The 7 Best USB Wi-Fi Adapters of 2023

Get Wi-Fi connectivity easily with these wireless adapters

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The best USB Wi-Fi adapters are a convenient way to get a desktop PC or older laptop online with the performance you need for smooth streaming and uninterrupted video calling. Not only will they let you easily add wireless capabilities to a desktop PC, but they can also breathe new life into a laptop that isn’t up to the latest Wi-Fi standards. 

Best Overall

Netgear Nighthawk A7000 USB Wi-Fi Adapter

NETGEAR AC1900 Wi-Fi USB 3.0 Adapter


What We Like
  • High speeds

  • Great range

  • Versatile for both desktops and laptops

What We Don't Like
  • Bulky

  • Relatively expensive

Netgear's Nighthawk A7000 performs today's demanding internet activities like 4K streaming and online gaming. While it's not the most compact adapter on our list, it's worth the tradeoff if you don't want to compromise speed or range. 

During our testing, we found the A7000 was more than up to handling the latest online games, but it did so at an impressive distance of three floors away from the main router. It also clocked in at speeds that were more than enough to handle even the highest-definition video streaming services, from Netflix to Disney+.

A simple installation CD makes the setup process straightforward: Plug it in, key in your Wi-Fi password, and be ready in just a few minutes. There's also a WPS button for connection to the main router if you prefer that method—and your router supports it. The adapter also folds up nicely, so you can slip it into your laptop bag for traveling, but it's worth noting that the bulky size can make it a bit tricky to use with thinner laptops. Thankfully, there's a magnetic cradle included that lets you set it up beside your computer, which not only keeps it out of the way but can also help you get a better signal. 

Wireless Spec: Wi-Fi 5 (801.11ac) | Speed: AC1900 | Bands: Dual-band

"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

Netgear Nighthawk A7000

Rebecca Issacs

Best Value

Net-Dyn AC1200 USB Wi-Fi Adapter

USB Wireless WiFi Adapter


What We Like
  • 100-yard range

  • Plug-and-play functionality

  • Lifetime warranty

What We Don't Like
  • A bit bulky

The NET-DYN AC1200 proves that you don't need an expensive Wi-Fi card in your PC to get a fast and reliable connection. You can plug this adapter into a free USB port, like a USB flash drive, to bring a wireless connection to your desktop PC or upgrade the Wi-Fi on an older laptop. 

While our testing showed that you couldn't rely on this one for streaming video at extended ranges, it still lets you maintain a basic connection throughout your home. As long you say stay reasonably close to your router. However, it provides enough speed to handle anything you'll want to do on your laptop, from streaming 4K video from Netflix to keeping in touch with colleagues on Zoom

The NET-DYN AC1200 does promise a plug-and-play installation on Windows without installing any software. As we found in our review, your mileage may vary on this one. Fortunately, it's easy to use the included CD or even fetch the necessary software from the manufacturer's website. As a bonus, it also provides software for Mac and Linux systems. It's also backed by a lifetime warranty covering manufacturing defects and dead units.

Wireless Spec: Wi-Fi 5 (801.11ac) | Speed: AC1200 | Bands: Dual-band

"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

NET-DYN USB Wireless Wi-Fi Adapter

Lifewire / Rebecca Isaacs

Best for Travel

Ourlink U631 USB Wi-Fi Adapter

OURLINK 600Mbps AC600 Dual Band USB


What We Like
  • Very affordable

  • Ultra-compact

  • Windows, Linux, and Mac compatible

What We Don't Like
  • Some lag for heavy gamers

  • Poor range

  • Linux setup can be tricky

Glam Hobby's Ourlink U631 is the perfect choice for road warriors, thanks to an ultra-compact design that lets you 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 getting damaged, and best of all, it won't block the other ports on your laptop.

Unfortunately, that smaller size comes with a pretty big tradeoff in terms of range. Since it's hard to pack big antennas in such a small package, speeds on the U631 fall off quickly as you move away from your router. Our testing found that it was a great performer as long as you stay close, but don't expect it to deliver the speeds needed for gaming and streaming when you're on the other end of the house. 

That said, even at a distance, it will still give you a fast enough connection for checking email and casually surfing the web. It also features a simplified setup, thanks to the accompanying CD, and it's compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux. The real win with this one is that it's so tiny that it becomes part of your laptop, supplementing or replacing the built-in Wi-Fi.

Wireless Spec: Wi-Fi (801.11ac) | Speed: AC600 | Bands: Dual-band

"If you're planning on gaming far from the router, find another adapter for your long-distance needs." — Rebecca Isaacs, Product Tester

Glam Hobby OURLINK

Rebecca Issacs

Best Budget

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

Edimax Wi-Fi High Gain Dual-Band Adapter


What We Like
  • Included cradle offers versatile placement for best signal

  • Very affordable

  • High-gain antennas

What We Don't Like
  • Basic driver options only

Edimax's EW-7811UAC offers a very affordable way to get maximum range from a USB Wi-Fi adapter, thanks to its high-gain antenna and versatile placement options. The included four-foot cable and cradle allow you to position the USB Wi-Fi adapter and its accompanying antennas away from your computer or any other devices that might cause interference while also letting you align the high-gain antenna for optimal performance. 

While the AC600 rating means it's not the fastest adapter you'll find, it's still more than fast enough to stream Netflix in 4K to a single laptop or desktop PC—even over a slower Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n) connection. The external antenna also powers fast transfer speeds to ensure sustained performance even farther away from your router.

Wireless Spec: Wi-Fi 5 (801.11ac) | Speed: AC600 | Bands: Dual-band

Best Performance

Linksys WUSB6300 Dual-Band AC1200 USB Wi-Fi Adapter

Linksys USB Wireless Network Adapter


What We Like
  • Solid performance at longer ranges

  • Easy to install

  • Beamforming technology

What We Don't Like
  • A little bulky

  • Middling speeds at closer ranges

As one of the best-known names in wireless routers, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Linksys' WUSB6300 was one of the first USB Wi-Fi 5 adapters to arrive on the market a few years ago, and it remains one of the best in terms of general performance, especially at longer ranges. 

While the WUSB6300 doesn't lead the pack in performance at closer ranges, it excels at providing more consistent speeds as you move further away from the router. This gives you enough speed for everything from web surfing to streaming and video calling, although its higher latency makes it a less-than-ideal choice for gamers.

Wireless Spec: Wi-Fi 5 (801.11ac) | Speed: AC1200 | Bands: Dual-band

Best Splurge

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

TRENDnet High Power Dual Band Wireless USB Adapter


What We Like
  • Fast performance

  • Solid connection

  • USB 3.0 and type A

  • Mac and Windows compatible

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • Designed for stationary setups

We'll come right out and admit that Trendnet's TEW-809UB isn't the best choice for laptop users on the go, thanks to its bulky size and spider-like protruding antennas. Instead, this one is best suited for somebody who wants to add Wi-Fi to a desktop PC or a laptop typically used at a desk. 

The name of the game for this one is range since those four large antennas help ensure you can pick up a strong Wi-Fi signal even at a distance. Instead of hanging the TEW-809UB directly off a USB port in your laptop or desktop PC, you use the included three-foot USB cable to place it on a nearby surface. This also helps you to get a better signal, as it keeps it away from interference from the electrical components inside your computer. 

Wireless Spec: Wi-Fi 5 (801.11ac) | Speed: AC1900 | Bands: Dual-band

Best With Antenna

EDUP EP-AC1635 USB WiFi Adapter

EDUP USB WiFi Adapter Dual Band Wireless Network


What We Like
  • Small and compact

  • Excellent speed and range

  • Includes driver disc

What We Don't Like
  • Incompatible with Linux

  • External antenna might be a drawback for some

The EDUP-1635 is a small but powerful USB Wi-Fi adapter that sprouts an external antenna to maximize range, giving you enough speed to game and stream throughout your home. 

You can also rotate the antenna in just about any direction to help you focus the signal, although in most cases, you probably won’t need to bother, as our testing showed that it didn’t make a huge difference. Mostly, it’s just handy for keeping it out of your way. Regardless of position, however, we found that the EDUP-1635 performed admirably at distances of up to 20 feet and easily juggled multiple 4K streams from YouTube and Netflix and gaming in Rocket League. 

However, don’t be fooled by the external antenna, as this one won’t necessarily outperform the already built Wi-Fi into your laptop. It would be best if you thought of this device as a way to upgrade an older laptop with only a Wi-FI 4 rather than extending the range of a more modern one. That said, considering that it costs about as much as a nice lunch, the EDUP-1635 offers impressive performance.

Wireless Spec: Wi-Fi 5 (801.11ac) | Speed: AC600 | Bands: Dual-band

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

EDUP EP-AC1635 USB Wi-Fi Adapter

 Lifewire / Imad Khan

The Ultimate 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 game console. Even if your device already includes built-in Wi-Fi, the correct adapter can give you an excellent performance upgrade. 

Since USB is a universal standard, a USB Wi-Fi adapter can work with just about anything with a USB port. It is often as simple as just plugging it in, making them a much better option than installing a traditional network card. 

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

Netgear Nighthawk A7000 WiFi USB adapter

Lifewire / Rebecca Isaacs

Why Buy a USB Wi-Fi Adapter?

Since most laptops already have Wi-Fi built-in, you may wonder what the point is of a USB Wi-Fi adapter. The truth is, if your computer already provides reliable Wi-Fi, there's almost certainly no need to add an external adapter. However, for laptops with poor Wi-Fi hardware or PCs that typically don't include Wi-Fi support, a USB Wi-Fi adapter will help bridge that gap. 

For example, you might have an older laptop that doesn't offer dual-band Wi-Fi or faster 802.11ac speeds. A USB Wi-Fi adapter may give your computer a new lease on life, especially if you hope to stream 4K videos or do any serious online gaming. Further, even computers with modern Wi-Fi specs can be hampered by poor internal antenna placement, so an external USB Wi-Fi adapter can improve your range and performance. 


Most USB Wi-Fi adapters work reasonably well when close to your router. Still, if you're sitting beside your router anyway, you could probably just as easily plug in an Ethernet cable and get even better performance. A USB Wi-Fi adapter gives you the freedom to move around your home, so you will want one that offers the kind of range you need. 

This is something of a double-edged sword. It's also up to your router to provide the coverage you need, and a USB Wi-Fi adapter isn't working 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 start by ensuring you have an excellent long-range router.

Even if you have a powerful router or mesh Wi-Fi system that provides solid coverage for your home, the USB Wi-Fi adapter still has to do its part, and not all adapters are equal in this regard. 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 have less interference from your computer to contend with.

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 you'll be stuck using the same frequencies that most other devices are using. By contrast, a dual-band Wi-Fi adapter can connect on the higher-frequency 5GHz band, providing your router supports it, giving you faster speeds and fewer devices competing for bandwidth. 

Choosing a single-band or dual-band USB Wi-Fi adapter largely depends on what your home router supports. If you're purchasing an adapter for a laptop, you'll travel with it. However, you'll want to use a dual-band adapter for maximum compatibility.

Also, remember that most laptops today already offer at least single-band Wi-Fi built right in. This means there's not much point in considering a single-band Wi-Fi adapter; these days, even the most affordable ones provide dual-band Wi-Fi support.

What about tri-band Wi-Fi? Well, that's not something you'll find in a USB Wi-Fi adapter, as it's a feature exclusive to routers that must support many devices. Tri-band routers offer an extra 5GHz frequency band to divvy up devices for maximum performance. Since a single device can only connect to one frequency band at a time, there's no such thing as a tri-band Wi-Fi adapter. 

Net-Dyn AC1900

Rebecca Issacs

Speed and Wi-Fi Standards

Most modern dual-band adapters should be more than adequate for most online activities. Even the most affordable USB Wi-Fi adapters support at least AC600 speeds, generally up to 433Mbps on the 5GHz band and 150Mbps on the 2.4GHz side. By contrast, streaming a Netflix movie in 4K UHD only requires 25Mbps bandwidth. 

However, one important thing to remember is that, as with all Wi-Fi devices, speeds will drop off as you move farther away from your router, and not all USB Wi-Fi adapters offer the same range. If you plan to work from your router, you'll want to ensure your chosen adapter provides good performance at a distance.

If you're a gamer, consider more than just speed. In this case, pick one with low latency for maximum lag-free performance. On the flip side, however, 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 many routers support the Wi-Fi 6 802.11ax standard, Wi-Fi 6 compatible USB Wi-Fi adapters aren't yet widely available—but they're coming soon.

Size and Design

Many USB Wi-Fi adapters are available, so it's easy to find an option that suits your specific needs. However, you'll want to ensure that you look beyond just the physical design since there are some essential 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 unrealistic 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 avoid being affected by interference from the electronics in your computer. Your mileage will vary here depending on what type of PC or laptop you're using, though, as some are better than others in this regard.

Ourlink AC600 USB Wi-Fi Adapter

Lifewire / Rebecca Isaacs


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 the best range and performance.

For maximum speeds at the edges of your Wi-Fi coverage, you’ll want an adapter with separate antennas that can be positioned and offer beamforming to maximize signal strength and focus your signal back to the router. Of course, an adapter with external antennas will sacrifice some portability. 


Most modern USB Wi-Fi adapters are plug-and-play for Windows users, but your options may be more limited if you're using a Mac or a Linux system. 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 and the specific version of your operating system.

This is even more important if it's from a lesser-known brand. 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 specifically lists compatibility with those devices.


Iman Khan

USB 3.0 Support

Your USB Wi-Fi adapter can only offer speeds as fast as your computer's USB port. Since older USB 2.0 ports max out at 480Mbps, you will need a USB 3.0 port 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 won't get the advertised speeds. However 480Mbps is still perfectly respectable for streaming movies and even gaming—as long as the adapter offers low enough latency to keep your games moving fast. 

Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 Wi-Fi Adapter

Lifewire / Rebecca Isaacs 

  • What does a USB Wi-Fi adapter do?

    As the name suggests, a USB Wi-Fi adapter plugs into any free USB port on a 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 using an internal one?

    As long as you have a free USB port that's fast enough—which should be true for just about any computer made in the past decade or so—then a USB Wi-Fi adapter can offers several advantages over an internal Wi-Fi card. Not only can you 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. 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 you 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.

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