While virtually all laptops ship with Wi-Fi built-in these days, they don’t always come with the best wireless hardware. If you’re a desktop PC user, you’ll probably get an Ethernet network adapter included with your computer, but not Wi-Fi. 

Either way, you’ll want to choose the best USB Wi-Fi adapter for your needs and budget, which means you’re in luck since we’ve listed twelve of the very best Wi-Fi adapters, each in their unique way.

Table of Contents
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    What to Look For in a Wi-Fi USB Adapter

    Shopping for a USB Wi-Fi adapter for your wireless network can be more complicated than you might expect. Not only are there many different Wi-Fi standards to contend with, but also different USB standards.

    Then you also need to decide whether you want a large dongle with an antenna that can sustain high speeds over long distances or a compact dongle that can easily fit into your laptop bag.

    It’s a good idea to get a dongle that’s dual-band Wi-Fi so that you can connect to hotspots that use either 2.4Ghz or 5Ghz Wi-Fi bands. If you’re only going to use your USB adapter with your home router and only care that they are compatible, then it’s not a significant deal.

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    As for Wi-Fi standards, don’t worry too much about buying a Wi-Fi 6 adapter right now unless you know that you’re in the market for a Wi-Fi 6 router and will have the sort of broadband that will test its fast internet connection speed.

    You may also want to keep an eye out for “beamforming technology,” which is a method to give Wi-Fi signals more directionality. A device with beamforming can target your router’s relative position more directly and maximize transmission power. It can be crucial if you’re looking to stretch the limits of Wi-Fi penetration and range!

    A Note for macOS Big Sur and Linux Users

    All modern Apple Macs have a built-in Wi-Fi module, but you might not be happy with it for several reasons. Unfortunately, during our research for this article, it became apparent that since macOS Big Sur, the support for third-party USB Wi-Fi adapters on 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 shopping for a USB Wi-Fi adapter specifically for your Big Sur or newer Mac, do some research before buying 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 a little better there since most desktop distros of Linux have support for several common Wi-Fi chipsets. This means you may not even have to install any drivers to make the adapter work. Still, if you’re a Linux user, double-check that an adapter has compatibility with your flavor of Linux. Even if you’re dual-booting with Windows 10, you still need to have suitable drives when booting into Linux.

    1. Best Online Gaming Adapter: Asus USB-AC68 Dual-Band USB 3.0 Wi-Fi Adapter


    • Fast AC1900 speeds
    • Foldable for portability
    • 3×4 MIMO for low-latency gaming

    Gamers have very different requirements from other Wi-Fi users. It’s not so much the peak 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 them out.

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    The Asus USB-AC68 is designed to make sure there’s no unnecessary lag when sending or receiving your multiplayer game data. Assuming that you also have a good gaming router, the 3×4 MIMO design can simultaneously send and receive data with no interference.

    This is also a Wi-Fi adapter that uses beamforming technology to ensure that the signal between the adapter and router remains rock-solid. While this adapter is best for desktop gaming systems, it’s portable too. It has folding antennas, so if you want to slip it into your laptop bag, you can do it without much fuss, If you aren’t an online or LAN gamer, the AC68 doesn’t have that much appeal at its price, but if you take multiplayer seriously, this is the one to go for.

    2. Best for Fast Downloads: Netgear Nighthawk A7000 AC1900


    • Very fast
    • Neat magnetic cradle idea

    Netgear’s Nighthawk routers are well-respected in both the gaming community and among those who appreciate high-end home network gear that can handle modern fiber broadband and high-bandwidth LAN applications such as large file transfers and in-home streaming.

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    The Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 USB adapter offers ludicrous Wi-Fi transfer speeds in a compact form factor. There’s an excellent magnetic desktop cradle included that you can use to position the adapter on any magnetic metal surface optimally. There’s also a clever integrated foldable antenna, so you can easily take it with you for laptop use.

    This is a dual-band adapter, so you don’t have to worry that you can’t connect to older 2.4Ghz routers. Significantly, Netgear supports macOS. Based on the forum articles we checked, it does seem to work on Big Sur and newer, although some users had to jump through a few hoops to get it all set up.

    3. Best Combo Adapter: Edimax 2-in-1 Wi-Fi 4 + Bluetooth Low Energy Combination Adapter


    • Includes Bluetooth and Wi-Fi in one device
    • Compact
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    Sometimes you only have many USB ports available, especially on older computers. If you have an older desktop system that has neither Wi-Fi nor Bluetooth, this Edimax 2-in-1 adapter will add both technologies to your design in one go. Sadly, this is still a Wi-Fi 4 device, so it only supports 150Mbps speeds on the 2.4Ghz band. However, for an older computer, you want to hook into the wireless world, that’s more than enough.

    4. Best Premium Adapter: Trendnet TEW-809UB


    • Awesome design
    • Removable antenna
    • Great performance

    The TEW-809UB looks a little like a bug that’s stuck on its back, but this Wi-Fi adapter offers fast AC1900 speeds for a great price and doubles as a long-range adapter when you need it to. Those antennas are removable, so if you want to take your adapter with you in a laptop bag, you can take them off and avoid worrying that you’re going to break something off.

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    Suppose you use a single USB Wi-Fi adapter at home and on the go. In that case, the TEW-809UB offers killer performance, cutting-edge wireless technology, and compatibility with any router, thanks to dual-band support. It’s a little pricey, but reading about the real-world performance experience from customers, it seems worth every dollar.

    5. Best Budget USB Adapter: TP-Link AC600 USB Wi-Fi Adapter


    • Very affordable
    • Simple design with an adjustable antenna
    • Dual-band Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac)

    Sometimes all you need is to add Wi-Fi to a computer with broken, missing, or outdated Wi-Fi. You certainly don’t want to experience sticker shock for such a simple feature. USB Wi-Fi Adapters can cost more than $100 if you want the latest cutting-edge hardware, but TP-Link has the other end of the market covered with the AC600 rated at 600 Mbps total.

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    You can buy five of these adapters at $100 and still have change left over for a burger and fries. So it’s an excellent way to add Wi-Fi to every computer in your house. This is a Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) adapter with a high-gain dual-band antenna. It supports 200Mbps on the 2.4Ghz band and 433Mbps on the 5Ghz band. This adapter should work with any modern router or hotspot, and the speeds on offer should be enough for any given single user.

    Sadly this is an omnidirectional adapter without beamforming technology, so the range may be shorter than expected. Still, you should be using Wi-Fi extenders to ensure your home has complete Wi-Fi coverage anyway!

    6. Best Compact Adapter: Netgear A6150 AC1200


    • Small
    • Good price
    • Adequate speed limited by USB 2

    This nano adapter from Netgear is designed to slot into a USB port and then be left alone. There’s little danger that this will hook on anything and get broken off, so it’s perfect for laptops where you may need to move the computer around and don’t want to constantly unplug your Wi-Fi adapter when you put the laptop in its bag.

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    This is a dual-band adapter, so you’ll have no trouble connecting to any router you find. Netgear claims speeds of 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 a throughput of 480 Mbps. Realistically you’ll max out at a few hundred megabits, but for most mobile users, this is more than enough. In any event, there’s only so much you can get out of the tiny antennas in a nano adapter. The main draw of the A6150 is that it’s compact, reliable, and well-priced. Not blazing-fast speeds.

    We’ve picked up from the various user reviews to skip the software on the included CD-ROM (who has a CD drive these days?) and get the latest driver from the Netgear website.

    The A6150 is a great way to upgrade the Wi-Fi on older laptops as a plug-and-forget solution.

    7. Best Portable Antenna System: Edimax EW-7833UAC


    • Fast performance
    • Excellent reception in a compact dongle

    When it comes to compact, portable Wi-Fi adapters, you usually have to choose between a relatively weak internal antenna array or a clunky external antenna system. Edimax has come up with a third option to integrate a foldable antenna into an adapter body the size of a flash drive.

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    It might seem small, but this is an AC1750 802.11ac adapter. So you can push the megabits if the router supports it. It hides three transmission and three reception antennas and can be adjusted through 180 degrees, so you get the best signal.

    If you don’t mind having a fairly long adapter stick out of your laptop, this is a simple adapter to fold up and slip in a laptop bag pocket.

    8. Best for OS Compatibility: NinePlus USB Wi-Fi Adapter


    • Dual antenna design
    • Excellent compatibility with many operating systems

    When adding a Wi-Fi adapter to a modern Windows system, it’s usually a matter of plugging it in, and then everything works. If you’re not a Windows user or you’re using some variant of Linux, it can be hard to find adapters that work.

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    The Nineplus has a great reputation for being compatible with various operating systems. Including ones that aren’t that mainstream and ones that are old now. So if you want to add Wi-Fi to a system that’s not running the latest version of Windows, the Nineplus is an excellent choice.

    9. Best Price to Performance ratio: TP-Link Archer T4U Plus


    • Fast performance
    • USB 3
    • Fantastic price for the specifications

    Common wisdom holds that something can be fast or cheap, but not both. The T4U Plus seems to take that wisdom, roll it up, and throw it straight in the trash.

    For around $25, the T4U Plus offers AC1300 (around 1300Mbps total) performance and excellent stability.

    The T4U Plus uses a dual antenna system to provide a stronger, more stable connection to your Wi-Fi network. It also features MU-MIMO technology to make the most of its bandwidth, sending and receiving data simultaneously.

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    Unlike other adapters in this price range, the T4U Plus is a USB 3.0 device, which means it’s capable of the advertised 400Mbps and 876Mbps speeds for each band. Products like the NETGEAR AC1200 Wi-Fi USB 2.0 Mini Adapter offer 1200Mbps speeds, but USB 2.0 itself is limited to 480Mbps!

    Unless you have a specific high-performance Wi-Fi use case, most people should be delighted with the T4U Plus as a Wi-Fi solution for a desktop system.

    10. Best Long-range Wi-Fi: D-Link DWA-192


    • Awesome design
    • Wall-penetrating power

    If nothing else, the D-Link DWA-192 is notable for its interesting spherical shape. Memes about “pondering your orb” come to mind, but we think this Wi-Fi adapter looks so cool you won’t want to hide it away.

    The spherical shape hides a formidable set of antenna and transmission hardware, specifically designed to stretch your Wi-Fi range and reduce the need to have repeaters or a Wi-Fi mesh system.

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    This is an AC1900 adapter using a USB 3.0 interface, so there’s plenty of potential speed on offer here, assuming your router can keep up. The DWA-192 uses advanced beamforming technology to target your router and ensure transmission power isn’t wasted.

    D-Link claims that the DWA-192 offers three times the range of typical Wi-Fi adapters and can help overcome signal loss because of walls and other objects between you and the router. Since this adapter comes in at under $50, it’s also cheaper than many Wi-Fi extenders, without the speed sacrifice.

    The only real problem with the DWA-192 is that it’s not very compact. This is definitely for home use only, but other than that, this ball of wonders should amp up your browsing like nothing else.

    11. Best Portable Wi-Fi 6 Dongle: D-Link DWA-X1850


    • All the benefits of Wi-Fi 6
    • Compact design
    • High speed

    Wi-Fi 6is the latest and greatest Wi-Fi standard. It doesn’t just offer higher speeds than older Wi-Fi standards but many improvements to reliability, latency, and security. Sadly, the chances are that your current laptop or desktop doesn’t have Wi-Fi 6, so even if you buy a Wi-Fi 6 router or you encounter one out in the wild, you won’t be able to take full advantage of it.

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    While buying a new computer in the future is one way to solve the issue, in the meantime, you can use this excellent compact adapter from D-Link to upgrade any USB 3 capable computer.

    While you can’t get the full 3000Mbps speeds of a PCIe Wi-Fi 6 card, 574- and 1200- Mbps on each band is nothing to be sniffed at. It’s certainly faster than any Wi-Fi USB adapter.

    12. Best Compact Long-range Adapter: BrosTrend 1200

    While we adore the D-Link DWA-192 with its alien orb design and long-range ability, it’s just too bulky to take anywhere. If you need to take a long-range Wi-Fi adapter to a work site or some other open space where you can’t be very close to the router or hotspot, we think the BrosTrend 1200 is a better solution.

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    The adapter comes with a 5 dBi high-gain antenna that lets you angle the antenna towards the router and gets a connection from long distances. This USB 3 dual-band wireless adapter supports 300- and 867- Mbps speeds on each band.

    Plug In That Wireless Power

    There’s nothing like a fast and reliable wireless connection. By picking the right wireless adapter, you take all the frustration of poor connections out of your life and just leave the freedom and convenience. A Wi-Fi connection is an essential part of life these days, and one of the adapters above should keep you connected to the global web.

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