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Best USB Wi-Fi Adapter For 2022

Our roundup of the best USB Wi-Fi adaptors available today
Last Updated on March 14, 2022
Best USB Wi-Fi Adapter For 2019

Here’s our guide to help you find the best USB Wi-Fi adapter for you. Whether you want an extra boost to your laptop’s pre-existing Wi-Fi capabilities, or you want a powerful Wi-Fi antenna for your desktop PC, we have you covered. We’ve picked out a bunch of different USB Wi-fi adapters, with varying features, and at a range of different prices.

If you have trouble understanding any of the jargon or specs mentioned, we’ve included a buying guide below to help you choose the right Wi-Fi adapter for you.

Products at a Glance

Our Recommended

Best USB Wi-Fi Adapter For 2022

  • Fast speeds
  • MIMO support
  • USB 3.0 support
  • Size and shape not ideal for laptops
  • Not the cheapest option
  • Plain looking
  • USB 3.0 support
  • Great speeds and range
  • MIMO support
  • A little pricey
  • Awkward form factor for desktop PCs (without stand)
  • Large size may put strain on USB ports
  • Reasonably compact
  • Discrete antenna
  • Great value
  • Only supports USB 2.0
  • Basic connectivity
  • Not from a very well known brand
  • Low price
  • Tiny size
  • Simple design
  • Only USB 2.0
  • No discrete antenna will limit range
  • Not from a very well known brand
  • Excellent range
  • Great speeds
  • USB 3.0 support
  • Unwieldy size
  • High price
  • No MIMO support

What’s the difference between 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz?

2.4 GHz and 5 GHz don’t refer to processing power in this context. Instead, they refer to the wireless network spectrum that Wi-Fi devices operate on.

2.4 GHz is the older standard and is what most routers and devices are still using. 2.4 GHz is somewhat slow and laggy when compared to 5 GHz, but it has a much greater range and compatibility.

5 GHz is the newer standard and is mainly used by newer devices. It’s much faster and has lower latency than 2.4 GHz, but has a much shorter range. You may also experience compatibility issues with older devices that are only made to connect to 2.4 GHz. To get around this, most routers and Wi-Fi antennas support both standards.

Even if all devices involved support both standards, use 5 GHz where possible. This is especially important for gamers since the lower latency of the 5 GHz standard will ensure less lag when playing online. 2.4 GHz generally isn’t suitable for gaming purposes but can suffice for web browsing and media consumption.

Important to note: no Wi-Fi connection will ever beat a hardwired ethernet connection when it comes to stability, latency, and overall performance. If you’re doing professional work or pro gaming, we recommend an ethernet cable whenever possible.

What’s 802.11ac?

802.11ac is the current Wi-Fi standard, supported by every modern device and router. It also offers higher performance than older 802.11 standards, especially 802.11n and 802.11b. If you’re worried about compatibility, don’t be: 802.11ac is backward-compatible with routers using these older standards. You will be restricted to the speeds of those older standards if you utilize this feature, though.

802.11ax is also on the horizon but unfortunately hasn’t been widely adopted by device manufacturers yet.

USB 2.0 vs USB 3.0

In terms of raw download speeds, you typically won’t see a massive difference between a USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 adapter. The max throughput of USB 2.0 is considerably higher than that of the average Wi-Fi connection, and USB 3.0 even more so. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get a 3.0 adapter whenever possible.

First and foremost, a 3.0 adapter will be able to keep up with particularly high-performance Wi-Fi networks. Particularly, connection speeds of over 100 Mbps, with routers using 802.11ac and broadcasting at 5 GHz.

But more importantly– even for slower networks– latency. USB 3.0 has much lower latency than USB 2.0, and latency is especially important for gaming. High latency results in a laggier, less responsive online gaming experience. Using Wi-Fi at all already increases latency, but using a USB 2.0 adapter on top of that can result in an unplayable experience for gamers.

If you’re going to game on Wi-Fi, a USB 3.0 adapter is a necessity, not an option.

Antennas, and why more is better

Wi-Fi is a wireless signal.

We aren’t going to dive into the nitty-gritty of wireless networks and how they work, but every wireless device has a built-in antenna, even if it isn’t visually obvious. Your smartphone, for instance, has an antenna; you just can’t see it.

Unfortunately, these invisible antennas do come with some sacrifices. While it’s nice to have an antenna be so small you don’t even know it’s there, this results in reduced reception and performance in most scenarios.

For high-performance Wi-Fi, you want an adapter with large, discrete antennas. This will allow the fastest speeds, lowest latency, and longest ranges to be achieved.

What’s MIMO?

MIMO stands for Multiple Input (and) Multiple Output. MIMO technology is used by routers and supported devices to operate faster, without fighting each other over who gets to send and receive data first. Many MIMO Wi-Fi adapters will also have extra antennas built-in, presumably to take better advantage of this technology.

If your devices support MIMO, you’ll typically experience faster download and upload speeds. Latency generally won’t be affected by this, though.

Our Verdict

We’ve picked the Linksys adaptor as our top choice from this roundup. It’s a good balance between functionality and price, it’s from a very reliable manufacturer that’s been making wi-fi adaptors for many years, and it offers great speeds and stable connectivity.