consider the type of networking technology they support and keep in mind your needs in terms of internal or external devices. Whichever design you choose, consider the type of interface it has to make sure it can connect to your system and look at the data rate to get the fastest option available. Additional features like included software and the manufacturer are worth looking at to ensure you get a quality adapter that gives you the security and connectivity you need.
Internal vs External Design
The first choice you should probably make when considering a wireless adapter is between an internal or external device. This decision really comes down to your setup and what you need, but if you pick an external adapter, be sure it has a long enough cord for where you want to place it.
Internal adapters are usually cards that fit into a slot on your motherboard. These adapters work well and do not require additional space outside of your system, but you also cannot easily swap them between computes.
An external adapter physically connects to your computer and you can place it on your desk or similar location. These devices are great for use with laptops or if you want to be able to easily swap the adapter between different systems, but you need to make sure you have space for it in your work area.
Whether you choose an internal or external device, look at how it connects to your computer and make sure you have the right type of interface. For an internal adapter, this usually means a PCI slot on your motherboard. You probably have a PCI slot available, but double-check to be sure your motherboard has the right type and that it is not blocked by a video card or other hardware.
External devices usually connect through a USB port or network connection like an Ethernet cable. Make sure you have the right type of connection, and pick a model with at least USB 2.0, though 3.0 is preferable.
Internal vs External Antenna
Regardless of whether you choose an internal or external adapter, you also need to consider models with internal or external antennae.
An internal antenna is convenient because it does not stick out and reduces the chances of it breaking off accidentally. Reception with an internal antenna can be an issue, however, and internal antennae are usually not ideal if you need to receive a wireless signal over a long range.
External antennae provide excellent range and reception quality, but you need to be sure you have room for them as well as being careful not to damage or break them off the adapter. If you have the space, one or more external antennae are usually a better choice, but an internal antenna can still work great at close range.
Once you have determined whether you want an internal or external device, this is probably the next most important consideration as you look at different models. You need to be sure you choose an adapter that is compatible with the standards of your wireless router or other device sending a signal to your hardware.
The standards for wireless connectivity are indicated by a letter, usually after the number “802.11” or word “Wireless” in hardware’s description, for example: Wireless-N or 802.11g. What you really need to look for here is that your adapter is compatible with whatever standard your router or other hardware is using to create your wireless network.
Most of these are backwards compatible, so if you have an 802.11b router, then a Wireless-G adapter will work with it. For the fastest performance possible, pick an adapter and other hardware with Wireless-AC1900 support.
Wireless Data Rate
It is very important to consider the wireless data rate of an adapter to be sure you are not losing speed on your computer’s end of the network. Data transfers at a certain rate based on your service provider and type of Internet, and your modem, gateway, and router can all impact a network’s data rates.
If your wireless adapter is slower than your other hardware, however, then all of the speed can be lost and it creates a bottleneck in your network. Be sure you match or exceed the data rates of your other networking hardware and service; look for rates of at least 150Mbps, but if you have a really fast network, then go for a model with a rate of 300Mbps, 433Mbps, or faster.
The frequency band of an adapter refers to the radio frequency or frequencies the device can send and receive signals through. The most important thing here is to make sure that whatever you choose matches the rest of your networking hardware.
You will probably see 2.4GHz or 2.4GHz/5.0GHz as the most common options for wireless adapters. 2.4GHz is very common and will work with most basic wireless networks, while 2.4GHz/5.0GHz is for dual-band networks utilizing two frequency bands for greater signal fidelity and performance. As long as an adapter with a frequency band matches your other wireless networking hardware, you should be fine.
While the types of network and data rates are primary concerns, it is also worth looking at the software that comes bundled with any adapter you consider. Good software can make it easier to set up your network and keep it secure. If you already have utilities and software that you prefer for networking, then this is a negligible concern, but otherwise look at what is included.
You want to choose a model which includes software to make networking simple. Pick an adapter which includes programs for setting up and managing your network, along with security options to ensure unauthorized users aren’t able to access your network and data.
Manufacturer and Warranty
Since wireless adapters are an important part of setting up your network and overall performance, be sure to choose a reliable manufacturer known for making quality hardware. Companies like TP-Link, Netgear, D-Link, and ASUS are well known and regarded for making excellent internal and external adapters.
You should also look at the warranty provided on an adapter to be sure your investment in the hardware is protected. A one-year warranty is the bare minimum you should accept, while a two-year or five-year warranty is ideal. It is common for external adapters to have longer warranties, so keep that in mind as you compare different manufacturers and models.