USB Wi-Fi Adapter 101

Modern USB Wi-Fi Adapter Examples

Some examples of current USB Wi-Fi adapters include:

Trendnet TEW-649UB (opens in new tab)
Trendnet TEW-649UB

An entry-level N150 USB Wi-Fi adapter, which is quite affordable and can be found for around $10. The Trendnet TEW-649UB is an example of this. However, it tops out at 150 Mb/s over 2.4GHz and cannot access the 5GHz band. For basic use and slower Internet connections, you may find this more than adequate, however.

Netgear AC1200 WiFi USB 3.0 Adapter (opens in new tab)
Netgear AC1200 WiFi USB 3.0 Adapter

The fastest USB adapters are rated for AC1200 speeds, and they're available from most manufacturers. An example is Netgear's AC1200 WiFi USB 3.0 Adapter (A6210). It features a high-gain antenna that flips up to increase signal strength. It purportedly achieves speeds of 300 Mb/s over 2.4GHz and 900 Mb/s on 5GHz. You'll find it priced around $50.

The D-Link AC1900 Wi-Fi USB adapter is an upcoming product that should enable even greater performance. It is due out this spring, and promises a speedy 600 Mb/s over 2.4GHz and a blistering 1300 Mb/s on the 5GHz band. The D-Link AC1900 Wi-Fi USB adapter expected this spring will feature even faster speeds than what are currently available.

Jonas DeMuro
Freelance Reviewer

Jonas P. DeMuro is a freelance reviewer covering wireless networking hardware.

  • unityole
    hey, in the picture of the disassembled cisco USB wifi module, which model is that?
  • Achoo22
    a computer needs to be connected to its network, and in turn the Internet, to be truly useful
    I got this far, then tuned out.
  • SuperVeloce
    a computer needs to be connected to its network, and in turn the Internet, to be truly useful
    I got this far, then tuned out.
    okay, I see you don't get what the intended audience in this article is. i'll re-word that for you: "a multimedia family / office work computer needs to be connected to its network..."
  • SamSerious
    USB extension cables are often causing problems. I'd never extend a cable by more than one meter and make sure it is a very high quality cable or the voltage will lower dramatically causing the device not to work properly anymore. Or you have to get yourself an active USB expander which is usually quite a bit more expensiv.

    On the other hand, antenna cables are even worse to extend...
  • jacobian
    You think you need USB3 to drive a 802.11ac network adapter at full speed? Please. You couldn't have been more confused. Let's say we're talking about a two stream AC device, so theoretically it's capable of 867mbps throughput in 5GHz band. However, much of that number pertains to the "physical layer" information transfer, the chatter that ensures that your data is transferred accurately, under optimal condition (e.g. 6 ft from the router). At TCP/IP level, the throughput will be much lower, even if the distance is short, somewhere in the neighborhood of 100-300mbps, depending on your luck. In other words, a lot less than USB2 can handle.

    You see, the wireless data transfer rates are basically a big marketing scam because half of more of that data transfer rate will disappear due to weakening signal with distance or on the physical layer chatter. Wireless is not like wired Ethernet, where saying 100Mbps really means that you will actually see TCP/IP data transferred nearly at that rate. In the wi-fi world, the marketing can say they sell you a "gigabit ac1750 router (or adapter)", and in real life you may well end up with just 100Mbps or slower data throughput. If you get 200mbps or more, you should be jumping from joy.
  • ZeusGamer
    I'm using a dual band PCI Express wi-fi module. For some reason, it's much better than my ethernet connection. Could be because my killer port is only single band rather than dual. I've not lagged one bit with this accessory and I've been using it for at least 8 - 9 months now.
  • user_friendly
    Id like to point out that having an external usb wifi can get really hot and malfunction. Its not inside of an air circulated case, so mine tends to get blazingly hot. i have the n600 which i can game on and have no problems. Moslty