For a long time, desktop PCs were stuck with Ethernet cables as the only means of connecting to the Internet. Luckily for all of us, there is a much more flexible and cleaner solution today:
Yes, that’s right. Simply plug one into your computer and enjoy wireless connectivity, as well as the full freedom to move your PC anywhere in your home without having to worry about how to get meters upon meters of cable between it and the router.
Not every adapter is the same, though. Because of that, we have created this list where we will mention and discuss a range of adapters for a variety of needs.
Table of ContentsShow
Top 5 Wireless Adapters For 2020
About the Adapter
Netgear is a company of high renown in the world of networking equipment, as their name implies. It was founded in 1996 and is one of the leading companies in the field today. As such, it is only natural that wireless adapters would be part of their inventory.
The Netgear A6100 is a small and inconspicuous Wi-Fi adapter. It sports a glossy black exterior which appears a tad bulkier than what is usually seen with USB adapters of this size. There are no details on it apart from the company logo and a WPS button.
- The A6100 is a dual-band adapter, meaning that it operates on two Wi-Fi frequencies: 2.4 GHz and 5GHz, with a maximum speed of 150 Mbps and 433 Mbps for each band respectively. This is made possible by the latest 802.11ac Wi-Fi technology.
- Beamforming technology is utilized by this adapter to provide a stronger and more stable connection.
- WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) makes connecting to your network as simple as pushing a button, without the need to re-enter your password every time.
- Compact design allows the adapter to be plugged in inconspicuously either into your PC’s front panel or into your laptop, taking up neither too much space nor attracting too much attention.
- Limited speed – Even though the adapter is using the latest dual-band technology, its maximum throughput still leaves a lot to be desired, especially when it comes to the 2.4 GHz band. Ultimately, it is far from an ideal solution for people who have a very fast Internet connection or those who rely on single-band routers.
- Compact and minimal exterior
- WPS button
- Not the fastest dual-band adapter
Netgear Nighthawk A7000
About the Adapter
Next up, we have another product from Netgear, and from the same family no less. The product in question is the Netgear Nighthawk A7000, and it follows a similar design philosophy as the router of the same name.
The main body of the adapter is adorned with a triangular pattern, while the four internal antennae are covered by a solid glossy black surface, which further sports a three-dimensional rhombic design on its back.
- The adapter has an impressive maximum speed of 1.9 Gigabits (600/1300 Mbits), thanks to the dual-band technology it utilizes. Not only that, but it also incorporates beamforming technology and four internal antennae, as we have already said in the intro. Needless to say, this makes for a powerful and stable long-range connection.
- The A7000 comes with its own magnetic cradle. This allows for more flexibility in terms of placement, since it can stick to any metal surface. More importantly, it comes at no loss in terms of speed and responsiveness since the cradle itself also connects via a USB 3.0 cable.
- Foldable design makes for a perfect compromise between portability and connectivity. Usually, adapters have to prioritize one or the other, but the A7000 does not. Simply flip it open when using it and fold it when you’re not.
- Exterior design won’t agree with everyone – The somewhat bulky and attention-grabbing design is a staple of Netgear’s Nighthawk products, which is not something that people who like more minimalistic peripherals will appreciate.
- A bit expensive for an adapter – Unless you can fully utilize this adapter’s potential, then the 60$ will hardly be something you’d be willing to pay for.
- Great maximum speed and range
- Stable signal thanks to beamforming
- Magnetic cradle adds placement flexibility
- Can easily be folded for transportation
- Design will be too conspicuous for some people
- On the expensive side
About the Adapter
Belkin is a seasoned electronics company, founded back in 1983. They grew quickly and had become involved in the production of all sorts of electronic goods, from audio systems and smartphones to, of course, networking.
The Belkin N300 is a simple and affordable adapter. It is not a sight for sore eyes, seeing as it appears pretty much like any other USB stick, with a black glossy exterior and a single green light that signals whether it is connected to a network. It is far from the best wireless adapter, but it gets the job done. We also have a guide on how to set up a Belkin range extender, if you’re interested.
- The N300 offers a maximum speed of 300 Mbits and uses the now-dated 802.11n wireless technology. It is also equipped with a WPS button in order to make connecting to your home network easier.
- The device is small and easy to carry as it follows the tried-and-true USB stick design with a protective cap on top.
- This adapter is also very affordable. This may not be a feature per se, but it is definitely worth noting since it greatly mitigates the device’s shortcomings which we will list below.
- Dated drivers – Seeing as this adapter was released several years ago, the official drivers do not fully support Windows 10. As it always goes with unstable drivers, whether the device will actually work properly with your computer is something of a shot in the dark.
- Lower maximum speed – Again tying into the fact that we’re talking about an older device, another obvious flaw is that it is stuck with 802.11n Wi-Fi technology. This also caps its maximum transfer speed at 300 Mbps, so those with faster connections or those with more devices connected to their network are sure to find this to be a deal-breaker.
- Extremely cheap
- Compact and portable build
- Unreliable drivers
- Maximum speed unlikely to be enough for some
TP-Link Archer T9E
About the Adapter
TP-Link is a highly recognizable name in the IT circles. It is a Chinese company founded in 1996 that specializes exclusively in networking technology, manufacturing everything from modems, routers, and wireless adapters to data switches and smart home equipment.
The Archer T9E is an internal wireless adapter that plugs directly into your motherboard’s PCIe slot. It boasts three prominent antennae and even has its own aluminum heatsink, which says something about the performance this device brings to the table.
- The Archer T9E is another dual-band adapter utilizing the latest 802.11ac wireless technology. That said, it has a maximum throughput of 1.9 Gigabits, with the 2.4GHz band handling 600 Mbits and the 5GHz band taking care of the other 1900 Mbits.
- As can be deduced from its three external antennae, this adapter also utilizes beamforming technology to ensure the most stable connection possible.
- The fact that it is an internal adapter that plugs directly into a PC motherboard makes it not only capable of faster and more stable data transfer but is also more convenient to use with a desktop computer since it does not jut out of the front or rear panel as a regular-sized USB adapter would.
- Not compatible with laptops – This is obvious, seeing as we’re talking about an internal adapter which uses a PCIe slot as a means of connection.
- High price – With a price tag of over 60$, the Archer T9E costs more than some people would be willing to pay for an adapter.
- Excellent connection speed and range
- Beamforming ensures signal stability
- Great solution for desktop computers
- Cannot be used with a laptop
- High price tag
About the Adapter
Everybody knows Asus by their motherboards and their gaming-oriented STRIX-series graphics cards. This Taiwanese giant, however, has a much more extensive inventory that includes smartphones, smartwatches, various peripherals, networking, and more.
The PCE-AC88 is a somewhat unusual internal wireless adapter in that it consists of two parts: a PCIe card and a magnetized external base which hosts the adapter’s antennae and connects to the card via four individual cables. The card itself sports a vibrant red heatsink, while the antenna base has a fairly minimalistic black exterior.
- The adapter uses the latest 802.11ac Dual-Band technology and is extremely fast, supporting speeds of over 3 Gigabits. This total throughout is divided among the two bands, with the 2.4GHz band handling 1000 Mbps, while the 5GHz band handles the other 2100 Mbps.
- As we have mentioned in the intro, the external antenna base hosts four antennae that both transmit and receive signals. The fact that it is magnetized allows for good flexibility in terms of placement, be it on your desk, the computer case, or any other surface. The base connects to the PCIe card via four R-SMA cables.
- The antennae are detachable, allowing the user to replace one or more of them as needed, and the R-SMA connection goes a long way to ensure good compatibility with any potential replacement antennae.
- Expensive – As is to be expected from a powerful and high-quality adapter such as this one, it comes at a considerable price. Needless to say, only the most demanding users would be willing to pay over 100$ for the performance that this adapter brings.
- Desktop-only – As with the TP-Link Archer T9E, this is an internal adapter, meaning that it cannot be used with laptops.
- High-quality build
- Excellent signal stability and throughput
- Flexible magnetized antenna base
- Replaceable antennae
- Very expensive for an adapter
- Only compatible with desktop PCs
How to Pick the Best Wireless Adapter for You
Tastes and requirements differ from person to person. Therefore, in this section, we will be looking at important traits and characteristics of different wireless adapters in order to help you figure out which one fits your needs best.
Your Internet Connection Speed
The first and most obvious thing you should keep in mind when choosing a wireless adapter is, of course, the speed of your Internet connection. Namely, you need to keep two things in mind:
- Whether the adapter can handle your connection speed
- Whether the adapter supports transfer speeds significantly higher than what your connection offers
Usually, in the first case, speed wouldn’t be so much of an issue since wireless transfer speeds are much greater than what is offered by most broadband ADSL or coaxial cable connections. However, fiber optic connections are becoming increasingly more common around the world, so you should always check whether the adapter can support the extreme speeds made possible by this type of connection if you are using it.
As for the second case, it is not so much a question of compatibility as it is a question of you not over-spending on an adapter that is more powerful than what you need. Obviously, gigabit wireless transfer speeds won’t do you much good if you have a 10 Mbit ADSL connection.
Your Wireless Router and the Wi-Fi Technology Used
Since Wi-Fi connectivity is the norm today, you will never encounter an ISP providing you with a modem that doesn’t support it. However, the wireless technology that they use is another matter.
Modern routers can be divided into two categories: those using 802.11ac and those using 802.11n wireless technologies. Furthermore, what should also be taken into account is if the router has single-band or dual-band connectivity, as these can affect compatibility and maximum transfer speeds.
11ac vs 802.11n
Both of these technologies are fully backwards-compatible, so you don’t need to worry whether your adapter and router will work together. However, what you should keep in mind is the maximum transfer speeds supported by these technologies.
The theoretical maximum speed of 802.11ac is 1300 Mbits, while that of 802.11n is significantly lower at 450 Mbits. This is important to keep in mind when considering whether an adapter will be able to match your connection speed. Do not forget: these maximum speeds are only theoretical and will vary when put in practice.
Single-band vs Dual-band
This is a similar situation as above, and it again focuses on transfer speeds. A single-band and a dual-band router will always be compatible with one another, but keep in mind that the lower frequency 2.4GHz band has a much lower transfer speed than the higher frequency 5GHz band.
As such, if your adapter supports gigabit speeds thanks to dual-band technology while your router only uses a single band, then the adapter will only receive the 2.4GHz signal, and the 5GHz band would just be sitting idly.
Next up, you need to consider the way that the adapter will be interfacing with your computer. As you can see from this article, there are two types of wireless adapters: internal and external. The latter relies on the computer’s USB ports, while the former plug directly into a motherboard’s PCIe slot.
If you are a laptop owner, then your only choice is an external adapter, for obvious reasons. Such adapters can use either USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 ports, with the latter being backward-compatible and the only difference being speed. USB 2.0 supports transfer speeds of up to 480 Mbps, while USB 3.0 can go as high as 5 Gigabits.
Desktop PC owners have a wider selection that includes internal adapters. As mentioned above, these plug directly into one of your motherboard’s PCIe slots, which makes for a faster and more stable connection than what a USB port offers. However, make sure to check whether you have sufficient motherboard space for this expansion and also see if some of the other components, such as the graphics card, might be blocking the PCIe slot you intend to use.
And lastly, there is the matter of just how powerful and stable a signal the adapter can ensure.
The very first thing to keep an eye out for is whether it uses an internal or an external antenna, as well as whether there is only one or several.
An internal antenna is conveniently hidden from sight inside the adapter’s body, resulting in a sleeker look and makes the adapter easier to transport. An external antenna, on the other hand, is attached to the main body of the device and can be adjusted either two-dimensionally or three-dimensionally, which varies from adapter to adapter.
Now, when it comes to choosing one over the other, there are two factors that can affect signal strength: distance and walls. Granted, any object will weaken a signal that passes through it, but walls are the only obstacle dense enough to lead to a noticeable decrease in signal strength. Therefore:
- If the signal has to go through no walls or merely one wall, you can go with an internal antenna.
- If the signal has to go through multiple walls or cover large areas, a solution with various external antennae is your best bet.
So, in the end, which wireless adapter can be considered the best?
As far as we’re concerned, it is the Netgear Nighthawk A7000.
This external adapter has just the right combination of traits to make it suitable for almost any user:
- It has a fast USB 3.0 connection
- It is a dual-band adapter supporting speeds of almost 2 Gigabits
- The concealed external antennae allow it to be as powerful or as compact as the situation requires
- It comes with a magnetic base that allows for great placement flexibility
Granted, it is on the pricier side and the design may not appeal to all, but when it comes to sheer practicality, the A7000 has no equal.
And lastly, if you are already shopping for an adapter, why not check out our selection of the best wireless routers while you’re at it? Or perhaps a WiFi extender if you want to boost your WiFi signal instead? Perhaps you could use an upgrade in that department, too!