The best USB Wi-Fi adapters will provide the perfect stop-gap measure should anything disastrous happen to your gaming PC's networking capabilities. If you built-in WiFi or LAN ports go kaput then a USB Wi-Fi adapter will get you up and running again in no time at all. Or, if you've inadvertently bought a MOBO with no wifi (it happens), these kind of adapters are the next best thing.
A wired connection is still your best choice when it comes to stability, especially when it's plugged into the best gaming router, but, at the same time, having cables across the floor of your apartment isn't the best look. We've tracked down all our favorite USB Wi-Fi adapters below, along with a handful of bullet points to help you decide.
Best USB Wi-Fi adapters
There are nano adapters at the tiny end of the scale, and at the opposite end is the Trendnet TEW-809UB. This networking device tosses portability out the window, for faster AC1900 (N600, AC1300) speeds and serious antennas—four, to be exact, all positionable with a strength of 5 dBi each. There is only a driver provided, but no software. Instead, Windows is in control of the networking duties. The adapter does not support MU-MIMO but does support Beamforming.
In use, the Trendnet TEW-809UB is stable and fast. It puts its antennas to good use, beating every other adapter tested on our wireless fringe location testing—on both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands, for using Wi-Fi in a challenging situation with a weak signal.
When it comes to the best routers for gaming, there are few names as ubiquitous as the Netgear Nighthawk. Netgear has been producing excellent gaming routers for some time, but the AC1900 Wi-Fi brings that same performance to a portable USB adapter. This won't necessarily get you a blazing fast connection in your local coffee shop, but at home you can still use the included magnetic desktop cradle to ensure your rig is getting the best possible connection from your router a couple of rooms away.
The AC1900 is remarkably powerful and portable adapter but is somewhat bulky when compared to its peers; there were occasions where I was mildly concerned about snapping it off in one of my laptop's USB ports, and it's size means that it may not always find a vacant port with the necessary clearance.
The Asus USB-AC68 adapter features a novel folding design that incorporates dual deployable antennas. It supports USB 3.0 connectivity, as well as the AC1900 standard, Asus AiRadar Beamforming, and MU-MIMO via a 3x4 antenna design. The results are a bit of a mixed bag as this Asus adapter lags in the 2.4 GHz tests at a distance. While the 5 GHz tests are much more reliable, it still wasn't the fastest at either the close or far distance tested.
While the Trendnet TEW-809UB is our favorite Wi-Fi adapter for its performance and range, it isn't exactly the most compact or portable solution. For those who are hoping to use their adapter for gaming on the road, the Asus USB-AC68 is a much better choice with its street price of $75. The adapter includes a cradle for use at home but can be plugged directly into a USB port for easy travel.
The Edimax EW-7833UAC is the update to our previous budget adapter pick, the EW-7822UAC. While many mainstream adapters suffice with AC1200 specs, this Edimax EW-7833UAC takes it a notch up with AC1750 speeds (N450, AC1300). Installation was straightforward, with Windows 10 managing the settings. While it is similar in size to other mainstream adapters, it cleverly features a small deployable piece that contains three antennas to increase range and throughput, along with support for both MU-MIMO and Beamforming technology.
The EW-7833UAC smoked the competition, with class-leading throughput on four of the six tests, which included both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies. We came away particularly impressed on the close 5 GHz test of 298.9 Mbps, much faster than some other respectable adapters could muster. The only real weakness was on the far tests where this adapter gave up a little ground to the competition. Perhaps the best part is that the street price of this adapter is $34 making these kinds of speeds affordable for all.
The Linksys WUSB6300 gets termed "micro" by the Linksys folks. To be fair, it is quite small. It offers AC1200 speeds, which translates to about 860Mbps via 5 GHz, and 300Mbps on 2.4 GHz. Even with the tiny size, it supports the latest technology for wireless adapters, including MU-MIMO and Beamforming.
The WUSB6300 balances its small size against decent range and throughput. While the spec does limit the 2.4 GHz scores, the speeds on 5 GHz, even on the more extended distance tests, bring home the win for throughput on three of the six criteria for this increasingly competitive category of the adapter. The longer distance tests for this adapter are even more impressive when you compare it against its class competition that falls short in the wireless fringe testing. The list price of $40 makes the Linksys WUSB6300 an excellent choice for an adapter to toss in a bag with your notebook or to carry as a backup.
While many of us want to drive a Porsche or Ferrari, more of us end up driving Honda Civics or Toyota Corollas. For those that want the bargain basement of a USB wireless adapter, we recommend the Trendnet TEW-805UB, the little brother to our best full-size adapter pick, the Trendnet TEW-809UB.
This Trendnet adapter is sized just right—compact, but not so small that it's easy to lose. The textured outer surface also effectively keeps it from getting all smudged. It still had solid speeds across the board, except for the 2.4 GHz fringe test, but recall that we originally started using this location to test extenders as in a Wi-Fi dead spot, this Trendnet adapter still managed 61.5 Mbps of throughput, and all of its other scores were entirely a bit higher.
How we test USB Wi-Fi adapters
Testing was done for throughput using NetPerf software. A desktop with a Gigabit Ethernet port is used to send the data via a wired connection to the router. Three test runs were done on each wireless adapter at each of the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies, at three distances: close, far, and fringe, with the highest throughput of each parameter reported.
The router used is the ASUS RT-AX88U, our top gaming router. The throughput is tested at a "close" 8ft (2.4m) distance with a direct line of sight, and also at a "far" 30ft (9.1m) distance with an obstructing floor and wall in the way, as well as some metal ductwork intervening.
For this revision, we added tests in a Wi-Fi "fringe" location that we started using for our best wireless extender, guide except we did not plug in an extender to make the wireless connection more challenging for the wireless adapter and to test their antennas.