Which wireless adapter is best?
Wi-Fi is one of the most convenient ways of connecting to the internet. Most devices today are equipped with a wireless receiver, and you only need to connect to the router to start browsing. But what can you do if your computer doesn’t have one?
The answer is a wireless adapter. There are several things that you need to consider, but for general use, the TP-Link AC1300 USB Wi-Fi Adapter is an excellent choice.
What to know before you buy a wireless adapter
Transfer speed of the adapter
One of the most important things to consider is the adapter’s transfer speed — how long it takes to move data. This will largely depend on what you connect it to. Using it to browse the internet, you won’t need as much speed as when you want to stream content or play online video games. Consider the speed of your wireless router and internet connection, then look for an adapter that can receive the same amount. There is no benefit if you get an adapter that’s faster than the router.
Range of the adapter
One of the most common causes of wireless problems is the range of the adapter. Most people assume their internet is too slow, but it’s more likely that the adapter is too far away from the router or Wi-Fi source. All wireless adapters have an optimal range, and once you go beyond that, the quality of the connection degrades. Thick walls or floors also hamper the signal, so consider where the router is and how that can affect the adapter.
USB type affects the speed
Your device’s USB port can also affect performance. Most older computers and laptops only have a USB 2.0 port, which has a maximum data transfer rate of around 480 megabits per second (or 60 megabytes per second). The more modern USB 3.0, on the other hand, has a transfer speed of 5,120Mbps (or 640 MB/s).
What to look for in a quality wireless adapter
Dual-band for the best speeds
A Wi-Fi router capable of transmitting at the 2.4 gigahertz and 5GHz frequencies is called a dual-band router. Likewise, a device that can receive at either of those frequencies is called a dual-band wireless adapter. Most gadgets receive 2.4 gigahertz signals, reaching speeds of up to 450 Mbps. But that frequency band has become increasingly saturated, causing interference. By using the 5GHz frequencies with speeds of up to 1,300Mbps, the signals are less congested. This creates more room on the spectrum, leading to better speeds for both frequencies.
Multiple-input and multiple-output
One of the best features in networking connectivity is MIMO, or multiple-input and multiple-output. A MIMO-enabled router can output different data streams to separate receivers, maximizing the range and reducing congestion. A good-quality wireless adapter is MIMO-compatible, and that means it only needs to connect to one of the router’s antennas to receive an excellent signal. Some devices are labeled as MU-MIMO, or Multi-user MIMO. That means the devices can talk to each other while connected to the same network.
Size and portability
If you have a laptop that doesn’t have Wi-Fi, it’s probably pretty bulky, too, and you don’t need to carry around the extra weight of a wireless adapter. That is why a good-quality adapter is as small as possible, often no larger than a thumb drive. Some adapters are shipped with an additional USB and cradle, as well, so you can place the adapter wherever you get the best signal.
How much you can expect to spend on a wireless adapter
The average price of a wireless adapter mostly depends on the manufacturer, whether it’s dual-band and the maximum receiving speed. An entry-level adapter retails for $20-$50, while one with more range can sell for $70-$90.
Wireless adapter FAQ
Are there options other than USB adapters?
A. Yes. While a USB connection is great for laptops, you can install a PCI-Express adapter into your desktop computer. It slots onto your motherboard and the antenna sticks out the back.
Which operating systems do wireless adapters support?
A. Almost all wireless adapters support Microsoft’s Windows and Apple’s macOS. There are a few, however, that don’t support Apple computers.
What’s the best wireless adapter to buy?
Top wireless adapter
TP-Link AC1300 USB Wi-Fi Adapter
What you need to know: This adapter is small enough to fit in your pocket but packs a big punch for internet speeds.
What you’ll love: It’s a dual-band wireless adapter that can connect to 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies. It is compatible with MU-MIMO and slots into a USB 3.0 port for maximum data transfer rates. The adapter works with Windows and macOS computers.
What you should consider: It has a decent range, but walls and doors can interfere with the signal strength.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Top wireless adapter for the money
Ourlink 600Mbps AC600 Dual Band USB Wi-Fi Dongle
What you need to know: This affordable adapter will connect you to the internet in no time.
What you’ll love: Simply put this USB 2.0 adapter into your computer and the dual-band function will provide you with a fast, reliable connection. You can also use it to create a Wi-Fi hotspot for mobile devices.
What you should consider: Some users have indicated that its receiving range isn’t as big as it should be.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
Netgear AC1900 Wi-Fi USB 3.0 Adapter
What you need to know: This is an internet beast, with four antennas to connect to four simultaneous data streams.
What you’ll love: It uses a USB 3.0 port for dual-band access to the router. It is compatible with Windows and macOS and can connect to any Wi-Fi transmission device. The adapter comes with a USB-powered cradle so that you can move the adapter around for the best signal quality.
What you should consider: The price might be a bit steep for most.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Charlie Fripp writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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