Using USB Wireless Adapters with an Xbox 360

Are Xbox Wireless Adapters the Same as PC USB Adapters?

The Xbox 360 E, the third hardware revision in the Xbox 360 lineup. This picture shows the back of the unit and its inputs and outputs.
The Xbox 360 E, the third hardware revision in the Xbox 360 lineup. This picture shows the back of the unit and its inputs and outputs. Wikimedia Commons

The Microsoft Xbox console features USB ports for connecting peripherals like racing wheels or a camera. Many Wi-Fi network adapters also connect via USB, but these products normally plug into a computer and require special configurations before they can work.

Unfortunately, it isn't possible to have a generic USB network adapter work on an Xbox console. However, there are other options.

Why It Doesn't Work

Generic Wi-Fi network adapters require certain device drivers that standard Xbox consoles cannot accommodate. Although it is physically possible to plug these adapters into the Xbox, they will not function properly without the accompanying drivers in place.

Since you cannot easily install your own drivers on an Xbox, the necessary software components are unable to be transferred to the console in order to make the network adapter work.

USB Wireless Game Adapters

To set up an Xbox console for wireless networking, consider using a Wi-Fi game adapter instead of a generic adapter. Game adapters are specifically designed to not require the installation of device drivers, and will, therefore, work with Xbox.

The Microsoft Xbox 360 Wireless Network Adapter, for example, connects to the console's USB port and supports standard Wi-Fi home networking. This is the easiest way to make your Xbox work on Wi-Fi so that you can play online or with other consoles on your own network.

Note: Make sure to read what the device is capable of before buying just anything called a "Xbox wireless adapter." Some USB devices like the Microsoft Xbox Wireless Adapter for Windows ​is only useful if you want to connect your Xbox controller to a computer so that you can play games on your PC. This device, for example, does not enable wireless on your Xbox like a game adapter can.​

Ethernet-to-Wireless Bridge Adapters

Instead of using a USB port, you also have the option of connecting a network adapter to the Ethernet port of the console. The Linksys WGA54G Wireless-G Gaming Adapter, for example, serves this purpose for both the original Xbox and Xbox 360.

It creates a wireless connection without requiring device drivers by bridging the connection. Microsoft's standard network adapter for the original Xbox (MN-740) was also an Ethernet bridge device.

Many people prefer this option since Ethernet adapters often cost less than USB adapters.

Running Linux on Your Xbox

Driver-based USB network adapters can only be installed and work on a heavily modified Xbox. Using the XDSL distribution from the Xbox Linux project, for example, lets you install the required drivers and configure these adapters as you would on ordinary PCs.

This option is not appealing to the casual gamer because it requires effectively rebuilding your console with a new operating system. However, running Linux on your Xbox brings other technical advantages that some technophiles cannot live without.

Your Xbox Might Already Support Built-in Wireless

Most modern game consoles, including the Xbox, support wireless connections by default so that you don't have to install an extra device in order to connect to the network. This setting is most likely in the Settings, under a Network Settings or Wireless menu.