While virtually all laptops ship with built-in WiFi these days, they sometimes come with better wireless hardware. If you’re a desktop PC user, you’ll probably get an Ethernet network adapter included with your computer, but not WiFi.
Either way, you’ll want to pick the best USB WiFi adapter for your needs and budget, which means you’re in luck as we’ve listed twelve of the best WiFi adapters, each in its way.
What to look for in a USB WiFi adapter
Buying a USB WiFi adapter for your wireless network can be more complicated than you might expect. There are many different WiFi standards to deal with and different USB standards.
Then you also need to decide if you want a large dongle with an antenna that can support high speeds over long distances or a compact dongle that can easily fit in your laptop bag.
It’s a good idea to get a dual-band WiFi dongle so you can connect to access points that use 2.4Ghz or 5Ghz WiFi bands. If you’re only going to be using your USB adapter with your home router and only care that they’re compatible, then it’s not a big deal.
As for WiFi standards, don’t worry too much about buying a WiFi 6 adapter unless you know you’re looking for a WiFi 6 router with broadband that will test your fast connection speed.
You may also want to keep an eye out for “beamforming technology,” which gives WiFi signals more directionality. A beamforming device can target your router’s relative position more directly and maximum transmits power. It can be crucial if you are looking to push the limits of WiFi penetration and range!
A note for macOS Big Sur and Linux users
All modern Apple Macs have a built-in WiFi module, but you may not be happy with it for several reasons. Unfortunately, during our research for this article, it became apparent that since macOS Big Sur, support for third-party USB WiFi adapters in the operating system has become spotty at best. Most of these dongles don’t have an official driver software for macOS, so you’ll be forced to rely on third-party drivers, if any.
If you’re buying a USB WiFi adapter specifically for your Big Sur or newer Mac, do some research before you buy it to confirm that it will work with modern macOS systems. If you make a mistake, remember that retailers like Amazon are usually happy to refund or exchange tech products.
As for Linux, things are better there, as most desktop Linux distributions support several common WiFi chipsets. This means you may not even have to install drivers for the adapter. Still, if you’re a Linux user, double-check that an adapter is compatible with your version of Linux.
Even if you’re dual-booting Windows 10, you still need to have proper drives when booting into Linux.
Best USB WiFi Adapters
- Best Online Gaming Adapter: Asus USB-AC68 Dual Band USB 3.0 WiFi Adapter
- AC1900 fast speeds
- Foldable for portability
- 3×4 MIMO for low-latency gaming
Gamers have very different requirements than other WiFi users. It’s not so much the maximum speed of the connection that matters but how little latency there is between you and the server. A lag spike can mean the difference between taking a virtual bullet and dishing it out.
The Asus USB-AC68 is designed to ensure no unnecessary delays when sending or receiving multiplayer game data. Assuming you also have a good gaming router, the 3×4 MIMO design can send and receive data simultaneously without interference.
This is also a WiFi adapter that uses beamforming technology to ensure that the signal between the adapter and the router remains rock solid. While this adapter is best for desktop gaming systems, it’s also portable.
It has foldable antennas, so if you want to slip it into your laptop bag, you can do that without much of a problem. If you’re not an online or LAN gamer, the AC68 has little appeal at its price, but if you’re serious about multiplayer, this is the one.
- Very fast
- Cool magnetic crib idea
Netgear Nighthawk routers are highly respected in the gaming community and among those who appreciate high-end home networking equipment that can handle modern high-bandwidth, fiber-based LAN applications such as large file transfers and home transmission.
The Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 USB Adapter offers ridiculous WiFi transfer speeds in a compact form factor. An excellent magnetic desktop base is included, which you can use to optimally position the adapter on any magnetic metal surface. There’s also a clever folding antenna built-in, so you can easily take it with you to use your laptop.
This is a dual-band adapter, so you don’t have to worry about being unable to connect to older 2.4 GHz routers. Significantly, Netgear is compatible with macOS. Based on the forum articles we reviewed, it seems to work on Big Sur and newer, though some users had to jump through a few hoops to get everything set up.
- Includes Bluetooth and WiFi in one device
Sometimes you only have so many USB ports available, especially on older computers. If you have an older desktop system that doesn’t have WiFi or Bluetooth, this Edimax 2-in-1 adapter will add both technologies to your design in one go.
Unfortunately, this is still a WiFi 4 device, so it only supports speeds of 150Mbps on the 2.4 GHz band. However, for an older computer, you want to connect to the wireless world; that’s more than enough.
- Best Premium Adapter: Trendnet TEW-809UB
- awesome design
- removable antenna
- Great performance
The TEW-809UB looks like a bug stuck in its back, but this WiFi adapter offers fast AC1900 speeds at a great price and doubles as a long-range adapter when you need it.
Those antennas are removable, so if you want to carry your adapter in a laptop bag, you can take them off and avoid worrying about something breaking.
You use a single USB WiFi adapter at home and on the go. Thanks to dual-band support, the TEW-809UB offers excellent performance, cutting-edge wireless technology, and compatibility with any router.
It’s a bit pricey, but it’s worth every dollar reading about customers’ real-world performance experience.
- Very accessible
- Simple design with an adjustable antenna
- Dual-band WiFi 5 (802.11ac)
Sometimes all you need is to add WiFi to a computer with broken, missing, or outdated WiFi. You certainly don’t want to be surprised by such a simple feature.
USB WiFi adapters can cost upwards of $100 if you want the latest cutting-edge hardware, but TP-Link has the other end of the market covered with the AC600 with a full 600Mbps capacity.
You can buy five of these adapters for $100 and still have change for a burger and fries. So it’s a great way to add WiFi to your home’s computers. This is a WiFi 5 (802.11ac) adapter with a high-gain dual-band antenna.
It supports 200Mbps in the 2.4Ghz band and 433Mbps in the 5Ghz band. This adapter should work with any modern router or access point, and the speeds on offer should be enough for any single user.
Unfortunately, this is an omnidirectional adapter without beamforming technology, so the range may be shorter than expected. Still, you should use WiFi extenders to ensure your home has full WiFi coverage!
- Good price
- Proper speed limited by USB 2
This nano adapter from Netgear is designed to fit into a USB port and leave it alone. There’s little danger of this snagging on something and breaking, so it’s perfect for laptops where you may need to move the computer around and want to only partially unplug your WiFi adapter when you put the laptop in your handbag.
This is a dual-band adapter, so you won’t have a problem connecting to any router you come across. Netgear claims 300 Mbps and 867 Mbps for each band, but temper your expectations since this is a USB 2.0 device. USB 2.0 itself is limited to 480 Mbps throughput.
Realistically, you’ll max out at a few hundred megabits, but this is more than enough for most mobile users. In any case, there is only so much you can get out of the tiny antennas in a nano adapter. The main appeal of the A6150 is that it is compact, reliable, and affordable. Very fast speeds.
We’ve culled from the various user reviews to bypass the software on the included CD-ROM (who has a CD drive these days?) and grab the latest driver from the Netgear website.
The A6150 is a great way to upgrade WiFi on older laptops as a plug-and-forget solution.
Best portable antenna system: Edimax EW-7833UAC
- Fast performance
- Excellent reception in a compact dongle
Regarding compact, portable WiFi adapters, you generally have to choose between a relatively weak internal antenna array or a clunky external antenna system. Edimax has come up with a third option for integrating a collapsible antenna into an adapter body the size of a flash drive.
It may look small, but this is an AC1750 802.11ac adapter. So you can push the megabits if the router supports it. It hides three transmitting and three receiving antennas and can adjust 180 degrees to get the best signal.
If you are okay with having a rather long adapter sticking out of your laptop, this is a simple adapter to fold up and slide into your laptop bag pocket.
Best for OS Compatibility: NinePlus USB WiFi Adapter
- Dual antenna design
- Excellent compatibility with many operating systems
When adding a WiFi adapter to a modern Windows system, it’s usually a matter of plugging it in, and everything works. If you are not a Windows user or are using some variant of Linux, it cannot be easy to find adapters that work.
Nineplus has a great reputation for being compatible with various operating systems. Including the ones that are not so conventional and the ones that are now old. So if you want to add WiFi to a system that isn’t running the latest version of Windows, Nineplus is a great option.
- fast performance
- USB 3
- Fantastic price for the specs.
Common wisdom holds that something can be fast or cheap but not both. The T4U Plus takes that wisdom, rolls it up, and throws it straight in the trash.
For around $25, the T4U Plus offers AC1300 performance (around 1300 Mbps total) and excellent stability.
The T4U Plus uses a dual antenna system to provide a stronger and more stable connection to your WiFi network. It also features MU-MIMO technology to make the most of your bandwidth, sending and receiving data simultaneously.
Unlike other adapters in this price range, the T4U Plus is a USB 3.0 device, which means it’s capable of the advertised speeds of 400 Mbps and 876 Mbps for each band. Products like the NETGEAR AC1200 USB 2.0 WiFi Mini Adapter offer speeds of 1200 Mbps, but USB 2.0 is limited to 480 Mbps!
Unless you have a specific use case for high-performance WiFi, most people should be happy with T4U Plus as a WiFi solution for a desktop system.
Best Long Range WiFi: D-Link DWA-192
- awesome design
- wall penetrating power
If nothing else, the D-Link DWA-192 stands out with its interesting spherical shape. Memes about “pondering your orb” come to mind, but we think this WiFi adapter looks so cool you won’t want to hide it.
The spherical shape hides a formidable array of antenna and transmission hardware specifically designed to extend your WiFi range and reduce the need for repeaters or a mesh WiFi system.
This is an AC1900 adapter that uses a USB 3.0 interface, so there’s a lot of potential speed on offer here, assuming your router can keep up. The DWA-192 uses advanced beamforming technology to target your router, ensuring no transmit power is wasted.
D-Link claims that the DWA-192 offers three times the range of typical WiFi adapters and can help overcome signal loss due to walls and other objects between you and the router. Since this adapter costs less than $50, it’s also cheaper than many WiFi extenders without sacrificing speed.
The only real problem with the DWA-192 is that it could be more compact. This is definitely for home use only, but other than that, this wonder ball should amp up your browsing like nothing else.
Best portable WiFi 6 dongle: D-Link DWA-X1850
- All the benefits of WiFi 6
- compact design
- High speed
WiFi 6 is the latest and greatest WiFi standard. It offers higher speeds than previous WiFi standards and many improvements in reliability, latency, and security. Unfortunately, your current laptop or desktop most likely doesn’t have WiFi 6, so even if you buy a WiFi 6 router or find one in the wild, you won’t be able to take full advantage of it.
While buying a new computer in the future is one way to solve the problem, in the meantime, you can use this great compact adapter from D-Link to upgrade any USB 3-compatible computer.
While you can’t get the full 3,000 Mbps speeds of a WiFi 6 PCIe card, 574 and 1,200 Mbps on each band is nothing to sneeze at. It’s certainly faster than any USB WiFi adapter.
Best Compact Long Reach Adapter: BrosTrend 1200
While we love the D-Link DWA-192 with its alien orb design and long-range capability, it’s too bulky to take anywhere. If you need to take a long-range WiFi adapter to a workplace or some other open space where you can’t be too close to the router or access point, the BrosTrend 1200 is a better solution.
The adapter comes with a 5 dBi high gain antenna that allows you to tilt the antenna towards the router and get a connection from long distances. This dual-band wireless USB 3 adapter supports 300 and 867 Mbps on each band.
Plug in that wireless power.
A fast and reliable wireless connection is different. By choosing the right wireless adapter, you eliminate the frustration of poor connections and leave freedom and convenience behind.
A WiFi connection is an essential part of life, and one of the adapters above should keep you connected to the global web.