From smart home devices to virtual reality games, it is undeniable that technology has advanced rapidly over the past few years. Desktop computer peripherals like keyboards, mice, speakers, monitors, and graphics cards have also improved drastically. If there’s one thing that hasn’t changed much, it’s the need for a better wireless internet connection.
If you connect to your router wirelessly, you need the best USB Wi-Fi adapter for gaming to keep yourself from losing matches due to the lag.
To make everything easier for you, we’ve compiled all the best options on the market today. We also included tips on how to pick the best one for your needs.
Best USB Wi-Fi Adapter in 2021
1. TRENDnet AC1900 High-Power Dual-Band Wireless USB Adapter (TEW-809UB)
Wireless Standard: AC1900 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac | Frequencies: 2.4 GHz + 5 GHz | Wi-Fi Speed: up to 1300 Mbps
At first glance, you might mistake the TRENDnet TEW-809UB for a four-legged spider. But what looks like legs are actually removable antennas on a rectangular base that contains the power port and network controls.
The TEW-809UB supports up to 600 Mbps on the 2.4 Hz band and 1300 Mbps on the 5.0 GHz band. It can match the speed and reliability of an ethernet connection thanks to beamforming technology. If you don’t know what beamforming is, it is a wireless technique that directs the signal towards the receiving device instead of continuously spreading the signal in all directions from the router.
The package includes a resource CD containing the drivers and manual. However, Windows 10 should already have all the software needed to set up the TEW-809UB.
You will also find a three-feet USB cable, which is a bit short, so you might have to buy an extension cable to set it up conveniently.
Once everything is installed, the blue LED should light up for about five seconds to indicate that everything is set up correctly.
Since the TEW-809UB features both 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz bands, you can maximize your connection by choosing the appropriate frequency for your devices. If you are close to the router, take advantage of beamforming technology and use the 5.0 band. If you are far away from the router, the 2.4 GHz band is the more reliable option.
2. Netgear Nighthawk A7000 Wi-Fi USB Adapter AC1900
Wireless Standard: AC1900 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac | Frequencies: 2.4 GHz + 5.0 GHz | Wi-Fi Speed: up to 1300 Mbps
Based on the picture, you would assume that the Netgear Nighthawk A7000 is the size of an ordinary flash drive. But it is actually twice the width and thickness of your average flash drive.
The Nighthawk A7000 has all the hardware needed to provide a stable connection. It has a flip-up directional antenna equipped with features such as MIMO and 802.11ac wave. It supports speeds of up to 600 Mbps on the 2.4 Hz band 1300 Mbps on the 5.0 GHz band to give you an edge when gaming competitively.
The Nighthawk A7000 comes with a magnetic extension dock that allows you to place it on any metal surface. However, the magnet can damage your laptop if placed near sensitive components.
USB Wi-Fi adapters are notorious for having a short omnidirectional range. However, the Nighthawk A7000 has a unique design that lets it outperform most of its competitors. You can increase performance by up to 30% by rotating the adapter to the direction of the router.
The Nighthawk A7000 has a 3×4 MIMO design, with four download streams and three upload streams. It allows you to enjoy an uninterrupted internet connection while transferring large files over to your local network.
If you need something that provides a reliable connection over a long range, then the Nighthawk A7000 is the perfect Wi-Fi adapter for gaming.
3. D-Link DWA-192 AC1900 Adapter
Wireless Standard: AC1900 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac | Frequencies: 2.4 GHz + 5.0 GHz | Wi-Fi Speed: Up to 1900 Mbps
I know what you’re thinking, but that isn’t a Pokeball. Compact and spherical, the D-Link DWA-192 is designed to fit inside your bag. It comes with a cable to connect to your desktop or laptop computer. It may not be as convenient as USB stick adapters, but it is convenient enough to bring on your work trips or the daily commute.
Even though the DWA-192 has a spherical design, it doesn’t roll over easily. It has a flat base with a rubber ring to help keep it in place.
The DWA-192 features a USB 3.0 port for the cable. It has a WPS button to connect to routers that support WPS and another button that enables the lighting around the midsection of the adapter. This light also indicates the connection quality.
The DWA-192 has a dual-band configuration that lets you reach speeds of up to 1900 Mbps (600 Mbps on the 2.4 GHz band and 1300 Mbps on the 5.0 GHz band). It also supports beamforming technology, allowing you to have consistent and strong signals.
The DWA-192 should work on a Windows 10 computer right away, but it also comes with a CD that installs the necessary drivers. You can also go to the D-Link website and download the required drivers.
If you have the router and your computer in the same room, the 5.0 GHz band should give you the most stable connection. If your computer is over ten meters away from the router, the 2.4 GHz band is ideal.
4. Netgear AC1200 A6210-100PAS
Wireless Standard: AC1200 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac | Frequencies: 2.4 GHz + 5.0 GHz | Wi-Fi Speed: Up to 1200 Mbps
The Netgear A6210-100PAS is unlike any ordinary USB Wi-Fi stick. It can extend up to six inches to give you the maximum range for a stable connection. It has a custom-base design that is optimized for both desktop and laptop use.
Although you can plug this adapter directly into a USB port, it could block adjacent ports because of its form factor. Moreover, its size makes it prone to being accidentally knocked off.
When it comes to performance, the A6210-100PAS utilizes USB 3.0 technology to boost data transfer speeds. It has both 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz bands and can hit speeds of up to 1200 Mbps. More specifically, you get speeds of up to 300 Mbps on the 2.4 GHz band and 900 Mbps on the 5.0 GHz band. It also utilizes beamforming technology to improve performance and reliability.
The design of the A6210-100PAS lets you flip the antenna and direct it to where the router is located to increase the signal and wireless range.
Included in the package are the following:
- 1 x A6210 Wi-Fi adapter
- 1 x Quick-start guide
- 1 x Extension cable
- 1 x Dock
The A6210-100PAS has a backlit WPS button, indicating the connection’s status. If you are looking for something portable and affordable, this adapter is the perfect alternative for you.
5. NET-DYN AC1200
Wireless Standard: AC1200 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac | Frequencies: 2.4 GHz + 5.0 GHz | Wi-Fi Speed: Up to 1200 Mbps
The NET-DYN AC1200 includes the following contents in the package:
- 1 x USB Wi-Fi adapter
- 1 x Driver installer CD
- 1 x Installation guide
This adapter is incredibly compact, but it’s larger than a USB thumb drive, so it could block adjacent ports. However, that shouldn’t be an issue for desktop users who should have more than enough USB ports. If you have a laptop, consider buying an extension to free up some space.
Unlike most Wi-Fi adapters for gaming, this product has a bright blue color finish, making it easy to spot inside your bag or on your desk. Installation doesn’t take rocket science because it is a plug-and-play device. Even though it comes packed with a CD to install the necessary drivers, Windows 10 should have everything needed to run the device.
Since this adapter has a wireless standard of AC1200, it can hit a maximum theoretical bandwidth of 1200 Mbps. You can reach up to 300 Mbps on the 2.4 GHz band and up to 900 Mbps on the 5.0 GHz band. You can take advantage of the dual-band configuration by connecting your gaming device to the 5.0 GHz band and the rest of your devices to the 2.4 GHz band.
This adapter uses USB 3.0 technology to transfer data up to three times faster than the USB 2.0. It amplifies your signal from any spot within 100 yards to ensure that you stay connected without hiccups.
Overall, the NET-DYN AC1200 is a fairly-priced option that delivers speed, performance, and reliability.
6. BrosTrend FBA AC3
Wireless Standard: AC1200 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac | Frequencies: 2.4 GHz + 5.0 GHz | Wi-Fi Speed: Up to 1200 MbpsThe BrosTrend FBA AC3 is among our top picks in the budget price range. It features both 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz bands, so you can sort your devices accordingly and get outstanding connection and throughput.
The FBA AC3 features two 5 dBi antennas to give you a reliable connection to your router. It is compact enough to fit in most laptop and desktop setups without blocking adjacent USB slots. It leverages USB 3.0 to deliver faster data transfer speeds over USB 2.0.
The FBA AC3 looks sleek without the antennas, but it performs significantly slower. In case you fall a few inches short, the package includes a five-foot cradle extension, giving you all the tools you need to get a stable signal.
The contents of the box include:
- 1 x Quick installation guide
- 1 x Driver installer CD
- 2 x 5 dBi antennas
- 1 x USB extender/cradle
To get the best connection possible, connect to the 5.0 GHz band for gaming and have the rest of your devices connected to the 2.4 GHz band.
7. TP-Link AC600 (Archer T2U)
Wireless Standard: AC600 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac | Frequencies: 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz | Wi-Fi Speed: Up to 600 Mbps
The Archer T2U makes this list as one of our budget options. This portable device supports both 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz bands at a very affordable price.
The Archer T2U features one 5 dBi high-gain antenna that significantly extends the range and improves the quality of your connection. If your computer or laptop is distant from your router, the antenna can make a huge difference.
The Archer T2U comes in a small box and is packed together with the following:
- 1 x user manual
- 1 x 5 dBi high-gain antenna
- 1 x CD driver
The installation process is very straightforward and takes only a couple of minutes to complete. The antenna can rotate 180° from left to right and up to 90° horizontally, giving you maximum control over the device and excellent wireless coverage.
Overall, the Archer T2U doesn’t offer any fancy features like the rest of the products on this list, but it provides outstanding speed and coverage considering its affordability.
Important Things To Consider When Buying a Wi-Fi Adapter
Blindly buying a Wi-Fi adapter is the last thing you want to do, so we’ve outlined the most important aspects you should look into when browsing your options. In this section, we highlight the factors you must consider to make the right purchase.
Wi-Fi Adapter Types
Wi-Fi adapters generally come in two variations: USB and PCIe.
USB Wi-Fi Adapter
USB Wi-Fi adapters are arguably the more popular type since they are more convenient. All you have to do is plug it into your computer through the USB port, and the built-in software does everything for you. Some USB Wi-Fi adapters come with a hub that connects to the PC through a USB cable to give you better range and more control over your connection. Also, a USB Wi-Fi adapter that supports USB 3.0 is better than one with a USB 2.0 interface.
PCIe Wi-Fi Card
The other type of Wi-Fi adapter connects through one of your motherboard’s PCIe slots. These cards are generally more stable than their USB counterparts since they come with antennae that provide an outstanding range.
Wireless Protocol/Wireless Standard
The wireless protocol of a Wi-Fi adapter determines the speeds it can reach. All the featured products above support one or more wireless protocols, but all of them support at least one of the following:
- 802.11g – supports speeds of up to 54 Mbps throughput
- 802.11n – supports speeds of up to 900 Mbps throughput
- 802.11ac – supports speeds of up to 1300 Mbps throughput
Wi-Fi adapters support either the 2.4 GHz or the 5.0 GHz wireless frequency band. While it may seem like the 5.0 GHz band is the superior option, that isn’t always the case.
You see, 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz bands have their respective pros and cons. The 2.4 GHz band is better if you value coverage and prefer a budget-friendly alternative since it covers a larger area and is generally cheaper than the 5.0 GHz band.
On the flip side, the 5.0 GHz band offers a more reliable connection than the 2.4 GHz band, but gets weaker as you get farther from the router. If you want optimal performance when gaming wirelessly, the 5.0 GHz band is the better option.
One of the most critical but often overlooked features when shopping for Wi-Fi adapters is range.
Each Wi-Fi router is equipped with a unique ability to connect to your devices. When gaming wirelessly, you need a Wi-Fi adapter that delivers stable signals to ensure your connection doesn’t interfere with your gameplay. However, it should be noted that you also need to consider the walls, floors, and rooms between the router and your devices as they can affect the quality of your signal.
FAQs About Wi-Fi Adapters
How Does a Wi-Fi Adapter Help You in Gaming?
Your motherboard’s built-in Wi-Fi (if it has one) isn’t bad– it’s just that dedicated USB Wi-Fi adapters offer a more reliable connection and better wireless functionality. A stable connection is everything when playing online games, making Wi-Fi adapters the better option when playing games wirelessly.
How To Identify My Needs?
Have you been experiencing lag issues lately? You might need an upgrade. But how would you know which components need upgrading?
When looking for problems or bottlenecks, it is best to start with your ISP. Your ISP is usually the first thing that causes issues as it represents your maximum internet speed. If you have a slow internet connection, you will still have problems even if you have state-of-the-art components.
If you are sure your ISP isn’t the culprit, check your internet hardware, starting with the modem. If your router uses the 802.11g wireless protocol, but you have an 802.11ac wireless adapter, then you need to upgrade your router. If it is the other way around, then a Wi-Fi adapter that supports 802.11ac wireless protocol should show massive improvement.
USB standards like USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 are the last things you should worry about. Unless it’s a USB 1.0 standard, then there’s no need to upgrade anytime soon since both USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 format can handle data transfers of modern components just fine.
How To Set up Wireless Adapters?
Most wireless adapters, whether internal or external, are plug-and-play devices. You can find motherboards that claim to have built-in Wi-Fi, but it is most likely a separate device attached or soldered into the motherboard.
After you plug wireless adapters into the computer, it will automatically install the necessary drivers. Other wireless adapters use onboard software, but it rarely adds anything since Windows 10 usually has everything pre-installed.
Do Corded Wi-Fi Adapters Perform Better?
Gone are the days when wireless devices weren’t as reliable as their wired counterparts. These days, the performance gap between the two is barely noticeable. And since internet speed is a crucial aspect of online gaming, you must choose a solution that suits your preferences.
Internal vs. External Wireless Cards
Internal wireless cards are those that connect to your motherboard via a PCIe slot. Compared to external wireless cards, they are less convenient since they can get in the way of other components. However, they offer the strongest signals. Some external wireless cards and adapters are as reliable as internal wireless cards, but they tend to be much more expensive.
On the other hand, external wireless cards or USB Wi-Fi adapters are often cheaper, more flexible, and more convenient. Mid-range Wi-Fi adapters may provide decent signal strength, but they aren’t as fast as their PCIe counterparts.
Both have their pros and cons, and the only thing you need to consider when going with an internal wireless card is to make sure you have enough space in your case for your other components.
To give you a recap of everything we featured, here is a summary of each product:
- If you want the best the market has to offer, get the TRENDnet AC1900 Dual Band Wireless USB Adapter.
- The Netgear Nighthawk A7000 AC1900 Wi-Fi USB Adapter is highly recommended if you want portability and performance in one package.
- The D-Link DWA-192 AC1900 may look unusual, but it delivers blistering speeds and outstanding connection stability.
- An alternative to the Nighthawk A7000 is the Netgear A6210-100PAS AC1200. It boasts the same features and performs just as well at a lower price point.
- We recommend the NET-DYN AC1200 if you are looking for something that’s budget-friendly but doesn’t compromise performance.
- The BrosTrend FBA_AC3 is another versatile and budget-friendly option.
- Finally, the TP-Link AC600 (Archer T2U) is the ultimate budget-friendly adapter that doesn’t struggle to keep up with more expensive alternatives.
Which among the seven options do you think is the right adapter for you? We would like to hear your thoughts down in the comments section!