Connecting devices to your home network can be tricky if they lack wireless functionality. Many desktop PCs often remain wired, and older laptops can suffer problems with their built-in antennas. Solve these issues with adapters using plug-and-play USB technology, and you'll be online in no time. There are plenty to choose from, so we've rounded up the best USB Wi-Fi adapters in a range of sizes, budgets, and features.
The Nighthawk AC1900 is a chunky USB 3.0 Wi-Fi adapter that includes a dock to keep things tidy. Dual-band Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) over a 3x4 MIMO antenna setup allows transfer speeds to reach up to 1300Mbps on the 5GHz band. The WPS button means it couldn't be easier to set up devices. A breeze to use.
A similar yet slightly more compact design is the USB-AC68 from ASUS. Sacrificing a WPS button drops the price slightly, but all other features are top-notch. Dual-band 802.11ac powered by USB 3.0 delivers speeds up to 1300Mbps over its 3x4 MIMO antennas, seated in a USB port or the included dock.
The USB 3.0-powered Archer T9UH uses dual-band Wi-Fi 5 tech, reaching speeds as fast as 1300Mbps on the 5GHz band. Lacking MU-MIMO features, it instead uses beamforming to manage simultaneous devices. The WPS button means easy connectivity, and the dock helps to position for the best signal.
Best for Wi-Fi 6
For Wi-Fi 6, the range of compatible USB adapters is tiny. Luckily, the DWA-X1850 provides a dual-band signal powered by USB 3.0 but lacks a WPS button. Though it uses the 802.11ax standard, its maximum speeds cap at 1200Mbps on the 5GHz band. If you need a Wi-Fi 6 adapter, this is the one for you.
Best for laptops
The performance offered by the USB-AC53 is commendable considering its size. Barely visible from a port, it uses USB 2.0 to deliver speeds up to 867Mbps on its dual-band 802.11ac signal. Supporting MU-MIMO for multiple devices, its small stature means leaving it plugged in should never be an issue.
Bringing the design down to the bare necessities, the Archer T3U Plus is an adjustable antenna powered by USB 3.0. Providing speeds up to 867Mbps over dual-band 802.11ac, it uses MU-MIMO to keep multiple devices connected without issue and provides incredible value for money.
Choosing the best USB Wi-Fi adapter
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When measured up next to dedicated routers, it's impressive how much performance a USB-powered Wi-Fi adapter can offer, even without pushing for Wi-Fi 6 tech. If you're struggling to connect devices that either lack wireless functionality or have suffered from damaged parts, they're a fantastic solution at a low price point.
For our best overall choice, the Nighthawk A7000 from Netgear might be a little oversized, but it beats out the competition with value for money. If you need to travel but stay connected, you could choose between the best travel routers or the ultra-portable ASUS USB-AC53. It's so tiny you'll almost forget it's there.
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Ben is the channel editor for all things tech-related at Windows Central. That includes PCs, the components inside, and any accessory you can connect to a Windows desktop or Xbox console. Not restricted to one platform, he also has a keen interest in Valve's Steam Deck handheld and the Linux-based operating system inside. Fueling this career with coffee since 2021, you can usually find him behind one screen or another. Find him on Mastodon @email@example.com to ask questions or share opinions.