The 7 Best USB Wi-Fi Adapters, Tested and Approved by Lifewire

We independently inquiry, test, review, and recommend the best products—learn more about our process. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a mission. As the list suggests, these plug-and-play devices connect to any release USB port on your calculator, at which orient they show up in Windows or macOS fair like an inner network card. Unlike the wireless hardware built into older laptops, however, the best USB Wi-Fi adapters support the latest Wi-Fi standards, so you ’ ll get the best possible speeds and be able to use the much faster frequency bands. The best USB Wi-Fi adapters are the ideal solution for anybody who needs new or better network capabilities on a desktop personal computer or laptop. The best USB Wi-Fi adapters are a very commodious room to get a background personal computer or older laptop on-line with the performance you need for smooth stream and continuous video recording calling. not lone will they let you easily add radio capabilities to a desktop personal computer, but they can besides breathe newly life into a laptop that isn ’ t up to the latest Wi-Fi standards. Don ’ metric ton be completely fooled by the external antenna, however, as we found that this one won ’ t necessarily outperform the Wi-Fi that ’ s already built into your laptop. This one should largely be seen as a way to upgrade an older laptop that merely has Wi-FI 4, rather than extending the range of a more advanced device. That said, considering that it costs about arsenic much as a nice lunch, the EDUP-1635 does offer impressive performance for its price.

You can besides rotate the antenna in precisely about commission to help you focus the signal, although in most cases you credibly won ’ t need to bother, as our test showed that it didn ’ t make a huge remainder. by and large, it ’ second just handy for keeping it out of your direction. Regardless of position, however, we found that the EDUP-1635 performed admirably at distances of up to 20 feet, and easily juggled multiple 4K streams from YouTube and Netflix, vitamin a well as gambling in Rocket League. The EDUP-1635 is a humble but potent USB Wi-Fi adapter that sprouts an external antenna to maximize compass, giving you enough speed to game and stream throughout your home. The name of the game for this one is range, since those four large antennas help to make certain that you can pick up a potent Wi-Fi bespeak even at a distance. rather of hanging the TEW-809UB directly off a USB port in your laptop or desktop personal computer, you use the include three-foot USB cable television to place it on a nearby coat. This besides helps you to get a better bespeak, as it keeps it away from interference that can be generated by the electrical components inside your calculator. We ’ ll come correct out and admit that Trendnet ‘s TEW-809UB international relations and security network ’ metric ton in truth the best choice for laptop users on the function, thanks to its bulky size and spider-like start antennas. rather, this one is best suited for person who wants to add Wi-Fi to a background personal computer, or a laptop that ’ s normally used at a desk. While the WUSB6300 does n’t lead the backpack in performance at closer ranges, it excels at providing more consistent speeds as you move far away from the router. This gives you adequate speed for everything from world wide web surfing to streaming and television calling, although its higher reaction time makes it a less than ideal choice for gamers. As one of the best-known names in wireless routers, it shouldn ’ thymine come as a surprise that Linksys ’ WUSB6300 was one of the first USB Wi-Fi 5 adapters to arrive on the market a few years ago, and it remains one of the best in terms of general performance, specially at longer ranges. While the AC600 evaluation means it ‘s not the fastest arranger you ‘ll find, it ‘s inactive more than flying enough to stream Netflix in 4K to a single laptop or desktop PC—even over a slower Wi-Fi 4 ( 802.11n ) connection. The external antenna besides powers fast transfer speeds to ensure you ‘ll get sustained performance even when farther aside from your router. Edimax ‘s EW-7811UAC offers a very low-cost way to get maximal image from a USB Wi-Fi adapter, thanks to its high-gain antenna and versatile placement options. The admit four-foot cable and cradle allows you to position the USB Wi-Fi arranger and its accompanying antenna aside from your calculator or any other devices that might introduce interference, while besides letting you align the high-gain antenna for optimum operation. “ If you ‘re planning on gaming far from the router, find another adapter for your long-distance needs. ” — Rebecca Isaacs, Product Tester That said, even at a distance, it will calm give you a fast enough connection for checking e-mail and casually surfing the web. It besides features a simplified apparatus, thanks to the accompanying cadmium, and it ’ s compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux. The real succeed with this one, though, is that it ’ s so small that it basically becomes part of your laptop, supplementing or replacing the built-in Wi-Fi. unfortunately, that smaller size comes with a pretty bad tradeoff in terms of range. Since it ’ second obviously hard to pack big antennas in such a small package, speeds on the U631 fall off pretty cursorily as you move away from your router. In our test, we found that it was a capital performer angstrom retentive as you stay close up, but don ’ t expect it to deliver the kind of speeds needed for bet on and cyclosis when you ’ re on the other end of the house. Glam Hobby ‘s Ourlink U631 is the perfective choice for road warriors, thanks to an ultra-compact design that lets you stick it into your laptop ‘s USB port and basically forget about it. The low-profile means you can leave it plugged in all the time without worrying about it breaking off or getting damaged, and best of all it won ’ triiodothyronine forget the other ports on your laptop either. “ up close to the router and on a raw machine, YouTube played without any pixelation, Spotify was seamless, and on-line games didn ’ thymine rubber band. It was a in truth charming experience. ” — Rebecca Isaacs, Product Tester The NET-DYN AC1200 does promise a plug-and-play installation on Windows without the indigence to install any software. As we found in our review, though, your mileage may vary on this matchless. fortunately, it ’ south easy adequate to use the include candle, or even good fetch the necessity software from the manufacturer ’ s web site. As an lend bonus, it besides includes software for Mac and Linux systems. It ‘s besides backed by a life guarantee that covers both manufacturing defects and dead units. While our testing showed that you won ’ thymine be able to rely on this matchless for streaming television at extended ranges, it does inactive let you maintain a basic connection throughout your home. As hanker you say stay reasonably close to your router, however, it provides more than adequate rush to handle pretty much anything you ’ ll lack to do on your laptop, from streaming 4K television from Netflix to keeping in contact with colleagues on Zoom. The NET-DYN AC1200 proves that you do n’t need an expensive Wi-Fi circuit board in your personal computer to get a fast and reliable joining. You can plainly plug this adapter into a free USB port, equitable like a USB flash drive, to bring a radio receiver connection to your desktop personal computer, or even upgrade the Wi-Fi on an older laptop. “ If you ’ re an avid game who likes to slay hordes of undead zombies online, or if you plainly want to catch up on Fortnite, this is the adapter for you. ” — Rebecca Isaacs, Product Tester A dim-witted facility compact disk makes the apparatus work actually aboveboard, so you can just plug it in, key in your Wi-Fi password, and you ’ ll be beneficial to go in fair a couple of minutes. There ’ randomness besides a WPS button for joining to the chief router if you prefer that method—and your router supports it. The arranger besides folds up nicely, so you can slip it into your laptop base for travel, but it ’ randomness worth noting that the bulky size can make it a bite crafty to use with thin laptops. thankfully, there ’ s a magnetic cradle included that lets you set it up beside your laptop, which not only keeps it out of the way, but can besides help you get a better bespeak. During our screen, we found the A7000 was not only more than up to the job of handling the latest on-line games, but it actually did sol at an impressive distance of three floors away from the chief router. It besides clocked in at speeds that were more than enough to handle even the highest-definition video cyclosis services, from Netflix to Disney+. Netgear ‘s Nighthawk A7000 delivers the kind of operation needed for nowadays ‘s demanding internet activities like 4K stream and on-line bet on. While it ’ s not the most compact adapter on our list, it ’ mho worth the tradeoff if you don ’ t want to make any compromises on focal ratio or range. Final verdict
Netgear ‘s Nighthawk A7000 is the best choice for anybody who needs maximal performance for streaming and gambling, but for anybody who equitable needs something portable and low-cost to say connected on the crack, the Ourlink U631 is hard to beat.

About Our trust Experts

Jesse Hollington is a mercenary writer with over 10 years of experience writing about engineering and three decades of experience in information engineering and network. He ‘s installed, tested, and configured just about every character and mark of router, firewall, radio access item, and network extender in places ranging from single-family dwellings to office buildings. university campuses, and even coast-to-coast wide-area network ( WAN ) deployments .
Rebecca Isaacs has teamed up with Lifewire since January 2019. An avid lover of all things computer-related, she frequently uses Wi-Fi adapters for all of her bet on and study needs as she battles to get the best internet in the Midwest. She has personally tested many of the adapters on this list .
Imad Khan has written for Washington Post, ESPN, Tom ‘s Guide, Engadget, Digital Trends, Variety, Men ‘s Health, VICE, and more. His areas of expertness include computers and laptops, and he reviewed EDUP ‘s EP-AC1635 on this list .

faq

  • What does a USB Wi-Fi adapter do?

    As the name suggests, a USB Wi-Fi arranger plugs into any dislodge USB port on a personal computer or laptop, allowing you to wirelessly connect to any nearby Wi-Fi router or access point, whether that ‘s in your home, your office, or using public hotspots out on the road. USB Wi-Fi adapters can even be used with laptops that already have built-in Wi-Fi to provide a flying and stronger wireless connection .

  • Is a USB Wi-Fi adapter better than using an internal one?

    equally retentive as you have a free USB port that ‘s fast enough—which should be true for merely about any computer made in the past decade or so—then a USB Wi-Fi adapter can offers several advantages over an inner Wi-Fi poster. not only can you share it between multiple computers and take it with you on the run, but it besides helps to get your Wi-Fi antenna away from any hindrance that may be generated by the electronics in your personal computer or laptop. You can even use a USB extension cable to place it in the best position for utmost range and performance .

  • What kind of USB Wi-Fi adapter do you need?

    merely about any cheap USB Wi-Fi arranger will get the occupation done if all you need to do is stay connected for less necessitate activities like electronic mail, surfboard, and social media. If you need to stream video recording, participate in Zoom calls, or design to do serious on-line bet on, you ‘ll want to get an adapter that offers maximum performance and compass. Since antenna size is significant in this case, you ‘ll need to give up some portability, but you can still get some pretty pocket-size USB Wi-Fi adapters that offer top speeds—you ‘ll just need to be prepared to spend a little bite more .

The Ultimate USB Wi-Fi Adapter Buying Guide

A USB Wi-Fi adapter is one of the easiest ways to add wireless network connectivity to a personal computer, laptop, or even a game console, and even if your device already includes built-in Wi-Fi, the right use Wi-Fi adapter can give you a nice performance upgrade .
Since USB is a universal standard, a USB Wi-Fi arranger can work with fair about anything that has a USB port, and is much adenine simple as fair plugging it in, making them a much better option than installing a traditional network card .
While USB Wi-Fi adapters are available in a wide variety of designs from ultra-portable dongles that are n’t much bigger than your USB interface to larger devices that sit on your desk, they all basically have the same goal : to give you better radio connectivity.
Netgear Nighthawk A7000 WiFi USB adapter
Lifewire / Rebecca Isaacs

Why Buy a USB Wi-Fi Adapter?

Since most laptops already have Wi-Fi built-in, you may wonder what the point is of a USB Wi-Fi adapter. The truth is, if your computer already provides good and dependable Wi-Fi, there ‘s about surely no need to add an external arranger. however, for users of laptops with inadequate Wi-Fi hardware or PCs that typically do n’t include Wi-Fi confirm at all, a USB Wi-Fi arranger will help to bridge that break .
For model, you might have an older laptop that does n’t offer dual-band Wi-Fi or faster 802.11ac speeds. In this case, a USB Wi-Fi arranger may give your computer a new lease on life, particularly if you ‘re hoping to stream 4K videos or do any unplayful on-line bet on. Further, even computers that have modern Wi-Fi spectacles can be hampered by inadequate inner antenna placement, so an external USB Wi-Fi adapter can improve your scope and performance .

Range

Most USB Wi-Fi adapters influence reasonably well when you ‘re close to your router, but if you ‘re sitting correct beside your router anyhow, you could probably barely as easily punch in an Ethernet cable television and get tied better performance. The period of a USB Wi-Fi arranger is to give you the freedom to move around your home, so you ‘re going to want one that offers the kind of range you need .
To be fair, this is something of a double-edge sword. It ’ south besides up to your router to provide the coverage that you need, and a USB Wi-Fi arranger is n’t going to work charming if your router ca n’t get a signal out to it in the beginning position. It ‘s a concerted attempt, and if you have a larger base, you should decidedly start by making surely you have a good long-range router .
flush if you have a potent router or mesh Wi-Fi system that provides solid coverage for your home, the USB Wi-Fi adapter still has to do its part, and not all adapters are adequate in this regard. Adapters that sit farther away from your calculator ‘s USB port—either by protruding out, offering external antennas, or using an extension cable—will generally provide better rate, all other things being equal, since they have less hindrance from your computer to contend with .

Single-Band or Dual-Band Wi-Fi?

A single-band Wi-Fi adapter operates on only one frequency—normally 2.4GHz—which offers basic compatibility with about every Wi-Fi network on the planet, but besides means you ‘ll be stuck using the same frequencies that most other devices are using. By contrast, a dual-band Wi-Fi arranger can make connections on the higher-frequency 5GHz band, providing your router supports it, giving you faster speeds and fewer devices competing for bandwidth .
Whether to choose a single-band or dual-band USB Wi-Fi adapter will largely depend on what your base router supports. If you ‘re purchasing an arranger for a laptop that you ‘re going to travel with, however, you ‘ll want to go with a dual-band adapter for utmost compatibility .
besides keep in beware that most laptops today already offer at least single-band Wi-Fi built right in. This means there ‘s not much charge in tied considering a single-band Wi-Fi adapter, and these days even the most low-cost ones provide dual-band W-Fi documentation .
What about tri-band Wi-Fi ? Well, that ’ s not something you ’ ll find in a USB Wi-Fi arranger, as it ’ s a feature single to routers that need to support a larger number of devices. Tri-band routers offer an extra 5GHz frequency band to divvy up devices for maximum operation. Since a single device can entirely connect to one frequency isthmus at a prison term, there ‘s no such thing as a tri-band Wi-Fi adapter.
Net-Dyn AC1900
Rebecca Issacs

Speed and Wi-Fi Standards

How fast you need your USB Wi-Fi arranger to be depends largely on what you plan to do with it, although mod dual-band adapters should be more than adequate for most on-line activities. even the most low-cost USB Wi-Fi adapters back at least AC600 speeds, which by and large works out to 433Mbps on the 5GHz dance band and 150Mbps on the 2.4GHz side. By contrast, streaming a Netflix movie in 4K UHD only requires 25Mbps of bandwidth .
One significant thing to keep in heed, however, is that as with all Wi-Fi devices, speeds will drop off as you move farther away from your router, and not all USB Wi-Fi adapters offer the same range. If you plan to work at a distance from your router, you ‘ll want to make indisputable your chosen adapter offers good performance at a distance .
If you ’ re a game, you ‘ll have to consider more than merely accelerate. In this sheath, make indisputable you pick an update up that has low rotational latency for maximal lag-free performance. On the flip side, however, there ‘s no motivation to worry about buying a high-speed adapter if you ‘re only planning to connect to public hotspots at airports, hotels, and coffee bean shops, as these normally do n’t offer particularly rapid internet performance in the first set .
While many routers are offering corroborate for the identical newfangled Wi-Fi 6 802.11ax standard, Wi-Fi 6 compatible USB Wi-Fi adapters are n’t so far widely available—but they ‘re coming soon .

Size and Design

There are many styles of USB Wi-Fi adapters available, so it ‘s easy to find an option that suits your specific needs. however, you ‘ll want to make sure that you look beyond merely the physical design, since there are some significant tradeoffs here .
As a rule, the smaller the USB Wi-Fi adapter, the less scope and performance it ‘s likely to offer. little dongles that barely protrude from your USB port may be big at close range, but it ‘s not realistic to expect them to provide full Wi-Fi performance on the early side of your house ( unless you have a mesh Wi-Fi system, of path ) .
Adapters that extend farther out from your computer ‘s USB port or connect individually via a cable will avoid being affected by hindrance from the electronics in your calculator. Your mileage will vary hera depending on what type of personal computer or laptop you ‘re using, though, as some are better than others in this regard .
Ourlink AC600 USB Wi-Fi Adapter
Lifewire / Rebecca Isaacs

Antennas

Larger USB Wi-Fi adapters may be bulkier, but they besides offer more room for inner antennas—or tied external ones, in some cases—that ensure you get the best range and performance .
If you ‘re looking for maximum speeds at the edges of your Wi-Fi coverage, you ’ ll want an adapter with separate antennas that can be positioned and offer beamforming to maximize signal persuasiveness and focus your signal back to the router. Of course, an adapter with external antennas will sacrifice some portability .

Compatibility

Most modern USB Wi-Fi adapters are pretty much plug-and-play for Windows users, but if you ‘re using a Mac or a Linux system, your options may be more restrict. You ’ ll want to check the specification before buying a USB Wi-Fi arranger to make certain it ‘s not alone compatible with your function arrangement, but besides the specific version of your function organization .
This is even more important if it ‘s from a lesser-known brand, as you may need to install custom-made drivers evening on Windows, and the manufacturer may not offer those drivers for other operating systems .
If you ‘re looking for a USB Wi-Fi adapter for a game console, your options will be even more express. Do n’t expect a standard USB Wi-Fi adapter to work with a PS3 or Xbox unless it specifically lists compatibility with those devices.
EDUP-1635
Iman Khan

USB 3.0 Support

Your USB Wi-Fi adapter can only offer speeds that are a fast as the USB port on your calculator. Since older USB 2.0 ports max out at 480Mbps, you ‘re going to need a USB 3.0 port if you want to benefit from the speeds offered by an AC1200 or better USB Wi-Fi adapter .
Of course, even if you do n’t have USB 3.0 available on your computer, this does n’t mean you ca n’t buy a faster USB Wi-Fi adapter, as they ‘re all backward compatible with older USB standards ; you plainly wo n’t get the advertise speeds, however 480Mbps is inactive absolutely estimable for streaming movies and even gaming—as retentive as the arranger offers abject enough rotational latency to keep your games moving fast.

Top Brands

Netgear
While Netgear is best known for its Nighthawk series of radio routers, it besides makes USB Wi-Fi adapters to complement them, bearing the lapp Nighthawk brand. naturally, Netgear brings its years of network expertness to bear in producing timbre USB Wi-Fi adapters, and while they tend to be costly, as with the company ‘s extensive batting order of routers, you ‘re getting what you ‘re paying for .
Linksys
Linksys is besides a family name in Wi-Fi gear, having been in the business for over three decades, and having passed from independence to being a division of Cisco and late Belkin, however it still produces iconic routers under its own stigmatization, while besides offering a small batting order of USB Wi-Fi adapters that deliver firm performance at more low-cost prices .
Net-Dyn
Net-Dyn is a small american family-owned business that does one thing, and does it quite well—making USB Wi-Fi adapters. While the caller has branched out into a few other small products, USB Wi-Fi adapters are hush its core business, and they not only offer impressive performance for the price, but they ‘re besides backed by a life guarantee.
Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 Wi-Fi Adapter
Lifewire / Rebecca Isaacs

Conclusion

While it may seem like there ‘s a lot to consider when buying a USB Wi-Fi adapter, it ‘s important to keep in judgment that it all boils down to one thing : Getting better radio receiver connectivity for your personal computer, laptop, or console .
While you ‘ll even about constantly get better performance by plugging into your router directly, a USB Wi-Fi arranger can give you more flexibility to move around your home and save you from running Ethernet cables, and can be a great manner to equip an older laptop with the latest Wi-Fi standards for when you ‘re on the road .
That said, if you ‘re merely looking to equip a stationary personal computer or game console with internet access, you may want to consider a Powerline adapter rather, which can extend a wire network connection to early parts of your home using the electrical wire in your walls.

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