The 10 Best Wireless Adapters
This wiki has been updated 20 times since it was first published in October of 2015. If you're using a device that doesn't quite have the WiFi connectivity you need, or a computer that came without a wireless adapter, you can quickly upgrade with something from our comprehensive selection. Some connect via a USB port and others require a PCIe slot, but they all use the latest over-the-air network communications technology to provide high bandwidth for your online work and play. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. Skip to the best wireless adapter on Amazon.
April 04, 2019:
Wi-Fi 6 is just around the corner, but it will take a while to become mainstream. In the mean time, the Wi-Fi formerly known as 802.11ac is still the most common, and its bandwidth is generally more than enough to accommodate most Internet service plans. The problem is, many desktop motherboards (especially older ones) don't have integrated wireless adapters. If that's the case with your setup, the NetDyn, BrosTrend, Netgear, and Asus all plug into a USB port and let you start surfing without having to open up your case or unscrew anything. They are all a little bit larger than is ideal for today's ultraportables, though, so if you'll be on the move, consider the OurLink, EDUP, or TP-Link. They're all pretty small, especially the TP-Link, and are great workarounds for a laptop's broken internal Wi-Fi chip. In fact, the EDUP also works fantastically for a desktop computer thanks to its detachable antenna, which helps avoid interference from the PC's case. If you're comfortable taking some things apart, want the best speeds offered, and have the right slot open, the Fenvi is hard to beat. It plugs straight into a PCIe slot, and a lot of motherboards have one of those to spare. The Rosewill is similar, though it doesn't have the Bluetooth 5.0 capability that the Fenvi does. And if you really know what you're doing, you may need something like the Intel 9260 chip itself. We've showcased the M.2 form-factor model here, and it's ideal for IT professionals who need their fleet of older laptops to have excellent connectivity while also allowing secure Remote Access.
A Brief History Of Wi-Fi
Both of these technologies can be thought of as precursors to the Wi-Fi we known and love today.
Lucent developed the first Wi-Fi adapter for under $100 and then Apple, using the brand name AirPort, introduced integrated Wi-Fi capabilities in their iBook.
Wi-Fi for home computer use wasn't released until 1997, but the technology was being used long before that. In 1971, ALOHAnet was able to connect the Hawaiian Islands through a UHF wireless packet network known as the ALOHA Protocol. Then, in the late 1980s, AT&T started integrating Wave LAN into cash register systems. Both of these technologies can be thought of as precursors to the Wi-Fi we known and love today.
As you can imagine, there were a lot of limitations and bugs in these earlier wireless systems and reception was often spotty. The signal carrying the waves of information would bounce off walls and other objects limiting its range and affecting the transfer of data.
In 1997, a committee which included engineers from Bell Labs, IEEE, and NCR agreed on an industry-wide standard for wireless communication. It included a 2 Mbps data transfer rate and the use of one of two broad-spectrum technologies: direct sequence transmission or frequency hopping. It was originally known as IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence, and then renamed Wi-Fi in 1999 by the brand consultancy firm Interbrand Corporation.
Once a standard was in place for wireless local area networks (WLAN), engineers immediately began working on prototype equipment that complied with it. In 1999 the first routers for home use were released and sparked the Wi-Fi revolution, which quickly led to wireless internet capability in the majority of homes across America. Lucent developed the first Wi-Fi adapter for under $100 and then Apple, using the brand name AirPort, introduced integrated Wi-Fi capabilities in their iBook.
Less than 20 years from the initial release of Wi-Fi signaling, it has pervaded every day life in a way no one could have foreseen. Not only is it available in nearly every fast food restaurant, cafe, hotel, and bookstore, it is even available on many forms of transportation from trains and buses to planes and cruise ships. For many people under the age of 21, a world without Wi-Fi and instant access to information is beyond the limits of their imagination.
How Wireless Adapters Work
When many people think of wireless adapters, they often think it is synonymous with an internet connection, but this isn't the case. Wireless adapters don't provide you with internet service, rather they can be used to connect a computer system that doesn't have an integrated wireless system with a router's Wi-Fi signal. The router receives its internet connection via a modem of some kind, most often cable or DSL these days.
For the average person, choosing an external USB or memory card style wireless adapter will be the best choice.
Wireless adapters come in two distinct types: internal models and external models. External models either plug into a USB or Ethernet port, or they can be inserted into a memory card slot. Internal models fit into a PCI slot and will require you to take apart your computer case to install one.
For the average person, choosing an external USB or memory card style wireless adapter will be the best choice. It doesn't require you to open up your computer's case and it can quickly be switched from computer to computer as needed.
No matter which type you choose to use, they all work in the same manner. They first obtain a signal from your computer, which is then changed into a radio wave and transmitted via an external or internal antenna to your router. Wi-Fi adapters are capable of two-way transmission and also receive data from routers.
Benefits Of Using A Wireless Adapter
There are many benefits to using a wireless adapter, with the main one being that you won't need to physically connect a cable to your computer to access internet services. This gives you the true mobility when using a laptop or tablet that these devices were designed for. You will be able to go to most cafes or bookstores and connect to their free Wi-Fi signal and you won't have to worry about a short Ethernet cable limiting the locations you can work in your home or office.
You won't need to buy an additional adapter for each computer unless you need to be using them simultaneously.
If you have an older desktop or laptop model, it may not have come with an integrated wireless network interface controller. Using a wireless adapter allows you to upgrade your computer to work with Wi-Fi signals for a nominal fee instead of spending a lot of money to buy a new computer. If you purchase an external adapter, you won't even need to install any hardware inside of your computer case, so there is no chance of damaging your computer.
Another great thing about external wireless adapters is that they can be used on multiple computers. Just unplug it from one device and plug it into another, and in seconds you can be using Wi-Fi on another computer. You won't need to buy an additional adapter for each computer unless you need to be using them simultaneously. Most models available today work with both Mac and Windows operating systems too.
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