D-Link DWA-182(opens in new tab)
Netgear A6210(opens in new tab)
TP-Link Archer T4U(opens in new tab)
ZyXEL AC240(opens in new tab)
One lesson we learned from our data is that the 2.4GHz band won't always give you the best Wi-Fi range. Even from 75 feet away with a wall interfering, the 5GHz band facilitated better performance.
We also quantified the need for good antennas. In the end, Wi-Fi, with all of its fancy algorithms, is a radio send-and-receive problem. It should be no surprise that the two better-performing adapters from Netgear and ZyXEL are the ones with flip-up antennas.
Overall, with its significantly faster speeds on the 5GHz band and solid performance on 2.4GHz, Netgear sells the AC1200 Wi-Fi USB adapter we'd recommend based on our data.
While much attention is often paid to the right router for your network, be equally mindful of the Wi-Fi adapter you buy. With these types of USB-attached adapters available, even older PCs can be upgraded to the latest 802.11ac wireless standard with an impressive connection speed improvement, particularly on the 5GHz band.
MORE: Networking in the Forums
Jonas DeMuro is an Associate Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware.