Wi-Fi USB adapters are a quick and easy way to add Wi-Fi connectivity to any of your devices. They don’t require a knowledge of how to install hardware, they don’t need cables, and they’re highly portable.
But which are the best Wi-Fi USB adapters on the market today?
1. Best Wi-Fi Adapter:
USB Wi-Fi adapters come in many different forms. Some focus on power; others on portability.
If you want the best-in-class Wi-Fi USB adapator in range and power, the Trendnet TEW-809UB should be top of your list.
The device’s four external aerials provide 100 yards of coverage before a drop-off in performance. Each antenna is 5dBi. The adapter uses the AC1900 standard with speeds of 1,300Mbps on 802.11ac and 600Mbps on 802.11n. It supports USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 and has beamforming, but not MU-MIMO.
Of course, the downside to the Trendnet TEW-809UB is the adapter’s size. It’s larger than some routers, making it not the best choice for anyone who values portability.
2. Best Nano Wi-Fi Adapter:
TP-Link Archer T2U Nano
At the other end of the scale is the TP-Link Archer T2U Nano. It is one of the best nano Wi-Fi adapters. It’s no bigger than a Bluetooth connector for a mouse.
Of course, given its small size, the Archer T2U Nano is not as powerful as the larger adapters. This makes it ideal for those on-the-go, hoping to get online for some light browsing.
The TP-Link Archer T2U Nano lets you connect to 802.11 a/c 2.4GHz networks at 200Mbps and at 433Mbps on 5 GHz. And with 64/128 WEP, WPA/WPA2, and WPA-PSK/WPA2-PSK security, it’s an excellent choice for anyone who wants to stay safe on public networks. The adapter can also be used as a hotspot.
3. Best Wi-Fi Adapter for Gaming:
An important aspect of gaming is being able to play when you’re away from home. It means sense to buy an adapter that’s more portable.
If you want to use a Wi-Fi adapter for gaming, the ASUS USB-AC68 is a solid choice. It ticks the power box, but its two foldable antennas also mean it’s easier to use on-the-go than a full-size Wi-Fi adapter. The antenna can lock into three different positions when extended.
With capacity for 600Mbps on 2.4GHz bands and 1,300 Mbps on 5GHz bands, the ASUS USB-AC68 can comfortably handle bandwidth-intensive games, though independent testing has shown it’s not as fast as the Trendnet TEW-809UB.
Other noteworthy features include ASUS AirRadar Beamforming, 3×4 MIMO antennas, and a detachable USB cradle in case your computer’s port is hard to reach.
4. Best Cheap Wi-Fi Adapter:
The Edimax EW-7811UN is alternative nano Wi-Fi adapter. Visually, it is similar to the TP-Link Archer T2U Nano model, but it has fewer features and is less costly.
You can enjoy speeds of 150Mbps on 802.11n networks. The device is backward-compatible with 802.11b/g networks. However, There is no support for 5GHz networks.
There’s also 64/128-bit WEP encryption and support for WPA-PSK, WPA2-PSK, and WPS. The adapter uses USB 2.0. The Edimax EW-7811UN is one of the most energy-efficient Wi-Fi adapters thanks to the company’s smart power technology.
5. Best Mid-Range Wi-Fi Adapter:
Of course, there’s a sweet spot between large, powerful Wi-Fi adapators and small, portable ones. Some Wi-Fi adapters forgo external aerials to increase portability, while simultaneously increasing the unit size to accommodate more powerful hardware.
If you need a mid-range USB Wi-Fi adapter, you should check out the NET-DYN AC1200. The dual-band device can connect to both 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks, providing 300Mbps on the former and 867Mbps on the latter.
The NET-DYN AC1200 advertises 100 yards of coverage, but independent tests show that signal degradation begins to occur before that distance. Nonetheless, the range is still highly impressive given the device’s size. The dimensions of the stick are just 3.5 x 1.2 x 0.5 inches.
The adapter also supports the 802.11n standard and uses USB 3.0.
6. Best Wi-Fi Adapter for Linux:
Panda Wireless PAU09 N600
Driver and software issues mean that many of the best Wi-Fi USB adapters do not work with machines running Linux.
If you need to add Wi-Fi connectivity to your Linux device, check out the Panda Wireless PAU09 N600. It works with Mint, Ubuntu, Fedora, and CentOS. With two 5dBi external aerials, the device is large (2.91 x 0.98 x 0.39 inches). It’s not ideal for people who need to connect on the go.
It works on 802.11 ac/b/g/n networks on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. There’s a maximum data speed of 300Mbps. Security-wise, the Panda Wireless PAU09 N600 offers WEP 64/128-bit, WPA, and WPA2 (TKIP and AES) encryption.
7. Best Value-for-Money Wi-Fi Adapter:
If you want the power of a full-size Wi-Fi USB adapter without the higher cost, we think the Edimax EW-7833UAC offers the best balance between features and price. It’s not as expensive as high-end products like the Trendnet TEW-809UB and the ASUS USB-AC68.
Like the Panda Wireless PAU09 N600, it works on Linux operating systems. The speeds of the Edimax EW-7833UAC are comparative with more costly products too. It offers 450Mbps on 2.4GHz networks and up to 1,300Mbps on 5GHz bands.
The downside of the adapter is the range. The lack of external aerials means can never hope to match the distances of those products that do.
Which Is the Best Wi-Fi USB Adapter for You?
The seven Wi-Fi USB adapters we’ve covered are all clearly aimed at a specific subset of users. Before you make any purchasing decisions, make sure you’ve first established the main ways in which you will use your adapter.
If you’ll be using your new Wi-Fi USB adapter while on-the-go, you may be interested in how you can get Wi-Fi without an internet service provider.