Best USB WiFi Adapters – 2021 Round-up

Austin
| Last Updated: June 8, 2021

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If you're looking to connect an older computer to wireless internet, you'll need one of the best USB WiFi adapters available.

These items have various specifications and can quickly become confusing to purchase.

We look at the products and explain the benefits of each one.

Comparison of the Best USB WiFi Adapters

IMAGEPRODUCT
  • Highlighted by a budget friendly price
  • Offering a data transfer rate of 150mbps
  • With a 2 year limited warranty
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  • With additional placement methods for optimal coverage
  • Dual internal antennas for more connection stability
  • Highlighted by a data transfer rate of 1300mbps
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  • Best for the Money
  • Works both on the latest Windows and MacOS
  • Featuring a 3x4 MIMO design for more bandwidth capacity
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  • Offers a data transfer rate of up to 1900mbps
  • Can be connected with any router model
  • Simple installation with a NETGEAR start guide
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  • Highlighted by a lifetime warranty on manufacturer defects
  • Does support WPA, WPA2 and WEP routers
  • Offers network coverage at a 300ft. range
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How to Choose the Right USB WiFi Adapter

There are multiple factors to consider when picking out the USB WiFi adapter you want to purchase. The key items you need to consider are the USB types, the Wireless Frequency, the item's size, and the internet speed it provides.

USB Type

Most commonly, the USB types that WiFi adapters use are type 2.0 and 3.0. These two options transfer data at different speeds, affecting the output of any device. Purchasing a WiFi adapter that has a lower USB type will limit effectiveness when compared to other products.

If you're using an older computer or laptop, you likely have USB type 2.0 ports. Using a USB type 3.0 adapter will limit the transfer speed for data to that of the devices. Optimally, an item using USB 3.0 will result in a faster connection.

Wireless Frequency

Most devices use either a 2.4GHz or 5Ghz frequency, with selected models offering dual support. Both options have beneficial and negative aspects worth considering. Ideally, if you're using the adapter on a laptop that moves around, the dual option is worth purchasing.

The 2.4GHz connection type is better at penetrating walls and should be used if you're struggling to get a WiFi connection in a large house. This frequency is commonly used, ensuring that any devices pick up the signal.

The 5GHz frequency is more stable, as there's less interference from the many devices using a 2.4GHz connection. Unfortunately, this option is quick to suffer from signal loss over long distances.

TP-Link TL-WN725N

Sizing

The best USB WiFi adapters have various sizes that can become awkward if you're using them on laptops or computers. Models with antennas can feel large and bulky once you set the item up. 

Alternatively, there are many options the size of a regular USB stick or smaller that you can quickly pocket when traveling. The smaller models without antennas are unlikely to pick up a WiFi connection across longer distances. 

Speed

Each of the best USB WiFi adapters has a different internet speed rating. This variation is increased with more expensive options that can support speeds of up to 1300 megabits per second. 

Lower end and cheaper devices can support speeds of as low as 150 megabits per second. As long as your adapter is better than your internet speed, you'll have no issues or throttling.

Review of the Best USB WiFi Adapters

The following are the best USB WiFi adapters currently available. We look at their specifications, pros, cons and discuss each model's make or break features.

Best Overall:
TP-Link TL-WN725N

TP-Link USB WiFi Adapter for PC(TL-WN725N), N150 Wireless Network Adapter for Desktop - Nano Size WiFi Dongle Compatible with Windows 10/7/8/8.1/XP/ Mac OS 10.9-10.15 Linux Kernel 2.6.18-4.4.3

PROS

  • Small and discrete
  • Transferred up to 150 megabits per second
  • Turns a WiFi connection into a WiFi hotspot
  • Supports a variety of data link protocols including USB
  • Compatible with Windows XP and newer, Mac OS 10.9 and later, and selected Linux Kernels

CONS

  • Uses USB type 2.0

Specs

USB Version: USB 2.0

Data Link Protocol: IEEE 802.11b, USB, IEEE 802.11n

Windows Compatible: Yes

Mac Compatible: Yes

Review

The most considerable benefit of the TP-Link TL-WN725N is its small size, making it easy to carry in your pocket. This aspect also proves useful when plugging the part into almost any laptop or PC as there's no long cable or bulky antenna. The item will also natively work with many versions of the Linux Kernel. 

However, the item has a low transfer speed, receiving and sending only 150 Megabits per second. Redeeming this slow speed is the device's usability of multiple data link protocols. These protocols include USB, IEEE 802. 11b, and IEEE 802.11n.

Bottom Line

While this item is slow, it is the best overall option for any old computer or laptop that struggles to connect to a wireless network. The product is minimal and discrete, making it hard to damage while using it. The device also works on virtually any operating system.

Runner-up:
ASUS USB-AC68 AC1900

ASUS USB-AC68 AC1900 Dual-band USB 3.0 WiFi Adapter, Cradle included

PROS

  • Transfer up to 1300 megabits per second
  • Enhanced reception from foldable antennas
  • Cradle included that offers easier placement
  • Supports Windows 7 and up and Mac OS 10.9 and up
  • Improves how well your PC handles bandwidth-intensive tasks

CONS

  • Bulky design

Specs

USB Version: USB 3.0

Data Link Protocol: USB

Windows Compatible: Yes

Mac Compatible: Yes

Review

The ASUS USB-AC68 AC1900 is an excellent item with its largest downside being its size. The bulky design often will not work for computers pressed against a wall or laptops. Fortunately, the item comes with a cradle that allows you to stand it upright and away from your computer.

The adapter is fast and can transfer up to 1300 megabits in a second. The antennas aid in how well it picks up a signal, helping you use WiFi without a poor connection. The product uses a USB type 3.0 that provides a fast transfer speed to your PC.

Bottom Line

Overall, the ASUS USB-AC68 AC1900 is a fast and helpful item that aids your PC's connection to the internet. The device is bulky with two antennas and a cradle, making it harder to transport if you're using it with a laptop. The antennas are foldable to allow for more comfortable positioning.

Best for the Money:
TP-Link AC600 Archer T2U Plus

TP-Link AC600 USB WiFi Adapter for PC (Archer T2U Plus)- Wireless Network Adapter for Desktop with 2.4GHz, 5GHz High Gain Dual Band 5dBi Antenna, Supports Win10/8.1/8/7/XP, Mac OS 10.9-10.14

PROS

  • Improved WiFi reception
  • Establishes a high-quality connection
  • Dual bands for flexible connection options
  • Two-year warranty and 24/7 technical support
  • Supports Windows XP and up as well as Mac OS 10.9 and newer

CONS

  • Uses USB 2.0
  • The lengthy antenna is obtrusive

Specs 

USB Version: USB 2.0

Data Link Protocol: USB

Windows Compatible: Yes

Mac Compatible: Yes

Review

TP-Link AC600 Archer T2U Plus is an excellent deal for your money, despite its older USB type. The model isn't for anyone who has a newer computer or fast internet connection, as the highest speed on 5GHz allows for speeds of 433 megabytes per second. The item provides a reliable connection to your WiFi thanks to its antenna.

However, in some circumstances, the antenna may be bulky because of its length, limiting where you can use it. The item can rotate its antenna and adjust it to take up less space. The product works on computers running versions of Windows from XP and up. 

Bottom Line

The USB WiFi adapter uses a sleek design with one foldable antenna to easily store and maximize space. While using the 5GHz mode, the device supports speeds of up to 433 megabytes per second. Overall, the Network adapter is an excellent choice for its value and ability to receive a signal.

Editor's Pick:
Netgear Nighthawk AC1900

Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 Wi-Fi USB Adapter (A7000-10000S)

PROS

  • Enables speeds of up to 1300Mbs
  • Magnetic cradle for easier placement
  • The foldable design allows for easy storage
  • Dual-band WiFi enables lag-free connections
  • Supports both Windows and Mac OS X operating systems

CONS

  • Driver software is not useful and un-needed in most cases

Specs 

USB Version: USB 3.0

Data Link Protocol: 801_11_AC

Windows Compatible: Yes

Mac Compatible: Yes

Review

With a high-speed transfer rate of 1300Mbs, the Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 is ideal for anyone with a fast internet connection. The dual-frequency ensures that you'll almost always have a reliable connection to your WiFi. As it uses USB type 3.0, older computers with the previous version of the ports won't get the highest speeds offered by the product. 

The item is sleek and features a foldable antenna that boosts the strength of your received signal. Included with the adapter is a magnetic cradle that expands the possibilities for positioning the device on computers and laptops. 

Bottom Line

The Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 is an excellent purchase if you're looking for a sleek yet powerful WiFi adapter. The item is more expensive than many alternatives but provides a high transfer speed. However, the driver software can mess up your connection's stability.

Honorable Mention:
Net-Dyn AC1200

NET-DYN USB Wireless WiFi Adapter,AC1200 Dual Band, 5GHz and 2.4GHZ (867Mbps/300Mbps), Super Strength So You Can Say Bye to Buffering, for PC or Mac, for Desktop or Laptop

PROS

  • Lifetime warranty
  • Easily portable design
  • Improves internet connection stability
  • Transfer rate of 1000 Megabits per second
  • Supports Windows 2000 and newer as well as Mac OS 10.9 and up

CONS

  • Struggles to receive signals

Specs

USB Version: USB 3.0

Data Link Protocol: Ethernet

Windows Compatible: Yes 

Mac Compatible: Yes

Review

As an honorable mention, the Net-Dyn AC1200 is not the best on this list unless you're using an older computer. The item runs on Windows versions as old as Windows 2000, an operating system that is now 21 years old. As the adapter has a 1000 megabit transfer rate, you can quickly help an older computer use high internet speeds.

However, due to the item's small and thumb drive-like design, it struggles to receive a strong signal. The device uses USB type 3.0, providing a fast connection that's occasionally lost on older computers that benefit from the operating system support.

Bottom Line

The Net-Dyn AC1200 is an honorable mention as it provides plenty of useful features but struggles with connection over longer distances. The item's design resembles a USB thumb drive that is easy to pocket or adds onto a PC.

 The transfer rate is decent at 1000 megabits and works on Windows versions from 2000 and up.

What Does a USB WiFi Adapter Do and Why Do You Need One?

A USB WiFi adapter is a useful item for any laptop or computer that operates on a wireless network. 

What it Does

A USB WiFi adapter is a USB-connected device that receives and transmits a wireless network signal to your computer or laptop. You can use these products to extend the strength of your internet signal, decreasing lag within moments.

Extra Range

A USB WiFi adapter is an easy way to get a better signal when you're away from a modem. Many products come with an antenna that helps them pick up a more robust connection, resulting in less lag or failure to load webpages.  

Specific models include a dual receiver that picks up both 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies, making it easy to receive a WiFi signal. This dual-frequency option dramatically improves the range and reliability of any internet connection.

Quick and Easy to Install

The benefit of the item being a USB device is the ease of installation for the device. Most of the best USB network adapters are ready to go from the moment you plug them into your computer. These products can come with cradles that allow you to position them in limited space easily.

ASUS USB-AC68 AC1900

How Do USB WiFi Adapters Compare to Other Devices?

A USB WiFi adapter isn't the only way to connect your computer to the internet. You can use a WiFi card or a PCI-e WiFi adapter. These options have their benefits and downfalls when compared to a USB network adapter device.

PCI-e WiFi Card vs USB WiFi Adapter

When comparing prices, the PCI-e WiFi card can cost slightly more and requires an empty slot on your computer's motherboard. However, while the installation is simple, you may damage parts of the PC that are sensitive to static. 

Once installed, the part is superior in speed and network strength to a USB WiFi adapter. However, USB network adapters are a more comfortable option to install and replace, as you simply plug them into a USB port when needed. 

Additionally, the device's antennas aren't stuck within a metal case that interferes with signal strength. The USB option often includes a WiFi extender that increases how far away from your modem you can get.

USB WiFi Adapter vs PCI-e Onboard WiFi

Onboard WiFI is provided directly from your motherboard, requiring no extra part to your computer. The onboard option far exceeds a USB device's latency, making it a more reliable method for lag-free use. 

However, the onboard system will eventually fall out of date and need either a WiFi card or USB adapter. The option is also more expensive compared to a USB WiFi adapter.

Netgear Nighthawk AC1900

Pros and Cons of USB WiFi Adapters

There are multiple reasons a USB WiFi adapter is a superb choice and a few reasons that may seem less inviting. 

Ease of Installation

Unlike with a card or onboard WiFi connectivity, you can easily install a USB network adapter. All you need to do is plug the device into your computer's port, and it will run. Occasionally you'll need to install the driver beforehand if your PC uses an older operating system.

Extends Range

Aside from merely picking up a network connection, USB WiFi adapters can improve the connection's strength. This feature is most common among models that include an antenna and dual-frequency support. The dual-frequency and antenna help to pick up signals better as you move away from your modem.

Weaker Than Alternatives

A USB WiFi adapter is ultimately the worst of all options when it comes to durability, efficiency, and latency. The part stays on the outside of your computer, making it easy to break off and damage. Each piece needs to be replaced within four years as they often die out before reaching that lifetime.

USB WiFi adapters also have a lower-strength antenna and components, making them worse at receiving signal than a motherboard or insertable card option. 

Top USB WiFi Adapter Brands

The following mentions are the top three USB WiFi adapter brands available. Each brand is well known for its quality and reliability.

TP-Link AC600 Archer T2U Plus

TP-Link

TP-Link is a Chinese manufacturer of various computer parts and was founded back in 1996.

The products produced by the company are reliable and often cost-effective, with WiFi adapters available for under $190. Other items made by the manufacturer include wireless routers, WiFi plugs, and PCI-e WiFi cards.

TP-Link's USB WiFi adapter is the best of the best as the company combines small size and an even smaller price. 

ASUS

Asus was founded over 30 years ago in 1989. The company creates many well-known products from Nvidia graphics cards and laptops to USB WiFi adapters. They have made a name for themselves with reliable and trustworthy products.

Asus products are well known to be durable, often including many added features as well. Asus also has a variety of cheaper items made with the same level of quality as the high-end ones.

NETGEAR

Netgear is 25 years old, having been founded in 1996 with many offices currently established worldwide. The company has an extensive history of producing reliable WiFi routers and other products such as USB network adapters. The differences in quality between the budget and premium models have become a minor difference from the original gap.

The WiFi adapters made by Netgear have a sleek design that's easy to store and transport. On most modern computers, the provided USB WiFi adapter drivers are often un-needed as the item works from the moment it's plugged in.

Conclusion

There are a few aspects to consider when buying a USB WiFi adapter. As the product offers several benefits, it's best to compare what you're getting to the price of each item. Picking from the top brands is often a great idea, as the USB WiFi adapter will last longer and provide better connection quality.

People Also Ask

The following are some of the most frequently asked questions that we've answered with short and detailed replies. We'll look at the cost, effectiveness, and longevity of the devices. Questions you may have had, have likely been answered in the article earlier.

Do USB WiFi Adapters Work Well?

A USB WiFi adapter works exceptionally well, providing faster internet than your computer's internal WiFi card. However, lower-end options are less likely to improve your speed as they merely supply the internet to your PC. However, overall, the better the item, the faster the internet speed it'll receive for your computer or laptop.

How Long Do USB WiFi Adapters Last?

As with most technology, the best USB WiFi adapters can stop functioning because of constant use. One of these models to last four years is an achievement, as they often stop working before. Fortunately, the product isn't expensive to replace when it malfunctions.

Net-Dyn AC1200

Is a USB WiFi Adapter Better Than Internal WiFi Options?

Using a WiFi USB adapter is a more comfortable option than installing a new board on a computer, as you can simply plug it into the port. However, the product's effectiveness depends on each item, as more expensive models will provide higher transfer speeds. On older computers, the USB device can speed up your WiFi connection.

How Much is a USB WiFi Adapter?

USB WiFi adapters vary in price as the faster and better models are more expensive. On average, one of these devices will cost you between $10 and $50 for the lower-end options. Models at the price of $50 to $100 are often from well-known brands you already know and trust.



Austin

When the tech company I worked for restructured and I ended up jobless, I decided to put the wealth of knowledge and management skills to use somewhere new. I’d checked out a few buyer’s guides on the site in the past and reached out to the previous owner. A few months later, here we are. Now, I get to be behind the scenes, helping people find the best tech.