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Best Overall: Netgear Nighthawk A7000 at Amazon
"Offers maximum performance for gaming and streaming."
Best for Laptop: Glam Hobby Ourlink at Amazon
"The ultra-compact design is great for both storage and travel."
Best for Gaming: Asus USB-AC68 AC1900 at Amazon
"Easily foldable external antennas give this adapter great performance and range without sacrificing portability."
Best Design: D-Link DWA-192 AC1900 at Amazon
"This little orb isn't exactly portable but it provides great Wi-Fi range and manages to look cool while doing it."
Best with Antenna: EDUP-1635 at Amazon
"The EDUP-1365 has a one-key encryption function to protect your personal information while you use the internet."
Best for Desktop PC and Mac: Wise Tiger GXIVR8020A5 at Amazon
"Lets you create a Wi-Fi hotspot for your mobile devices."
Best Budget: TP-Link TL-WN725N at Amazon
"With a price point that will fit all but the strictest of budgets, this Wi-Fi adapter still delivers a fast, reliable connection."
If you're looking for maximum performance for your online gaming or streaming, you'll want to check out the Netgear Nighthawk A7000. This USB Wi-Fi adapter is dual-band compatible and gives you data transfer speeds up to 1,300Mbps when using a 5GHz band; if you're using a 2.4GHz band, you can still get speeds up to 600Mbps. Support for USB 3.0 helps eliminate the bottleneck between your computer and the adapter, although it's also still compatible wit USB 2.0 as well, so it works with both current and older laptops and desktops.
Setting up your Wi-Fi connection is easy thanks to its plug-and-play installation and built-in configuration tools. The adapter features a WPS button for one-click encryption to protect your personal information. The Nighthawk A7000 also includes a magnetic cradle to give you more mounting and placement options, and it uses beamforming to give you the most reliable signal no matter where you are in your home. The sleek, foldable design is great for preventing damage while traveling or moving your computer around the home.
"While the 480mbps throughput offered by USB 2.0 is likely more than adequate for most people, if you want the maximum Wi-Fi speeds possible from an AC1900 USB Wi-Fi adapter you’ll need to make sure your computer has a USB 3.0 port available to plug it into." — Jesse Hollington, Tech Writer
Windows, Mac, and Linux compatible
Linux setup is difficult
The Glam Hobby Ourlink Wi-Fi adapter is the perfect choice for new laptops. The ultra-compact design is great for both storage and travel; its low profile prevents damage to the adapter and USB port during travel and doesn't block other ports on your laptop. This adapter is compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux laptops, and setup is plug-and-play.
The Ourlink also has a "soft AP" function to create a Wi-Fi hotspot so you can use your mobile devices without draining your cellular data, and of course supports WPA/WPA2 encryption to protect your information. This adapter works with most dual-band wireless routers and gives you speeds up to 150Mbps over a 2.4GHz band or up to 433Mbps over a 5GHz channel, automatically choosing the best band to handle different workloads or for better media streaming.
"While small adapters are great for portability—some are so small you can even leave them plugged into your laptop all the time—there's always a big tradeoff between size and Wi-Fi performance, so if you're looking for an adapter that will work in busy areas like airports and convention centers, it's always better to get one with external antennas." — Jesse Hollington, Tech Writer
Excellent range and speed
Dual-Band Wi-Fi with Beamforming
Cradle allows for optimal placement
Good network performance requires good antennas, and this seems to be the philosophy behind the Asus USB-AC68 AC1900 network adapter, which sports a pair of big red three-position external antennas that make it look like something that should be orbiting the earth rather than sitting on your desk. However, combined with a pair of internal antennas and a 3x4 MIMO design, this lets it achieve blazing fast 802.11ac speeds at an extended range.
Asus also provides a matching USB 3.0 cradle that you can plug into your PC or Mac to place the USB-AC68 at an appropriate distance from your computer to get the best signal and avoid any potential interference. However the adapter itself folds down into the size of a USB stick, so it’s still portable enough to take on the road with you.
With support for 5GHz speeds of up to 1,300Mbps, this adapter also naturally supports USB 3.0, and it actually delivers on this kind of speed thanks to the antenna configuration and other advanced technology that it packs in, and its low latency also makes it one of the best choices for gaming.
"Most computers—especially desktop PCs—can generate a fair bit of interference, so moving your USB Wi-Fi adapter a foot or two away from your computer can make a huge difference in the kind of performance and range that you'll get." — Jesse Hollington, Tech Writer
No support for Mac or Linux
While most USB network adapters simply hang off of a USB port, D-Link’s DWA-192 AC1900 USB network adapter doesn’t hesitate to stand out from the crowd with one of the most unique designs we’ve seen — it’s an orb about the size of a baseball that’s designed to sit on your desk, connecting to your PC via a proprietary USB cable.
There’s a method to D-Link’s madness here, however, and that’s to get the wireless radios away from the interference that gets generated by the average PC, allowing for more reliable connections and longer range. It’s not a problem that will impact every PC, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. On the other hand, the size of this thing means it’s probably not something you’ll want to carry around with your laptop, so it’s really for desktop setups only.
In terms of the performance, this one checks off all of the usual boxes, offering dual-band 2.4GHz and 5GHz support with up to 600Mbps and 1,300Mbps on each of the two bands, and performs noticeably better than most smaller adapters at distances of up to 30 feet thanks to the standalone unit and beamforming technology.
Dual band compatible
Easy to set up
Does not work with Linux based computers
When choosing a wireless adapter, a model with an antenna is one way to go. The EDUP-1635 adapter utilizes a USB 2.0 port and your router's dual-band Wi-Fi connection to deliver up to 600Mbps so you can surf the web, play games, or stream video at blazing speeds. It also supports 5GHz 802.11ac speeds for even faster performance.
The antenna has 360 degrees of rotation and 90 degrees of angle to help you get the best signal reception no matter where your desktop or laptop is in the house. The EDUP-1365 has a one-key encryption function to protect your personal information while you use the internet, and it's quick and easy to set up with the included CD or downloaded drivers so you can start surfing the web almost immediately.
Can create Wi-Fi hotspot
Installation issues with 64-bit Windows 10
The Wise Tiger GXIVR8020A5 features a wireless 802.11ac connection, which is three times faster than 802.11n to help you get more work done in less time. It also utilizes dual-band Wi-Fi connections to give you data transfer speeds over 400Mbps when connected to a 5GHz band.
The external antenna ensures a consistent and reliable internet connection whether your desktop is in the same room as your router or on a different floor of your house or office building. Setup is quick and easy. Drivers are downloadable and installation is plug-and-play. This adapter also features a soft AP mode that allows you to create a Wi-Fi hotspot for mobile devices so you can use your smartphone without eating up your cellular data.
WEP and WPA security
Soft AP mode
Not dual band
If you're looking to upgrade your computer's wireless connection but don't want to break the bank, check out the TP-Link TL-WN725N adapter. With a price point that will fit all but the strictest of budgets, this Wi-Fi adapter still delivers a fast, reliable connection. It uses a 2.4GHz band to give you speeds up to 150Mbps so you can surf the web, stream movies and TV shows, or upload photos without concern for bandwidth.
Like the Ourlink, this adapter has an ultra-compact design that sits almost flush with your USB port, staying out of the way and keeping other connection ports free to use. It uses both WEP and WPA functions to protect your privacy over public and unsecured wireless networks. This adapter is compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux Kernel computers and features plug-and-play functionality. You can also utilize the soft AP function to set up a Wi-Fi hotspot whenever you need it.
"You don’t need to go for maximum performance in a USB Wi-Fi adapter if it’s only for travelling with a small laptop, as most hotels and airports you’ll be passing through won’t likely offer anything more than modest speeds anyway." — Jesse Hollington, Tech Writer
Jesse Hollington is a freelance writer with over 10 years of experience writing about technology and three decades of experience in information technology and networking. He's installed, tested, and configured just about every type and brand of router, firewall, wireless access point, and network extender in places ranging from single-family dwellings to office buildings. university campuses, and even coast-to-coast wide-area network (WAN) deployments.
Size - USB Wi-Fi adapters vary in size, with some as small as a Lego block and others almost as large as a full-fledged router with antennas. If you’re looking for something really portable, the smaller ones work well enough at normal ranges, but bigger ones often come equipped with advanced features like beamforming technology for diverting interference.
Speed - There’s nothing more frustrating than a buffering stream, so make sure you get an adapter with speeds fast enough for your needs. While 300Mbps should be enough for most tasks, some can provide up to 1,300Mbps, although you'll need a USB 3.0 port to take advantage of those higher speeds.
Range - Depending on where your router sits, you might have trouble connecting. Splurging on an adapter with a longer range will come in handy if it’s far away. Some of the best options will score you up to 100 yards of range, but extending the adapter away from your computer can also help improve your range.