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The 7 Best USB Wi-Fi Adapters of 2021

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The RundownBest Overall:Netgear Nighthawk A7000 at Amazon"Offers maximum performance for gaming and streaming."Best Value:Net-Dyn AC1200 at Amazon"Fast speeds and a reliable connection as long as you have a newer PC"Best Budget:Glam Hobby Ourlink U631 at Amazon"The ultra-compact design is great for both storage and travel."Best Range:Edimax EW-7811UAC at Amazon"Features a high-gain antenna and cradle for optimal placement and maximum range"Best Performance:Linksys WUSB6300 at Amazon"A solid and reliable adapter that offers better speeds at a distance"Best Splurge:Trendnet TEW-809UB at Amazon"Includes four beamforming antennas that offer extended range at the cost of some portability."Best with Antenna:EDUP EP-AC1635 at Amazon"The EDUP-1365 has a one-key encryption function to protect your personal information while you use the internet."

If you're looking for a simple and affordable way to get a desktop PC online or improve the Wi-Fi on an older laptop, then you need one of the best USB Wi-Fi adapters. These handy plug-and-play devices can help you cut the cord on your PC or breathe new life into an aging laptop by bringing it up to the latest wireless standards. 

The best USB Wi-Fi adapters connect to your computer like any other USB peripheral, providing a whole new wireless network interface. They can also easily take over for the built-in wireless on your laptop, which can give you a huge performance boost thanks to dual-band Wi-Fi that will get you up onto the faster 5GHz frequencies. This means smooth 4K Netflix streaming and uninterrupted Zoom calls. The best USB Wi-Fi adapters are a great choice for anybody who wants to add or improve the wireless features on their computer, but they're especially great for road warriors who are frequently hopping between coffee shops, hotels, and airport lounges. 

Best Overall:Netgear Nighthawk A7000 Wi-Fi USB Adapter

4.2 Buy on AmazonBuy on Best BuyBuy on WalmartWhat We Like

Fast speeds

One-click encryption

Plug-and-play installation

What We Don't Like

Pricey

Netgear Nighthawk A7000 Wi-Fi USB Adapter Review

Netgear's Nighthawk A7000 offers the best performance you can get for today's demanding internet activities like 4K streaming and online gaming, thanks to strong dual-band Wi-Fi that provides you with maximum transfer speeds of up to 1.3Gbps on the 5GHz band and 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz side. Of course, you'll need to connect it to a USB 3.0 port to get these maximum speeds, however it's still compatible with USB 2.0 as well, so it can be used with older laptops and desktops too, and although you'll be limited to around 400Mbps in that case, that's still more than adequate for 4K streaming and online gaming.

Setting up your Wi-Fi connection with the Nighthawk A7000 is really easy thanks to its plug-and-play installation and built-in configuration tools, and a WPS button allows for one-click access to encrypted Wi-Fi networks. A magnetic cradle is also included to give you more mounting and placement options, and as our testing showed, its beamforming technology will give you a solid and reliable signal no matter where you are in your home. The sleek, foldable design is great for preventing damage while traveling or moving your computer around the home.

"If you're an avid gamer who likes to slay hordes of undead zombies online, or if you simply want to catch up on Fortnite, this is the adapter for you."— Rebecca Isaacs, Product Tester

Best Value:Net-Dyn AC1200 USB Wi-Fi Adapter

4Buy on AmazonBuy on EBayWhat We Like

100-yard range

Plug-and-play functionality

Lifetime warranty

What We Don't Like

A bit bulky

NET-DYN USB Wireless Wi-Fi Adapter Review

The NET-DYN AC1200 provides that you don't need a fancy and expensive Wi-Fi card in your PC to get a fast and reliable connection; simply plug this adapter into a USB 3.0 port and you'll get up to 867Mbps of throughput on a 5GHz Wi-Fi band—more than enough to stream movies or play games online without worrying about a sluggish connection. Plus, with a 100-yard range you can use it just about anywhere in your home that your router can reach, whether that's on your porch, your basement, your attic, or even out in your backyard.

If you're a Windows user, you also don't need to download specialized programs or drivers to get this adapter to work; simply plug it into a USB port and you can start using your favourite online services almost immediately. The NET-DYN provides a fast and secure connection over the WPA/WPA2 protocols to encrypt your personal information, and it's backed by a lifetime warranty that covers both manufacturing defects and dead units.

"Up close to the router and on a new machine, YouTube played without any pixelation, Spotify was seamless, and online games didn't rubber band. It was a truly magical experience."— Rebecca Isaacs, Product Tester

Best Budget:Glam Hobby Ourlink U631 AC600 Dual Band USB Wi-Fi Adapter

3Buy on AmazonBuy on WalmartBuy on EBayWhat We Like

WPA encryption

Compact

Windows, Mac, and Linux compatible

What We Don't Like

Linux setup is difficult

Ourlink U631 USB Wi-Fi Adapter Review

The Ourlink also has a"soft AP"function to create a Wi-Fi hotspot so you can use your mobile devices without draining your cellular data, and of course supports WPA/WPA2 encryption to protect your information. This adapter works with most dual-band wireless routers and gives you speeds up to 150Mbps over a 2.4GHz band or up to 433Mbps over a 5GHz channel, automatically choosing the best band to handle different workloads or for better media streaming.

Glam Hobby's Ourlink U631 is the perfect choice for road warriors, thanks to an ultra-compact design that lets you basically stick it into your laptop's USB port and forget about it. The low-profile means you can leave it plugged in all the time without worrying about it breaking off or otherwise getting damaged, and it doesn't block other ports on your laptop either.

Offering a plug-and-play setup with Windows, Mac, and Linux laptops, the U631 also has a"soft AP"function that allows you to create a Wi-Fi hotspot right from your laptop, so you can effectively use your laptop as a travel router to get your mobile devices online without using up your cellular data. It also offers surprisingly great dual-band wireless performance for such a small adpater, with speeds of up to 150Mbps on the 2.4GHz band or up to 433Mbps over a 5GHz channel, automatically choosing the best band for maximum performance and range.

"If you're simply looking for something to help you work on documents and get daily internet-related tasks done, then this is the best bang for your buck."— Rebecca Isaacs, Product Tester

Best Range:Edimax EW-7811UAC AC600 Wi-Fi Dual-Band High-Gain USB Adapter

Buy on AmazonBuy on WalmartBuy on B&H Photo VideoWhat We Like

Very affordable

High-gain antennas

Included cradle offers versatile placement

What We Don't Like

Lacks advanced driver options

If you're looking for a really affordable way to get maximum range from a USB Wi-Fi adapter, Edimax's EW-7811UAC makes a great choice thanks to its high-gain antenna and versatile placement options. 

While it's AC600 rating means it's not the fastest adapter you'll find, the transfer speeds of up to 433Mbps on the 5GHz band and 150Mbps on the 2.4GHz side means it's still way more than fast enough for streaming Netflix in 4K to a single laptop or desktop PC, even over a slower 802.11n connection, and more importantly the 6dBi antenna means that you'll still be able to sustain those kinds of speeds when farther away from your router.

The EW-7811UAC also includes a four foot cable and cradle that will allow you to position the USB Wi-Fi adapter and its accompanying antennas father away from your computer or other devices that might introduce interference, as well as letting you align the high-gain antenna for optimal performance. 

Best Performance:Linksys WUSB6300 Dual-Band AC1200 USB Wi-Fi Adapter

Buy on AmazonBuy on Best BuyBuy on WalmartWhat We Like

Offers solid performance at longer ranges

Dual-band W-Fi

Easy to install

What We Don't Like

Middling speeds at closer ranges

Linksys is one of the best-known names when it comes to wireless routers, so it shouldn't come as a big surprise that it also makes a lineup of pretty affordable USB Wi-Fi adapter, and among these the WUSB6300 is currently its fastest model.

In fact, the WUSB6300 was actually one of the first 802.11ac USB Wi-Fi adapters to arrive on the market a few years ago, offering dual-band AC1200 performance with speeds of up to 867Mbps on the 5GHz band. While it doesn't lead the pack in performance at close ranges, where the WUSB6300 particularly excels is in providing more consistent speeds as you move further away from the router.

This also comes in an adapter that's both portable and easy to set up, with USB 3.0 support to make sure you get the maximum throughput from your PC or laptop, and although the performance is fine for web surfing and streaming, the higher latency means that it may not be a go-to choice for gamers.

Best Splurge:Trendnet TEW-809UB AC1900 High Power Dual Band USB Wi-Fi Adapter

Buy on AmazonBuy on WalmartBuy on B&H Photo VideoWhat We Like

Excellent range

Speedy performance

What We Don't Like

Expensive

Not portable

Trendnet's TEW-809UB is a solution for those looking to add Wi-Fi support to a desktop PC or a relatively stationary laptop who don't want to compromise on performance or signal strength. While it's definitely not the most portable USB Wi-Fi Adapter out there, thanks to its four large protruding high-gain antennas, it delivers strong dual-band Wi-Fi performance.

The AC1900 speeds mean that you can get 1.3Gbps throughput on the 5GHz band, and up to 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz side, and it supports beamforming technology to give you the maximum signal strength by aiming your wireless signals in the direction of your router, rather than letting them bounce around the house. You can also manually position the four antennas to help get even better performance. 

An included three-foot USB cable lets you place the TEW-809UB away from your computer, helping to reduce interference further, and like most USB adapters the set up is pretty much plug-and-play, with your operating system handling most of the heavy lifting. 

Best with Antenna:EDUP EP-AC1635 USB WiFi Adapter

5Buy on AmazonBuy on WalmartBuy on EBayWhat We Like

Dual band compatible

Easy to set up

Great warranty

What We Don't Like

Does not work with Linux based computers

EDUP EP-AC1635 USB Wi-Fi Adapter Review

When choosing a wireless adapter, a model with an antenna is a good way to go if you want to maximize your range. The EDUP-1635 adapter uses a USB 2.0 connection and your router's dual-band Wi-Fi to deliver up to 600Mbps so you can surf the web, play games, or stream video at blazing speeds. It also supports 5GHz 802.11ac speeds for even faster performance.

The antenna has 360 degrees of rotation and 90 degrees of angle to help you get the best signal reception no matter where your desktop or laptop is in the house. The EDUP-1365 has a one-key encryption function to protect your personal information while you use the internet, and it's quick and easy to set up with the included CD or downloaded drivers so you can start surfing the web almost immediately.

"During our stress test, the EDUP EP-AC1635 performed incredibly well."— Imad Khan, Product Tester

Final Verdict

Netgear's Nighthawk A7000 is the best choice for anybody who needs maximum performance for streaming and gaming, but for anybody who just needs something portable and affordable to say connected on the go, the Ourlink U631 is hard to beat.

About our Trusted Experts

Jesse Hollington is a freelance writer with over 10 years of experience writing about technology and three decades of experience in information technology and networking. He's installed, tested, and configured just about every type and brand of router, firewall, wireless access point, and network extender in places ranging from single-family dwellings to office buildings. university campuses, and even coast-to-coast wide-area network (WAN) deployments.

Rebecca Isaacs is passionate about how technology, no matter how big or small, can improve daily life. She works in higher education. When she's not checking out the latest tech gadgets or writing about them, she's snuggling up with a good book and her beloved cat, Hobbes.

Imad Khan has written for Washington Post, ESPN, Tom's Guide, Engadget, Digital Trends, Variety, Men's Health, VICE, and more. When he's not busy typing away, he can be found testing out the latest video game or researching the newest gadget on the market.

FAQs

What does a USB Wi-Fi adapter do?As the name suggests, a USB Wi-Fi adapter plugs into a free USB port on your PC or laptop, allowing you to wirelessly connect to any nearby Wi-Fi router or access point, whether that's in your home, your office, or using public hotspots out on the road. USB Wi-Fi adapters can even be used with laptops that already have built-in Wi-Fi to provide a faster and stronger wireless connection.

Is a USB Wi-Fi adapter better than an internal one?If you have a free USB port that supports at least USB 2.0 speeds, a USB Wi-Fi offers quite a few advantages over an internal Wi-Fi card. Not only can you much more easily share it between multiple computers and take it with you on the go, but it also helps to get your Wi-Fi antennas away from any interference that may be generated by the electronics in your PC or laptop, and you can even use a USB extension cable to place it in the best position for maximum range and performance. 

What kind of USB Wi-Fi adapter do I need?Just about any inexpensive USB Wi-Fi adapter will get the job done if all you need to do is stay connected for less demanding activities like email, surfing, and social media. If you need to stream video, participate in Zoom calls, or plan to do serious online gaming, you'll want to get an adapter that offers maximum performance and range. Since antenna size is important in this case, you'll need to give up some portability, but you can still get some pretty pocketable USB Wi-Fi adapters that offer top speeds—you'll just need to be prepared to spend a little bit more.

What to Look For in a USB Wi-Fi Adapter Buying Guide

A USB Wi-Fi adapter is one of the easiest ways to add wireless network connectivity to a PC, laptop, or even a game console, and even if your device already includes built-in Wi-Fi, the right USB Wi-Fi adapter can give you a nice performance upgrade. 

Since USB is a universal standard, a USB Wi-Fi adapter works with just about anything that has a USB port, and getting one up and running is often as simple as just plugging it in, making it a much better option than installing a traditional network card. 

While USB Wi-Fi adapters are available in a wide variety of designs, from ultra-portable dongles that aren't much bigger than your USB port to larger devices that sit on your desk, they all basically have the same goal: to give you top-notch wireless connectivity.

Ach5 / Rebecca Isaacs 

Why Buy a USB Wi-Fi Adapter?

With so many laptops already including built-in Wi-Fi support, you may wonder exactly why you need a USB Wi-Fi adapter. The truth is, if your computer already provides solid built-in Wi-Fi, there's almost certainly no need to add a USB adapter, but for users of older laptops with poor internal Wi-Fi or PCs that typically don't include Wi-Fi support at all, a USB Wi-Fi adapter can help to bridge the gap. 

For example, you might have an older laptop that doesn't offer dual-band Wi-Fi or faster 802.11ac Wi-Fi 5 speeds, in which case a USB Wi-Fi adapter could give your device a new lease on life—especially if you're looking to stream 4K videos or do any serious gaming. Further, even computers that have modern Wi-Fi specs are often hampered by poor internal antenna placement, so an external USB Wi-Fi adapter can help improve your range and throughput by avoiding interferencgiving you a clearer signal.

Range

Most USB Wi-Fi adapters work reasonably well when you're close to your router, but if you're sitting right beside your router anyway, you could just as easily plug in an Ethernet cable and get even better performance, so the point of a USB Wi-Fi adapter is to give you the freedom to move around your home. This means you're going to want to make sure that it offers the kind of range you need. 

To be fair, this is something of a double-edged sword, since it's also up to your router to provide the coverage that you need, and a USB Wi-Fi adapter isn't going to work magic if your router can't get a signal out to it in the first place. It's a cooperative effort, and if you have a larger home, you should definitely start by making sure you have a good long-range router.

Even once you have a router that provides solid coverage for your home, however, the USB Wi-Fi adapter still has to do its part, and not all adapters are created equally in this regard. As a result, adapters that sit farther away from your computer's USB port—either by protruding out, offering external antennas, or using an extension cable—will generally provide better range, all other things being equal, since they offer better antennas and don't have to contend with interference from your computer. 

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Single-Band or Dual-Band Wi-Fi?

A single-band Wi-Fi adapter operates on only one frequency—normally 2.4GHz—which offers basic compatibility with almost every Wi-Fi network on the planet, but also means that you'll be stuck using the same frequencies that almost every other device is using too. By contrast, a dual-band Wi-Fi adapter can make connections on the higher-frequency 5GHz band, providing your router supports it, giving you faster speeds and fewer devices competing for bandwidth. 

Whether to choose a single-band or dual-band USB Wi-Fi adapter will largely depend on what your home router supports, although if you're purchasing an adapter for a laptop that you're going to travel with you'll want to go with a dual-band adapter for maximum compatibility. 

Further, since most laptops today already offer at least single-band Wi-Fi built right in, there's really no point in even considering an adapter that only works on a single band, and these days even the most affordable ones provide dual-band Wi-Fi support.

Just to be clear, although you may have heard of tri-band Wi-Fi, that's a feature exclusive to routers that need to support a lot of devices—it offers an additional 5GHz band to help divvy up devices onto separate bands for maximum performance, but since a single device can only connect to one frequency band at a time, there's no such thing as a tri-band USB Wi-Fi adapter. 

Speeds and Wi-Fi Standards

How fast you need your USB Wi-Fi adapter to be will depend largely on what you plan to do with it. All of the modern dual-band adapters should be more than adequate for even 4K Netflix streaming, offering support for Wi-Fi 5 802.11ac speeds of 867Mbps or better on the 5GHz band. 

One important thing to keep in mind, however, is that as with all Wi-Fi devices, throughput will drop off as you move farther away from your router, and not all USB Wi-Fi adapters are the same in this regard. If you plan to work at a distance from your router, you'll want to make sure that your chosen adapter offers good performance at longer ranges. 

If you plan to use a USB Wi-Fi adapter for gaming, you'll also have to consider more than just speed; make sure you pick one with low latency for the best lag-free performance. On the flip side, there's no need to worry about buying a high-speed adapter if you're only planning to connect to public hotspots at airports, hotels, and coffee shops, as these usually don't offer particularly speedy internet performance in the first place

While there are a number of routers out now offering support for the very newest Wi-Fi 6 802.11ax standard, Wi-Fi 6 compatible USB Wi-Fi adapters aren't yet available—but they're coming soon.

Ach5 / Rebecca Isaacs

Size and Design

There are a lot of different styles of USB Wi-Fi adapters available, making it easy to find an option that suits your own specific needs, but you'll want to make sure that you look beyond just the physical design, since there are some important tradeoffs here.

As a rule, the smaller the USB Wi-Fi adapter, the less range and performance it's likely to offer. Little dongles that barely protrude from your USB port may be great at close range, but it's not realistic to expect them to provide good Wi-Fi performance on the other side of your house (unless you have a mesh Wi-Fi system, of course). 

Adapters that extend further out from your computer's USB port or connect separately via a cable will also avoid being affected by interference from the electronics in your computer, although your mileage will vary depending on what type of PC or laptop you're using; some are better than others in this regard.

Antennas

Larger USB Wi-Fi adapters may be bulkier, but they also offer more room for internal antennas—or even external ones, in some cases—that ensure you get maximum range and performance.

If you're looking for the best speeds at the edges of your Wi-Fi coverage, you should look for an adapter with one or more separate antennas that can be positioned and offer beamforming to maximize signal strength and focus your signal back to the router itself. Of course, an adapter with external antennas will sacrifice some portability. 

Compatibility

While most modern USB Wi-Fi adapters are pretty much plug-and-play for Windows users, if you're using a Mac or a Linux system your options may be more limited, and you'll want to check the specs before buying a USB Wi-Fi adapter to make sure it's not only compatible with your operating system, but also the specific version of your operating system.

This is even more important if it's from a lesser-known brand, as you may need to install custom drivers even on Windows, and the manufacturer may not offer those drivers for other operating systems. 

If you're looking for a USB Wi-Fi adapter for a game console, your options will be even more limited. Don't expect a standard USB Wi-Fi adapter to work with a PS3 or Xbox unless it very specifically lists compatibility with those devices.

USB 3.0 Support

Your USB Wi-Fi adapter can only offer you speeds that are as fast as the USB port on your computer, and since older USB 2.0 ports max out at 480Mbps, you're going to need to have a USB 3.0 port available on your computer if you want to benefit from the speeds offered by an AC1200 or better USB Wi-Fi adapter.

Of course, even if you don't have USB 3.0 available on your computer, this doesn't mean you can't buy a faster USB Wi-Fi adapter, as they're all backward compatible with older USB standards; you simply won't get the advertised speeds, however 480Mbps is still perfectly respectable for streaming movies and even gaming in most cases.

Top Brands

Netgear

While Netgear is best known for its Nighthawk series of wireless routers, it also makes USB Wi-Fi adapters to complement them, bearing the same Nighthawk branding. Naturally, Netgear brings its years of networking expertise to bear in producing quality USB Wi-Fi adapters, and while they tend to be pricey, as with the company's extensive lineup of routers you're getting what you're paying for. 

Linksys

Linksys is also a household name in Wi-Fi gear, having been in the business for over three decades, and having passed from independence to being a division of Cisco and later Belkin, however it still produces iconic routers under its own branding, while also offering a small lineup of USB Wi-Fi adapters that deliver solid performance at more affordable prices. 

Net-Dyn

Net-Dyn is a small American family-owned business that does one thing, and does it quite well—making USB Wi-Fi adapters. While the company has branched out into a few other small products, USB Wi-Fi adapters are still its core business, and they not only offer impressive performance for the price, but they're also backed by a lifetime warranty.

Rebecca Issacs

Conclusion

While it may seem like there's a lot to consider when buying a USB Wi-Fi adapter, it's important to keep in mind that it all boils down to one thing: Getting better wireless connectivity for your PC, laptop, or console. 

While you'll still almost always get better performance by plugging into your router directly, a USB Wi-Fi adapter can give you more flexibility to move around your home and save you from running Ethernet cables, and can be a great way to equip an older laptop with the latest Wi-Fi standards for when you're on the road. 

That said, if you're simply looking to equip a stationary PC or game console with internet access, you may want to consider a Powerline adapter instead, which can extend a wired network connection to other parts of your home using the electrical wiring in your walls.