Networking

Why should you use a USB WiFi adapter?

USB WiFi adapters are one of the most recommended devices if you want to have Wi-Fi wireless connectivity on desktop computers. This type of device can also be used in laptops, to improve the wireless capabilities of the internal WiFi card that we normally have. We currently have a wide variety of USB WiFi adapter, depending on your needs, you can buy some models or others. Today in RedesZone we explain everything you must take into account about this type of device.

What is a USB Wi-Fi adapter and what is it for?

A USB WiFi adapter is a device that connects via USB to our computer, be it a desktop computer or a laptop, and has the appearance of a pendrive, and allows us to connect to Wi-Fi networks. Normally we will have to install the drivers that come with the USB WiFi card itself, although if you use Windows 10, it is very likely that it will automatically recognize the WiFi adapter, and later install the drivers without user intervention. In just a minute, we will have this device up and running.

Wireless WiFi adapters will provide us with the possibility of connecting via Wi-Fi to our router or Wi-Fi access point, in case our computer did not have a WiFi card before. In the case of laptops, all of them have a WiFi card inside, but low-mid-range computers usually have very weak WiFi cards and will provide us with poor wireless performance, both in terms of coverage and speed.

Types of USB interfaces

There are currently two different types of USB WiFi adapters, those that support USB 2.0 are the lowest-end and the cheapest, this type of adapters will not provide us with too much real speed, although we will have better coverage (as long as it has external antennas). Those that support USB 3.0 will always be the fastest, those that will provide us with the best real speed and will not be limited by the maximum speed of the USB 2.0 interface itself. Logically, the adapters that use the USB 3.0 interface are the highest-end and the most expensive.

Nowadays, the most normal thing is to find adapters with a USB 3.0 interface, but if you buy a low-end device, the most normal thing is that it is USB 2.0 to save costs, and, therefore, you will get a lower wireless performance in terms of speed. .

Selectable dual band 2.4GHz or 5GHz

With the departure of the Wi-Fi 4 standard, or also known as 802.11n, USB WiFi routers, access points and adapters began to use the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands extensively, both simultaneously and selectable through firmware. . Today there are USB WiFi cards that only support 2.4GHz, and other WiFi cards that support both 2.4GHz and 5GHz.

It is essential that, if you buy a USB WiFi adapter, it has support for both frequency bands, both 2.4GHz and 5GHz. That they are dual band, does not mean that you can connect to both bands simultaneously, in fact, while routers and APs are simultaneous dual band (they broadcast on both bands at the same time), WiFi adapters are selectable dual band (they can be connected to both bands, but to one band or the other, not both simultaneously) due to hardware limitation, since they do not have two chipsets inside but only one compatible with both bands.

Internal or external antennas

A fundamental aspect of a Wi-Fi adapter is its antennas. The more antennas a WiFi adapter has, the more real speed we will achieve thanks to MIMO technology, therefore, it is recommended that at least one adapter incorporates two antennas.

Regarding whether they must be internal or external, if we are going to connect in places close to the access point or router, they can be internal without problems and we will obtain a very good wireless performance, normally the adapters with internal antennas are physically very small, ideal for connect them to laptops.

D-Link DWA-181 – AC1300 Nano WiFi USB Stick / Adapter (MU-MIMO, Ultra-Compact, Security with WPA3 encryption, Dual-Band, up to 867 Mbps in 5 GHz or 400 Mbps in 2.4 GHz)

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EUR

16.18

If we are going to connect in places far from the access point or router, it is highly recommended that the antennas be external, otherwise, we could have low coverage, and, therefore, low real wireless speed. Normally this type of adapters with external antennas are physically larger than those with internal antennas, and, in addition, they usually have a USB base to connect the device on the table, and not in a rear USB port where it achieves less Wi-Fi speed real.

ASUS USB-AC68 – AC1900 USB 3.0 Wi-Fi Dual Band Wireless Adapter (AiRadar, MIMO 3T4R)


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EUR

39.94

If you don’t care about the size of the adapter, you will always get better performance with WiFi adapters with external antennas, but if you are going to use it in a laptop continuously, it is very likely that the size is an issue. However, there are Wi-Fi cards with two antennas, one internal and one external for cases in which we will connect from far away, this “hybrid” combination is ideal for not having so many external antennas.

ASUS USB-AC56 – AC1300 Wireless WiFi Network Adapter and Antenna (USB, WPS, WLAN), Black


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EUR

33.65

Wi-Fi versions to use

When we go to buy a WiFi adapter, the most important thing is to always look at the compatible Wi-Fi version, and also the Wi-Fi class, these two parameters will tell us the maximum performance that we will be able to achieve, that is, the speed maximum we will achieve.

Today we must buy USB WiFi adapters that are at least Wi-Fi 5, this means that it is compatible with the 802.11ac standard, and, therefore, we will have great wireless performance. Very soon we will see the first WiFi adapters with Wi-Fi 6, which will allow us to obtain high wireless transfer rates if you have a Wi-Fi router or an AP with this standard, some of the improvements that we will obtain with Wi-Fi 6 cards. They are:

  • MU-MIMO support so that the router can send us information at the same time together with other devices, and optimize the overall performance of the wireless network.
  • OFDMA
  • Energy saving thanks to TWT (Target Wake Time), ideal for laptops.
  • BSS Color, to mitigate interference with other Wi-Fi networks.

Not only is the Wi-Fi version to be used very important, but we must also check if it supports the 802.11b / g / n standards, that is, if it supports the 2.4GHz band to connect. There are some models of Wi-Fi adapters that do not support this band, and only support the 5GHz band.

Wi-Fi class 5 or Wi-Fi 6 you should buy

Just as important is the Wi-Fi version of the adapter, as is the Wi-Fi class. Normally we will see a nomenclature like “AC1200” on the adapter, this means the combined speed of the two Wi-Fi frequency bands. The higher this number, the higher the performance (actual speed) we will get. If we see that “AC” appears it means that it is Wi-Fi 5, and if we see that “AX” appears, it means that it is Wi-Fi 6.

Currently, we can find the following Wi-Fi classes in Wi-Fi adapters, depending on our needs (and budget), it would be convenient for us to buy one or the other:

  • AC433 : it is an adapter with an antenna, capable of achieving up to 433Mbps in the 5GHz band with Wi-Fi 5 only, it is not dual band.
  • AC600 : it is a WiFi adapter with an antenna and dual band, we can get up to 150Mbps in the 2.4GHz band with Wi-Fi 4, and up to 433Mbps in the 5GHz band with Wi-Fi 5.
  • AC750 : it is a WiFi adapter with two antennas and dual band, we can get up to 300Mbps in the 2.4GHz band with Wi-Fi 4, and up to 433Mbps in the 5GHz band with Wi-Fi 5.
Netgear A6100-100PES – Wireless Dual Band Micro USB Network Adapter with WiFi technology (AC750, USB 1.1, USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 Available)


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EUR

7.84

  • AC867 : it is a WiFi adapter with two antennas, capable of achieving up to 867Mbps in the 5GHz band with Wi-Fi 5 only, it is not dual band.
  • AC1200 : it is a WiFi adapter with two antennas and dual band, we can get up to 300Mbps in the 2.4GHz band with Wi-Fi 4, and up to 867Mbps in the 5GHz band with Wi-Fi 5.
  • AC1300 : it is a WiFi adapter with two antennas and dual band, we can get up to 400Mbps in the 2.4GHz band with Wi-Fi 4 and 256QAM, and up to 867Mbps in the 5GHz band with Wi-Fi 5.
  • AC1750: it is a WiFi adapter with three antennas and dual band, we can get up to 450Mbps in the 2.4GHz band with Wi-Fi 4, and up to 1,300Mbps in the 5GHz band with Wi-Fi 5. They are high-end.
  • AC1900 : it is a WiFi adapter with three antennas and dual band, we can get up to 600Mbps in the 2.4GHz band with Wi-Fi 4 and 256QAM, and up to 1,300Mbps in the 5GHz band with Wi-Fi 5. They are high-end .
Netgear A7000-100PES – Nighthawk USB Network Adapter (with Magnetic Base and AC1900 WiFi Speed ​​to Improve Steaming and Gaming Transmission, USB 3.0, Dual Band)

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EUR

50.15

Cards with WiFi 6 will mainly have the following characteristics:

  • AX1800: it is a WiFi adapter with two antennas and dual band, we can get up to 574Mbps in the 2.4GHz band with Wi-Fi 6, and up to 1.201Mbps in the 5GHz band with Wi-Fi 6. They are high-end.
  • AX1800: it is a WiFi adapter with two antennas and dual band, we can get up to 574Mbps in the 2.4GHz band with Wi-Fi 6, and up to 2.402Mbps in the 5GHz band with Wi-Fi 6 thanks to the use of 160MHz width channel. They are high-end, a card of this type is the Intel AX200, but it is only available via PCIe, either on the board with an M2 connector or through the typical PCIe connector on the motherboard.

The manufacturer D-Link has presented a few weeks ago a new USB WiFi card with the Wi-Fi 6 standard, and with a Realtek chipset. This WiFi card is AX1800 class, therefore, we have two internal antennas in MU-MIMO 2T2R configuration, we can achieve a speed of up to 574Mbps in the 2.4GHz band and up to 1201Mbps in the 5GHz band, however, we do not have 160MHz channel width, a feature that is highly essential, and which we are now going to talk about in detail.

160MHz channel width compatible

On the 5GHz band, either with Wi-Fi 5 or Wi-Fi 6 standards, Wi-Fi routers and access points have the ability to use 160MHz channel widths. This means that, with the same number of antennas on the WiFi adapter, we can achieve twice the speed. Normally the Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 standard have 80MHz of channel width only, if we double this channel width, we will be doubling the speed without doubling the number of WiFi antennas inside (or outside) the adapter.

One of the best WiFi cards that we can buy today is the Intel AX200 model, but it is always through connecting PCIe, either in a desktop computer or in a laptop. This card model has compatibility with 160MHz channel width, in RedesZone we have achieved a real speed of 1.2Gbps with the most powerful WiFi 6 routers, so we are clearly outperforming the popular Gigabit Ethernet wired connections. It is clear that the future is to have all the equipment with WiFi 6, however, we must pay close attention to buying a card compatible with 160MHz of channel width, otherwise, we will not be able to exceed the actual 1000Mbps of speed.

What are the best to buy?

In RedesZone we have tested a large number of WiFi adapters, both USB and PCIe, you can access our ranking of the best USB WiFi adapters where you will find all the in-depth analysis ordered by valuation. Before buying any of them, we must pay close attention to their technical specifications, both in the Wi-Fi version, WiFi class, whether or not it supports 160MHz, and even if they have external or internal antennas.

Currently in our test laboratory we have the Intel AX200 card integrated in the Lenovo X1 Carbon laptop, which has given us a speed of true 1.2Gbps, a real outrage because we are exceeding the wired Gigabit Ethernet speed of routers and switches. It is clear that WiFi 6 is here to stay, and having a card compatible with the new standard and having 160MHz is essential.

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