5 USB WiFi Adapters: Which One Is The Best For You?

The USB Adapters You Need To Boost Your WiFi Speed

Your WiFi sucks, and everyone knows it. Is your built-in card too slow or not showing up to work? Does your new PC require a USB WiFi adapter to feel complete inside? No matter the case, you’re going to find an answer here.

A USB WiFi adapter can be your best friend or your worst enemy. In this case, you’re minutes away from finding a match made in wireless heaven. You’ve searched far and wide for a reliable device that also has speed and range to match.

In A Hurry? Jump To The Front Of The Line!

Luckily, the top choices you came here for lie just ahead in the next section. You should also brush up on info about WiFi speed, frequency, channel width, and MIMO tech. It’s super serious WiFi related stuff that will help you in the long run.

Top 5 Best USB WiFi Adapters: The Short Version

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Standard| 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Speed| 2.4 GHz: 600 Mbps, 5 GHz: 1300 Mbps Frequency| 2.4 GHz / 5 GHz Dimensions| 4.52 x 1.18 x 0.68 inches

Standard| 802.11a/b/ac Speed| 5GHz: 867Mbps, 2.4GHz: 300Mbps Frequency| 2.4GHz / 5GHz
Dimensions| 3.5 x 1.2 x 0.5 inches

Standard| 802.11a/b/g Speed| 5GHz: 867Mbps, 2.4GHz 300Mbps Frequency|
2.4GHz / 5GHz Dimensions| 9.9 x 3.9 x 0.7 inches

Standard| 802.11b/g/n Speed| 150Mbps Frequency| 2.4GHz Dimensions|
0.73 x 0.58 x 0.27 inches

Standard| 802.11 a/b/g/n Speed| 5GHz: 867Mbps, 2.4GHz: 300Mbps Frequency| 2.4GHz / 5GHz Dimensions| 6.7 x 3.5 x 0.5  inches

How To Select The Right USB Wi-Fi Adapter For Your Needs

Are you building a new gaming pc or looking to replace your laptops dead WiFi in the quickest way possible? Then getting a USB adapter is the easiest, plug and play solution for you—no assembly required.

It’s super easy to improve the Wi-Fi performance of your PC or Laptop. That’s because wireless tech has shown a steady advance in both speed and range in the last two years. But, how does that new tech apply to your situation or budget?

The IEEE Wi-Fi identity is 802.11, and it comes in seven common standards. They signify the rate, frequency, channel width, and MIMO of the Wi-Fi signal you use. If any of this sounds confusing, you’re in luck. You’re about to get more info than you want. Yay!

Get your pen and paper ready—or open google docs. You do live in 2019 after all.

How WiFi Works in 4 Minutes
A quick run down about how WiFi works.

WTF Do All Of These Different Letters And Numbers Mean?

So, you’re trying to decide on a USB WiFi adapter, but you’re stuck on the details. What is 802.11 and what do the letters mean after it?

For starters, 802.11 is an identity given by IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers) at random, to the standard of networks we use today. The letter that follows 802.11 lets you know what kind of heat your Wi-Fi packs.

For instance, 802.11n has a different frequency and max data rate than 802.11ac.

Breaking Down The Seven Wi-Fi Standards

There seven common standards are:

  • 802.11ac Wave 2
  • 802.11ac Wave 1
  • 802.11n
  • 802.11g
  • 802.11a
  • 802.11b
  • 802.11 Legacy

So, what makes each differ from one to the other? You will learn how to break down frequency, channel width, MIMO and Max Data Rate for each.

The 802.11 Legacy WiFi Standard

Many don’t mention this one, yet, it’s THE OG standard from 1997 that began the Wi-Fi burst. It had a max speed of 2Mbits/second and range of 70ft inside, 300ft outside—great for the time era. It used the 2.4 GHz frequency and had a channel width of 20 MHz.

Lastly, it’s the only standard to use the Frequency-Hopping Spread Spectrum, which made it hard to hijack the signal, as it changed at random. Not long after, 802.11b emerged to become the new standard.

The 802.11b WiFi Standard

The successor to the original 802.11 “Legacy.” Though it was born at the same time as 802.11a, it was more popular due to the low cost and availability at the time.

Also, 802.11b was most noted for its specs. These included using the 2.4GHz frequency, with a range up to 150ft inside, and at speeds up to 11Mbps. Like it’s predecessor, it operates at a 20 MHz channel width.

Released in 1999 at the same time as 802.11b—was the less famous 802.11a.

The 802.11a WiFi Standard

The first standard to use a 5GHz frequency was 802.11a. What made 802.11a so much better than 802.11b? Speed baby! It was able to transfer data at speeds up to 54Mbps. It was also more stable than 2.4GHz because it didn’t have interference from other signals. But, why wasn’t it as popular as 802.11b?

Why else? Cost! However, 802.11a, with its desirable specs, found a place within business networks. The specs that made it a good match for the business world was its data rate up to 54Mbps, stable 5GHz frequency, and a 20MHz channel width.

At any rate, you can bet the USB WiFi adapter was a long way from popular during this time.

The 802.11g WiFi Standard

Meet the heroic standard that bridged the divide between the 802.11a and 802.11b—802.11g. It used the same 2.4GHz band as 802.11b, yet was able to use the speed of 802.11a. With a small firmware upgrade, 802.11g and b were able to share access points.

It was able to hit a high data speed by using Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM)—the same as 802.11a. To recap it has a data rate of 54Mbps, 2.4GHz frequency, and 20MHz channel width.

Next came the rise of MIMO and the birth of 802.11n.

The 802.11n WiFi Standard

Wi-Fi changed for good when this standard entered the scene. 802.11n was the first to use Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (MIMO)—a tech that allowed data to be sent and received at the same time. It was now able to reach speeds much faster than previous standards.

Lastly, you will see that the specs of 802.11n vary when compared to its elders. First, it was able to reach a speed up to 450Mbps, use both a 2.4GHz or 5GHz frequency, 20, 40 MHz channel width, and Single User MIMO (SU-MIMO).

So, how can 802.11n be improved at this point in time?

The 802.11ac WiFi Standard—Wave 1

Welcome to the year 2016 where we view 802.11n speeds as “slow.” But, how did this come to be? You haven’t met 802.11ac (good or bad that rhyme is staying in). This standard gets split into another “wave” shortly after it’s inception—this is wave 1. What exactly is wave 1? Well, it’s a slower version of wave 2.

Indeed, 802.11ac was another leap from the most recent wireless tech, but what made it so? Try three antennas, data rates up to 866.7Mbps, an 80 MHz channel width, a 5 GHz frequency and the same SU-MIMO as 802.11n.

Now, that wave 1 is out of the way, what the hell is ac wave 2? If you guessed that you are about to find out you are correct!

The 802.11ac WiFi Standard—Wave 2

The IEEE decided to introduce improvements to the 802.11ac standard in the form of different “waves.” As such, the first update was known as 802.11ac—wave 2. How does the most modern identity, nearly eclipse it’s wave 1 sibling?

In short, it’s our obsession with speed! Just look at the specs for wave 2. In theory, wave 2 can reach speeds up to 6.9 Gbps—so much wow! It also uses a 5GHz frequency, an 80,80+80, 160MHz channel width and Multi-User MIMO (MU-MIMO).

To explain, MU-MIMO makes it possible for multiple devices to get on and off the wave 2 network. Next, the option of the 160 MHz channel width gives ease of access to large file transfers. Though it’s not as widely available as wave 1, it adds more compatible devices to the list often.

802.11 WiFi Standards Info Graph

And that about covers all the basic info you need to know about IEEE protocol 802.11

Top 5 Best USB WiFi Adapters: The Long Version

We picked our top 5 USB WiFi adapters, based on different applications. That is to say; we could show you 10 or 100 USB WiFi adapters. But, that doesn’t help you pick the best one for your needs right?

So, we picked the “best” at the top of the only five categories you need to focus on. Do you want to a USB WiFi adapter titled “best to look at?” No, you don’t, so we cut that crap out.

The Best For Gaming

ASUS AC68 USB WiFi Adapter

ASUS USB-AC68 Dual-Band AC1900 USB WiFi Adapter

Asus’ latest 802.11ac WiFi device to use USB 3.0 allows you to plug and play into your gaming desktop or laptop at speeds up to 1300 Mbps at 5 GHz or 600 Mbps at 2.4 GHz. The blazing speed and reliability provided by this adapter ensure you will have the best in-game connection.

The Good: Using the latest tech, the ASUS USB-AC68 is future proof, using 3×4 MU-MIMO Antennas allows a solid signal to fling data back and forth thru the air with ease. The dual external antennas can be folded up for easy transportation and unfolded to maximize reception on the go.

Lastly, not only is it the best WiFi adapter for gaming but it also instantly streams Netflix in HD, as soon as you hit play. It’s like watching a rocket launch—minus the fire and loud noises.

The Bad: Some reviewers are reporting dropped connections and driver incompatibility. According to ASUS many of these issues stem from not using the USB 3.0 port or updating the drivers correctly on Windows 10. Though it should work in a USB 2.0 port, the performance could degrade by doing so.

Finally, the only other negative is the price tag, which is around $80 at the time of writing this review. If that is out of your price range, consider checking out the next adapter—at half of the price.

The Best All Purpose

NET-DYN All Purpose USB WiFi Adapter

NET-DYN AC1200 USB WiFi Adapter

A small family owned, U.S. based company known as NET-DYN has made ease of connection their goal. The one thing that put’s them above the rest is the lifetime guarantee on their products. They have a willingness to stand behind what they produce—and that says a lot in 2019.

The Good: The NET-DYN AC1200 WiFi adapter uses USB 3.0 with dual-band tech to deliver speeds of 867 Mbps on 5GHz and 300 Mbps on 2.4 GHz. It has an internal antenna, allowing for great portability with a laptop, yet is still able to put up a good connection inside of 100 yards.

Also, not to beat a dead horse but a lifetime guarantee is very appealing. Lastly, the price is on point and hovers around $40 which is a steal for this easy to use tech.

The Bad: Though there is a lifetime guarantee, some users have reported difficulty contacting the manufacturer. That’s mostly due to not having a phone number—only an online contact form.

Second, are the reports of lost signals, which is the main reason it didn’t win best for gaming. However, that seems to be a trend with many USB WiFi adapters on the market.

The Longest Range

BrosTrend Long Range Wireless USB

BrosTrend 1200Mbps Long Range USB WiFi Adapter

With two large 5 dBi external antennas, you will be able to pick up a WiFi signal over 100 yards from your router. In other words, if you’re worried about it reaching the other end of your house—don’t be.

The Good: Of course, you expect the range to be stellar, and it delivers. But, it also has the speed to add on top of that at 867 Mbps on 5 GHz and 300 Mbps on 2.4 GHz. It also uses fast USB 3.0 tech and comes with a cradle for the WiFi adapter to rest up to 5ft away from your PC. Last, it works with every standard (ac/a/b/g/n).

The Bad: First, it’s not the most attractive device on the web. The dual antennas don’t necessarily, make it the most portable to use with a laptop either, though it’s doable. That’s to say; they may get in the way in tight spaces such as an airplane or car.

Finally, it doesn’t have support for Linux in any of its forms. While that is a small negative, it needs a mention if you use Linux instead of Windows for your OS.

The Most Compact

TP-Link compact USB WiFi Adapter

TP-Link TL-WN725N N150 USB WiFi Adapter

If you’re looking for an adapter that is obscure and USB capable, then TP-Link has the WiFi device for you. Though it isn’t the quickest, it keeps a low profile for someone always on the move.

The Good: As mentioned before it’s compact and doesn’t get in the way, yet also has a decent speed of 150 Mbps over a 2.4 GHz frequency. Second, it’s compatible with Windows, Linux and Mac OS so that you can use it on any laptop.

Also, it’s cheap at around $12 at the time of this article. It’s perfect for the traveler wanting to stream video calls or surf the web.

The Bad: First off, it uses the 802.11n standard, which isn’t terrible—it just isn’t 802.11ac. Which means it’s possible to use for gaming, but you should explore other options first. Last, is the reported short range with reports of poor connection 50ft away from the router.

Though it doesn’t boast the numbers of the other adapters, it works as a cheap USB replacement, if your built-in wifi dies on you.

The Top Of Your Budget

Inamax 1200 Mbps Budget USB WiFi Adapter

Inamax AC1200 USB WiFi Adapter

So, it appears you’re looking for performance on a budget. You want the best of both speed and range, yet don’t have the funds for a high price tag? You’re in luck! The Inamax 802.11ac is the USB 3.0 wifi adapter for you.

The Good: First let’s talk price because this device hovers around $22 at the time of writing this, which is remarkable given the features it packs. It has features which rival more expensive USB adapters, for instance, a speed of 867 Mbps on 5 GHz and 300 Mbps on 2.4 GHz. Also, it has a range up to 100 yards with one large single 5 dBs antenna, which is more than you need inside of your home.

Last but not least it’s compatible with all current WiFi standards (ac/a/b/g/n) and supports both Windows and Mac OS.

The Bad: It’s mainly one big antenna, so it isn’t the most obscure WiFi adapter for a Laptop. It’s a foreign brand so the quality of the parts isn’t what you would get with a domestic product. It doesn’t have speeds consistent with other AC1200 USB adapters. Finally, when asked about the speed issue, Inamax vaguely reported that it’s due to users not switching to 2.4 GHz at longer ranges.

It’s worth mentioning, that when you’re on a budget, you can pretty much expect this from most foreign brands. You get what you pay for is a true statement, so take your pick!

The Results For The Best USB WiFi Adapters Are Out

How you connect to the web is essential, and you shouldn’t take your choice for the best WiFi adapter lightly. Hopefully, you’ve thought why you need one, and what you need it to do. Once you answer those two questions, selecting a USB device becomes very easy.