Laptop with USB Wi-Fi card

The Best USB Wi-Fi Adapters of 2021

By Dave Dean AccessoriesNo Comments

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USB Wi-Fi adapters are a simple solution to annoying wireless connection problems. They’re a compulsory device for many desktop PC users: while almost every laptop has a built-in Wi-Fi card, you can’t say the same for all desktops. That’s not the only reason you’ll need an adapter like this, though.

Maybe your home or office router is in an odd place and doesn’t give good network coverage. Maybe your house has thick walls and your devices keep losing Wi-Fi signal. Perhaps your built-in Wi-Fi or network card has broken, and you’re not too keen on spending hundreds of dollars to get a new one installed.

A good USB Wi-Fi adapter solves all these issues and more. Today we’re looking at several of the best USB Wi-Fi adapters across a range of different categories, helping you choose the one that suits your specific set of requirements.

Sale
Best USB Wi-Fi Adapter For Gaming and Desktop PCs: Asus USB-AC68
  • Size: 4.5 x 1.2 x 0.7 inches
  • Weight: 1.6 ounces
  • Type: AC1900
  • Bands: 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz
  • Supports: Windows, macOS
  • Range: High

Sale
Best Budget USB Wi-Fi Adapter: TP-Link Archer T3U Plus
  • Size: 6.8 x 2.3 x 0.7 inches
  • Weight: 0.6 ounces
  • Type: AC1300
  • Bands: 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz
  • Supports: Windows, macOS
  • Range: Moderate

Sale
Best Small USB Wi-Fi Adapter: TP-Link Archer T2U Nano
  • Size: 0.7 x 0.6 x 0.3 inches
  • Weight: 0.4 ounces
  • Type: AC600
  • Bands: 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz
  • Supports: Windows, macOS
  • Range: Low

Best Long Range USB Wi-Fi Adapter: BrosTrend 1200
  • Size: 9.8 x 4.0 x 0.7 inches
  • Weight: 2.4 ounces
  • Type: AC1200
  • Bands: 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz
  • Supports: Windows, macOS, Linux
  • Range: High

Best USB Wi-Fi Adapter For Travel: Netgear AC1900
  • Size: 4.7 x 1.8 x 0.9 inches
  • Weight: 2.4 ounces
  • Type: AC1900
  • Bands: 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz
  • Supports: Windows, macOS
  • Range: Moderate

Best USB Wi-Fi Adapter For Gaming and Desktop PCs: Asus USB-AC68

ASUS USB-AC68 AC1900 Dual-band USB 3.0 WiFi Adapter, Cradle included

Latency is what really matters for online gaming. The worse you connection is, the more packets are dropped and the greater your ping time.

Cheap wireless cards won’t cut it: you need something that can support high-speed connections and long-range connectivity, with minimal lag. The Asus USB-AC68 Wi-Fi adapter provides all this and more.

The dual-band USB 3.0 AC68 can support theoretical speeds of up to 1300Mbps on the 5GHz band, and 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz band. Even if you have a super-fast internet connection, the AC68 won’t be the bottleneck.

It has two 3×4 MIMO antennas that use Asus’s beamforming technology to optimize and shape the Wi-Fi signal. As long as your router also supports beamforming (most do), the end result is stronger connections and greater range. With the AC68, you can easily connect to networks within a 150ft radius.

Asus also provides an additional cradle with a long extension cable. Instead of directly plugging the adapter into your computer, you can stick the USB Wi-Fi adapter somewhere with a better signal: on a shelf or window sill, for instance. The antennas are also foldable, making the adapter easier to transport and less likely to break when you do.

In terms of size, it’s not excessively large for what it offers. Without the antennas stretched out, the adapter is only 4.5 inches tall, so it won’t take much space behind your PC when plugged in directly.

These AC68 provides a fast and smooth browsing experience on your desktop PC and a better online gaming experience, at a reasonable price. The only real downside is driver issues on old versions of Windows: we’d suggest looking elsewhere if you’re still running Windows 7 or below.

For everyone else, it’s our top pick for gaming, and our overall pick for the best USB Wi-Fi adapter right now.

Pros
  • Long-range connectivity
  • Fold-down antennas for portability
  • Cradle lets you choose where to physically place the adapter
Cons
  • ASUS wireless drivers crash frequently on systems below Windows 10
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Best Budget USB Wi-Fi Adapter: TP-Link Archer T3U Plus

TP-Link USB WiFi Adapter for Desktop PC, AC1300Mbps USB 3.0 WiFi Dual Band Network Adapter with 2.4GHz/5GHz High Gain Antenna, MU-MIMO, Windows 10/8.1/8/7/XP, Mac OS 10.9-10.15(Archer T3U Plus)

If you want a Wi-Fi adapter that provides impressive coverage at a very small price, the TP-Link Archer T3U Plus is a great choice. This small USB adapter has a particularly long, adjustable antenna, ensuring much stronger connections than most inbuilt Wi-Fi cards.

The Archer T3U Plus supports dual-band AC1300 wireless, providing theoretical top speeds of up to 400Mbps on a 2.4GHz network or 867Mbps on the 5GHz band. That’s not the absolute fastest option these days, but it’s still more than enough for most home internet connections.

That dual-band support lets you switch to a 5Ghz network if the usual 2.4Ghz band is congested in your area: a common problem these days, and one of the biggest causes of slow Wi-Fi speeds.

The Archer T3U Plus also supports all the latest operating systems, including the upcoming Windows 11. Our only real concern with this adapter is its build quality: the antenna connection is a little flimsy, so be careful if you’re planning to travel with it.

Pros
  • Long-range connectivity (5 dBi high-gain antenna)
  • Dual-band support
  • USB 3.0
Cons
  • Antenna is relatively large
  • Poor build quality
Buy on Amazon

Best Small USB Wi-Fi Adapter: TP-Link Archer T2U Nano

TP-Link Nano AC600 USB Wifi Adapter(Archer T2U Nano)- 2.4G/5G Dual Band Wireless Network Adapter for PC Desktop, Mini Travel Size, Supports Windows 10, 8.1, 8, 7, XP / Mac OS X 10.9-10.14

The TP-Link Archer T2U Nano is one of the smallest USB Wi-Fi adapters you’ll find, well under an inch long and wide. Just because it’s tiny doesn’t mean it’s lacking features, though: in fact, quite the opposite. 

The T2U Nano supports dual-band AC600 wireless, providing speeds up to 200Mbps on a 2.4GHz network or 433Mbps on the 5GHz band. It might not seem like much, but it’s fine for the average household internet plan. Range is fine but no better than most inbuilt Wi-Fi cards, given the lack of external antenna.

Given its tiny size and weight, there’s no problem leaving the adapter permanently plugged into your laptop, since it barely protrudes from the USB port. This makes it the ideal replacement for an outdated or broken laptop wireless card.

Since you’re definitely sacrificing some range and speed to get a Wi-Fi adapter this small, this isn’t our top pick for travel despite the tiny size: for that, keep reading below. For general use, though, especially in situations where you want to leave the adapter connected all the time, it’s the ideal choice.

Pros
  • Very small and portable
Cons
  • Moderate speeds
  • Relatively short range
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Best Long Range USB Wi-Fi Adapter: BrosTrend 1200 

BrosTrend 1200Mbps Long Range USB WiFi Adapter for PC, Desktop, Laptop of Windows 10/8.1/8/7/XP, MAC, 2.4G/ 5GHz, w/ 2 X 5dBi Antennas, USB 3.0 Cradle

The promise of better network coverage is one of the main reasons people buy a USB Wi-Fi adapter. Sometimes it’s just impossible to find the perfect spot to put your router to ensure strong connections and fast speeds in every corner of the home or office.

It’s even more difficult when you’re in a concrete building or especially large house. In such cases, you’ll need a USB Wi-Fi adapter that not only provides fast speeds, but significantly extends your network range as well. 

The dual-band BrosTrend AC1200 is an inexpensive solution for anyone needing to boost the range of their wireless card. It comes with a pair of 5dBi high gain antennas, letting you connect to networks within a theoretical 500ft radius. Don’t be surprised if you suddenly see a lot of new Wi-Fi network names from around your neighborhood!

The antennas are detachable, so if your router is nearby, you can always take them off to make the adapter cut a less imposing figure on your desk. It’s definitely not the smallest we’ve ever seen.

We do have some concern about the build quality: the antenna connection is somewhat flimsy and prone to breaking with any kind of rough treatment. If you’re a Linux user, you may also want to look elsewhere: getting it working well on that platform isn’t easy.

Even so, with USB 3.0 support for faster speeds and the latest WPA3 encryption, this is a well-spec’d Wi-Fi adapter that provides much greater Wi-Fi range at a very reasonable price.

Pros
  • Impressive range
  • Fast speeds
  • USB 3.0 and WPA3 support
Cons
  • Quite large
  • Build quality isn’t great
  • Unstable performance and complex setup process on Linux
Buy on Amazon

Best USB Wi-Fi Adapter For Travel: Netgear AC1900 

NETGEAR AC1900 Wi-Fi USB 3.0 Adapter for Desktop PC | Dual Band Wifi Stick for Wireless internet (A7000-10000S)

If you’re travelling or working remotely, a good USB Wi-Fi adapter that gives greater range and stronger connections than your laptop’s inbuilt wireless card makes all the difference. It needs to be durable and easily portable, though: bulky, easily-broken accessories are no use to anyone on the road.

Given those criteria, the NETGEAR AC1900, a compact dual-band device that’s capable of 1300Mbps speed on the 5GHz Wi-Fi band or 600Mbps on 2.4GHz networks, is our pick as the best USB Wi-Fi adapter for travel.

At 4.7 inches long and 1.8 inches wide, with a weight of just 2.4 ounces, the adapter is small enough that you’ll barely notice it in your day bag or coat pocket. The top cover extends out to act as an antenna, folding down when not in use for easier transport.

Rated to be able to detect networks up up to 200 feet away. Netgear’s AC1900 helps ensure an uninterrupted Wi-Fi experience in thick-walled hotels, rural AirBnbs, and anywhere else that signal is hard to come by.

The AC1900 ships with a magnetic stand that lets you place the adapter on your desk or somewhere else that gets better coverage, rather than having it sticking out the side of your laptop. The stand is a bit bulky to travel with (although you could if you needed to,) but is ideal for when you return home.

Note that while this is our top USB Wi-Fi adapter pick for travel, you’ve got other options when it comes to size, range, and multi-device support. We covered them all in depth here.

Pros
  • Fast dual-band 1900Mbps support
  • Portable
  • Good range
  • Magnetic stand for flexible placement
Cons
  • Netgear drivers can be unstable on Windows
Buy on Amazon

Main image via Shutterstock, product images via Amazon

About the Author
Dave Dean

Dave Dean

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Founder and editor of Too Many Adapters, Dave has been a traveler for 20 years, and a geek for even longer. When he's not playing with the latest tech toy or working out how to keep his phone charged for just a few more minutes, he can probably be found sitting in a broken-down bus in some obscure corner of the planet.

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