USB Wi-Fi adapters are a quick fix for nagging wireless connection issues. For many desktop PC users, they’re a must-have device: while practically every laptop includes a built-in Wi-Fi card, this isn’t true for all desktops. However, that isn’t the only reason you’ll need an adaptor like this.
Perhaps your home or office router is in an inconvenient location and does not provide adequate network coverage. Your devices may be losing Wi-Fi signal due to thick walls in your home. Maybe your built-in Wi-Fi or network card has failed, and you don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a replacement.
All of these problems, and more, can be solved with a reliable USB Wi-Fi adaptor.
Today, we’ll take a look at a few of the top USB Wi-Fi adapters from a variety of different categories, to help you find the one that best meets your needs.
1. Best USB Wi-Fi Adapter For Gaming and Desktop PCs: Asus USB-AC68
When it comes to online gaming, latency is everything. The worse your connection is, the more packets will be dropped and your ping time will increase. Cheap wireless cards aren’t going to cut it: you’ll need something that can handle high-speed connections and long-range connectivity while minimising lag.
All of this and more is available with the Asus USB-AC68 Wi-Fi adapter. The dual-band USB 3.0 AC68 supports theoretical 5GHz and 2.4GHz rates of up to 1300Mbps and 600Mbps, respectively. The AC68 won’t be a bottleneck even if you have a super-fast internet connection. It contains two 34 MIMO antennas that optimise and shape the Wi-Fi signal using Asus’ beamforming technology.
The end effect is stronger connections and wider range, as long as your router supports beamforming (which most do). You can simply connect to networks within a 150-foot radius with the AC68. In addition, Asus includes a second cradle with a long extension wire. Instead of inserting the USB Wi-Fi adapter into your computer, you can place it somewhere with a better signal, such as on a shelf or window sill.
Because the antennae are collapsible, the adapter is easier to move and less prone to break. It isn’t overly enormous in terms of size for what it gives. The adapter is only 4.5 inches tall without the antennas stretched out, so it won’t take up much room behind your PC when plugged in directly.
At a low price, the AC68 gives a quick and smooth browsing experience on your desktop PC as well as a superior online gaming experience. The only significant drawback is driver difficulties on older versions of Windows; if you’re still on Windows 7 or earlier, we recommend searching elsewhere. For everyone else, it’s our top pick for gaming and the best USB Wi-Fi adapter on the market right now.
- Long-range connectivity
- Fold-down antennas for portability
- Cradle lets you choose where to physically place the adapter
- ASUS wireless drivers crash frequently on systems below Windows 10
2. Best Budget USB Wi-Fi Adapter: TP-Link Archer T3U Plus
The TP-Link Archer T3U Plus is an excellent choice if you want a Wi-Fi adapter that provides excellent coverage at a low price. The extended, flexible antenna on this compact USB adapter ensures far stronger connections than most preinstalled Wi-Fi cards.
The Archer T3U Plus has dual-band AC1300 wifi, which can deliver theoretical peak speeds of up to 400Mbps on a 2.4GHz network and 867Mbps on a 5GHz network.
Although this isn’t the quickest option available these days, it’s more than adequate for most residential internet connections.
If the 2.4GHz band is congested in your neighbourhood, you can switch to a 5GHz network, which is a widespread problem these days and one of the leading causes of sluggish Wi-Fi rates.
All of the current operating systems, including the impending Windows 11, are supported by the Archer T3U Plus. The antenna connection on this adapter is a touch flimsy, so be careful if you’re planning to travel with it.
- Long-range connectivity (5 dBi high-gain antenna)
- Dual-band support
- USB 3.0
- Antenna is relatively large
- Poor build quality
3. Best Small USB Wi-Fi Adapter: TP-Link Archer T2U Nano
The TP-Link Archer T2U Nano is one of the tiniest USB Wi-Fi adapters on the market, measuring less than an inch in length and width. But just because it’s little doesn’t imply it’s lacking in features: just the contrary. The T2U Nano has dual-band AC600 wifi, which can deliver up to 200Mbps on a 2.4GHz network and 433Mbps on a 5GHz network.
Although it may not appear to be much, it is sufficient for the ordinary home internet subscription. Given the lack of an external antenna, range is adequate but not superior to that of most internal Wi-Fi cards. Because of its small size and weight, the adapter may be left permanently inserted into your laptop because it hardly protrudes from the USB port.
As a result, it’s an excellent replacement for an old or broken laptop wireless card. Despite its small size, this isn’t our top option for travel because you’re losing some range and speed to get a Wi-Fi adapter this small: for that, keep reading below.
It’s the best choice for general use, especially in cases when you wish to leave the adapter attached all the time.
- Very small and portable
- Moderate speeds
- Relatively short range
4. Best Long Range USB Wi-Fi Adapter: BrosTrend 1200
One of the main reasons consumers buy a USB Wi-Fi adaptor is the promise of increased network coverage. Finding the ideal location for your router to ensure strong connections and fast speeds in every corner of your house or workplace can be difficult at times.
When you’re in a concrete building or a particularly huge mansion, it’s considerably more challenging. In such circumstances, you’ll need a USB Wi-Fi adaptor that not only boosts your network’s speed but also extends its range.
Anyone looking to extend the range of their wireless card should consider the dual-band BrosTrend AC1200. It includes two 5dBi high gain antennas that allow you to connect to networks within a theoretical 500ft radius. Don’t be shocked if you notice a slew of new Wi-Fi network names popping up in your area!
The antennae are removable, so if your router is close enough, you can easily remove them to make the adapter look smaller on your desk. It’s not the tiniest thing we’ve ever seen. The antenna connection is somewhat thin and prone to breaking with any kind of hard treatment, thus we have some concerns about the build quality.
If you use Linux, you may want to search elsewhere because getting it to run properly on that platform is difficult. Despite this, with USB 3.0 capability for higher speeds and the newest WPA3 encryption, this is a well-spec’d Wi-Fi adapter that delivers significantly more Wi-Fi range for a very low price.
- Quite large
- Build quality isn’t great
- Unstable performance and complex setup process on Linux
5. Best USB Wi-Fi Adapter For Travel: Netgear AC1900
A powerful USB Wi-Fi adapter that provides wider range and stronger connections than your laptop’s inbuilt wireless card is essential if you’re travelling or working remotely. It must, however, be both sturdy and portable: big, easily broken gadgets are useless to anyone on the go.
The NETGEAR AC1900, a tiny dual-band device capable of 1300Mbps on the 5GHz Wi-Fi band and 600Mbps on 2.4GHz networks, is our recommendation for the finest USB Wi-Fi adapter for travel based on these criteria. The adaptor is small enough to fit in your day bag or coat pocket, measuring 4.7 inches length by 1.8 inches wide and weighing only 2.4 ounces.
When not in use, the top cover folds down to act as an antenna, making it easier to travel. It is claimed that it can detect networks from up to 200 feet away. In thick-walled hotels, rural AirBnbs, and anywhere else where signal is scarce, Netgear’s AC1900 helps assure an uninterrupted Wi-Fi connection.
Instead of protruding out the side of your laptop, the AC1900 comes with a magnetic stand that allows you to set the adapter on your desk or anyplace else that provides better coverage. The stand is a little bulky to travel with (though it could be done if necessary), but it’s perfect for when you get home.
While this is our top-rated USB Wi-Fi adapter for travel, there are other solutions available in terms of size, range, and multi-device support. We went over each one in detail here.
- Fast dual-band 1900Mbps support
- Good range
- Magnetic stand for flexible placement
- Netgear drivers can be unstable on Windows