The 7 Best USB Wi-Fi Adapters of 2021

Get Wi-Fi connectivity easily with these wireless adapters

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The Rundown
"While it uses USB 3.0, it’s also compatible with older laptops that might still be using USB 2.0."
"While it’s a plug-and-play, its dual-band capabilities can effectively be used for both gaming and the casual internet surfer."
"This adapter can use a 'soft API' function to become a Wi-Fi hotspot."
"The included cradle and 4-foot cable offer versatile placement options."
Best Performance:
Linksys WUSB6300 at Amazon
"Compatibility meets beamforming technology to make sure a steady stream of dual-band Wi-Fi can be accessed through your entire home."
"Beamforming technology helps direct up to 1,300Mbps the adapter offers on the 5.0GHz network for fast, stable gaming or streaming."
Best With Antenna:
EDUP EP-AC1635 at Amazon
"EDUP's EP-AC1635 antenna has ultimate flexibility, with 360 degrees of rotation and 90 degrees of angle capability."

With work from home setups becoming more popular, having a solid connection to any network is a necessity. For desktops and laptops which lack a handy connection, USB Wi-Fi adapters are the easiest way to plug in and connect to a home router. 

Just like home routers, selecting a Wi-Fi adapter can be tricky. Some adapters are geared for the home gamer in mind, while others are more suited to ensuring the connection is smooth and stable for that important Zoom presentation. Even better, some of them have dual-band and tri-band technology so you can get the best of all worlds in a small device.

Be sure to check out our list below for the best USB Wi-Fi adapters that are perfect for home, travel, and everything in between for an easy smooth connection.

Best Overall: Netgear Nighthawk A7000 Wi-Fi USB Adapter

What We Like
  • High speeds

  • Great range

  • Reliable connectivity

  • Versatile for both desktops and laptops

What We Don't Like
  • Large

  • Expensive

  • Confusing set-up process

  • Magnetic dock

Dual-bands offer speeds of up to 1.3Gbps for the 5GHz network and 600Mbps for the 2.4GHz network, making the Netgear Nighthawk A7000 Wi-Fi USB adapter a great addition for both gamers and business workers alike. While it uses USB 3.0, it’s also compatible with older laptops that might still be using USB 2.0. For older laptops that use the 2.0 technology, your speeds will be capped at around 400Mbps. But whether you're streaming Netflix or catching up on Fortnite, that will be more than enough.

Not only is this a plug-and-play adapter, but the Nighthawk A7000 also offers handy WPS access to encrypted Wi-Fi networks. Thanks to its use of beamforming technology, the Nighthawk A7000 will provide a consistent, reliable connection from any spot in over 50-foot range. A magnetic dock helps the adapter easily stick to any computer or desktop space, and it even folds to extend its antennae—or pack into a backpack for carry-on.

AC Speed: 1,300Mbps/600Mbps | Bands: Dual-band | Wireless Type: 801.11ac

"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

What We Like
  • 100-yard range

  • Plug-and-play functionality

  • Lifetime warranty

What We Don't Like
  • A bit bulky

The Net-Dyn AC1200 adapter's 100-yard range and fun cobalt blue design make sure that connectivity is a breeze in any location. While it’s a plug-and-play, its dual-band capabilities can effectively be used for both gaming and the more casual internet surfer. It even works with Windows, Mac, and Linux systems.

The Net-Dyn adapter also offers USB 3.0 and 2.0 compatibility, though the newer the computer, the better for this adapter. It offers up to 865Mbps on the 5.0GHz network, and 300Mbps for its 2.4GHz network so Netflix users can enjoy a seamless streaming experience.

AC Speed: 865Mbps/300Mbps | Bands: Dual-band | Wireless Type: 802.11ac

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

What We Like
  • WPA encryption

  • Compact

  • Inexpensive

  • Windows, Linux, and Mac compatible

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

  • Weak range

Thanks to WPA/WPA 2 encryption, the Glam Hobby Ourlink U631 protects both your PC and your mobile connection. Yes, you read that right—this adapter can use a "soft API" function to become a Wi-Fi hotspot. It's a great compact adapter that can go up to 433Mbps per second on a 5.0GHz connection. If a longer range is needed, this adapter can also go up to 150Mbps under the 2.4GHz connection.

Because it is so small, it’s a great option for both an at-home setup and as a travel router. It also won’t take up too much space or block any other USB ports if port space is prime real estate for your computer setup. And, if you have a laptop, you can leave it plugged in without worrying about breaking it or knocking it out of the port. It's a great option for those who are frequently on the go.

AC Speed: 433Mbps/150Mbps | Bands: Dual-band | Wireless Type: IEEE 802.11 b/g/n 2.4 GHz; 802.11 a/n/ac 5.0 GHz

"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 EW-7811UAC
What We Like
  • Versatile placement thanks to cradle

  • Affordable

  • High quality antennae

What We Don't Like
  • Basic driver options only

Internet should be available and affordable to all, and the Edimax EW-7811UAC Wi-Fi adapter is a great way to get internet without a massive price tag. The included cradle and 4-foot cable offer versatile placement options, and 6dBi antennae help make sure you stay connected in any home space.

The speeds can go up to 433Mbps on the 5.0GHz and 150Mbps on the 2.4GHz networks. That may not seem like a lot, but it's more than enough for binging the latest Netflix show.

AC Speed: 433Mbps/150Mbps | Bands: Dual-band | Wireless Type: 802.11 n/ac

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

Linksys WUSB6300
What We Like
  • Great range

  • WEP, NPA, and WPA2 encryption

  • Plug-and-play

  • Beamforming technology

  • Compatible with almost all routers

What We Don't Like
  • A little bulky

While it's a little bulky for a USB port, the Linksys WUSB6300 is a solid-performing adapter. Compatibility meets beamforming technology to make sure a steady stream of dual-band Wi-Fi can be accessed through your entire home.

Streaming is smooth and fast thanks to the 867Mbps the 5.0GHz network can run. The 2.4GHz on this dual-band can go an equally-impressive 300Mbps, making this a dream for streamers and gamers alike.

AC Speed: 867Mbps/300Mbps | Bands: Dual-band | Wireless Type: IEEE 802.11 n; 2.4 GHz; 802.11 ac 5.0 GHz

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

It's definitely not the most portable adapter out there, but the Trendnet TEW-809UB is a great contender when it comes to Wi-Fi USB adapters. Beamforming technology helps direct up to 1,300Mbps the adapter offers on the 5.0GHz network for fast, stable gaming or streaming. Even on the lower, 2.4GHz network adapter can get up to 600Mbps.

Because of its bulk, it's best to set up the TEW-809UB in a stationary location, But the included 3-foot long cable will help ensure ultimate versatility in any space.

AC Speed: 1300Mbps/600Mbps | Bands: Dual-band | Wireless Type: 802.11 b/g/n

Best With Antenna: EDUP EP-AC1635 USB WiFi Adapter

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

Sometimes having a wireless adapter with an antenna is the best way to increase your range. The EDUP's EP-AC1635 antenna has ultimate flexibility, with 360 degrees of rotation and 90 degrees of angle capability to help maximize your signal. Also included is encryption software to make sure your personal information stays private.

It’'s not necessarily a plug-and-play due to the accompanying CD driver, but with speeds up to 600Mbps, surfing the web or streaming your favorite Netflix show will be a breeze. Extra bonus points go to the dual bands available in this small adapter.

AC Speed: 1300Mbps/600Mbps | Bands: Dual-band | Wireless Type: 802.11n, 802.11b, 802.11g

"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

Final Verdict

Designed for heavy gamers, streamers, and everything in between, the Netgear Nighthawk A7000 (view at Amazon) is by far the best choice on the market. Its high speeds and reliability on both GHz bands will help complete any setup, be it at home or on the go.

However, if you're looking for an option that isn't as bulky, then Glam Hobby's Ourlink U631 (view at Amazon) will be perfect for all of your streaming and most of your working needs.

About our Trusted Experts

Rebecca Isaacs has teamed up with Lifewire since January 2019. An avid lover of all things computer-related, she frequently uses Wi-Fi adapters for all of her gaming and work needs as she battles to get the best internet in the Midwest. She has personally tested many of the adapters on this list.

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?
A Wi-Fi adapter works by bringing the internet to your computer or laptop via USB port. It allows you to wirelessly connect to a router or Wi-Fi hotspot. If your laptop is running slow internet, or you’re having issues streaming, you can use one of these to increase your speed or even general stability to get rid of that pesky streaming pixelation.

Is a USB Wi-Fi adapter better than using an internal one?
It depends. Sometimes it makes more sense to use an adapter, especially if you're traveling and need to ensure fast, reliable speeds as you work on the go. There is even the possibility that your computer’s internal electronics can and will interfere with the internal card, and so it could be best to get an external USB Wi-Fi adapter.

What kind of USB Wi-Fi adapter do I need?
It depends on your needs. If all you're doing is casual internet surfing or light office work, then any USB Wi-Fi adapter will do and price doesn't matter. However, if you will be using the adapter for gaming and heavy streaming needs, or even Zoom calls, an adapter that can handle these tasks will be in your best interest. Most likely, you will have to sacrifice some portability to get a strong antenna for your adapter to suit your needs. And these task-heavy adapters are usually a little pricier.

What to Look For in a USB Wi-Fi Adapter

Choosing an adapter to suit your lifestyle can be exciting and confusing. The good news is that USB ports are standard in all computers or anything that has a USB port. Most of the time, all you have to do is plug in your adapter and connect to the internet, and it will do the rest.

Because designs are so varied across the market from nano adapters to large, bulky adapters, the goal here is to find one that not only fits your needs but gives you fast, stable wireless connections.

Range

If you're in an apartment or small living space, then range may not be at the top of your list, or even considered important. However, if you're in a large home or if you're working in a larger space it is vital to get an adapter with longer ranges. The adapter should work in conjunction with your router to give you a large area of coverage. Because a computer's electronics can interfere with the Wi-Fi signal, it's best to set up the adapter near but not next to the laptop or computer. This will help improve the range.

Dual-Band or Single-Band Wi-Fi?

The difference between single and dual bands can make or break any home PC setup. A 2.4 GHz band will provide a solid range of coverage, but at the cost of speed. For example, a 2.4GHz band’s speed will usually be a fraction of what a 5.0 GHz can run. On the flip side, a 5.0 GHz band is great for internet-heavy tasks such as playing online video games or streaming high-definition shows, but the range coverage for this band is significantly smaller. It makes sense if you have gamers in the home to invest in dual band versus a single band. If you are using the internet for casual internet surfing or light office work, then a single band will work for you.

Size and Design

The good news is that there are a plethora of designs for Wi-Fi adapters on the market, so you can easily find one to fit your needs. However, it can be challenging to narrow down what you need. If you plan to travel a lot, a smaller, more portable device may be something to invest in. Keep in mind, though, that the smaller the adapter, the smaller its range and performance. A nano adapter or a travel adapter may seem like a good idea, but if you need to get coverage outside of your home, it most likely will not provide it.

Compatibility

If you're working on a Mac computer, for example, you will need an adapter that can work with a Mac system. Not all adapters are created equal. Some work only with Windows systems, while others work across an array of operating systems. It's best to check before you invest in an adapter. More importantly, it's best to check that it is compatible with your specific version of your computer system before you purchase. Sometimes they work only on certain operating systems that have been released after certain dates.

An important thing to note: If you're using an adapter for a console, you will have to specifically look for the title of your console for the adapter. Adapters that do not specifically mention, for example, Xbox One, will most likely not be compatible with that gaming system. It's best to check before you purchase.

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