Top 5 Best USB Wi-Fi Adapters Available Now
Safe Wi-Fi is a modern essential, particularly for homes where many people are trying to work or be entertained. As we carve out odd places for home offices, we’re ending up in weird corners of attics, kitchens, or basements where Wi-Fi may not reach. I have a relatively small apartment, but my home office is two thick, 1928-era walls away from my Wi-Fi router. The router itself is adequate for space; my computer’s antenna is what’s falling short.
The best method to develop your Wi-Fi signal is to switch from a single router to a mesh network system. However, mesh systems can be expensive. Wi-Fi extenders are also an option, though they can create interference and add latency; I wasn’t thrilled when I tried one. If you require to eke a little more Wi-Fi out to one laptop or desktop, a USB Wi-Fi Adapters is a much more affordable Alternative.
These adapters work on an easy principle: Improve your antenna, and you improve your signal. We got three from well-known networking brand TP-Link, one of Netgear, and two random low-cost Amazon brands, also tested them in four locations: right by my router; into my home office, only some feet away but through two walls; by my building elevator, which is added 20 feet away and through another wall; also on the next floor up.
This 802.11ac Wi-Fi spec is disturbingly complicated, by more than a dozen various production levels referred to by “AC” and a number. The adapters we found perform on the AC1200, AC1300, also AC1900 levels. Here’s how each of those “AC” numbers in that range translates into reasonable speeds on the two leading Wi-Fi frequency bands. If this yet makes your head hurt, get that larger numbers are more reliable.
From the six devices we got (and the five we successfully tested), our pick is the TP-Link Archer T9UH. To $49.99, this AC1900 adapter has the best balance of cost and signal-boosting. The Netgear Nighthawk adapter was also more powerful but more costly at $71.93; the different adapters were more affordable but didn’t do as much for the connection. Learn the details of testing and tech.
This Archer T9UH works both as a docked adapter and as a plug-in dongle.
Due to pandemic limitations that keep me stuck at home—which is why I need one of these adapters in the first place—that isn’t real lab testing on a clean and measured connection. We tested against any 400Mbps symmetrical Verizon Fios fiber connection utilizing a Verizon FIOS G1100, AC1750 router. Ideally, we’d need to use a gigabit source and a Wi-Fi 6 router. We tested any device using a 2018 Huawei Matebook X Pro laptop by its own internal Intel AC8265 802.11ac adapter, which arises from the spec sheet to support AC1300.
While our household of two adults and a teen, someone’s almost always streaming something. Then rather than raw speeds, which vary throughout the day, I focused on the signal strength and the speed loss then the laptop was fast moved from location to location.
I couldn’t find an adapter. This supports Wi-Fi 6. However, they all support Wi-Fi 5 or 802.11ac. Your laptop probably helps 802.11ac—utmost laptops released since 2013 do—but if it doesn’t, that’s another reason to get an adapter. 802.11ac is a massive improvement across the previous 802.11n and can give you a boost without counting the giant antenna’s benefits.
In terms of real signal improvement, the more costly adapters with better specs performed properly. The chart shows how each adapter affected pure 5GHz signal strength on my laptop, averaged over the four locations I was testing in. It only includes 5 of the 6 adapters because the Blueshadow adapter started making disturbing noises when testing, so i stopped using it rather than harming my PC. What data I did learn from it was related to the BrosTrend antenna’s performance.
Of course, what you most care about is the data download speed you’ll get in places where you were previously having Wi-Fi trouble. These two locations were in my office (bad speeds) and by the elevator (terrible speeds) in my tests. The chart here shows how each adapter affected speeds in those two locations relative to the speeds I got finished by the router. The Y-axis is flipped, so a more important point gives more reliable performance and lower speed loss.
Below are the detailed breakdowns of each antenna’s pros and cons.
1. TP-Link Archer T4U Plus
$34.99 at Amazon
The Archer T4U Plus sits at the delightful spot of price and performance. This adapter doesn’t plug directly into your computer; it’s a trapezoidal dongle with two six-inch antennas. Plug it in by the included USB cable, and you’re good to go. The T4U Plus uses the AC1300 standard.
The T4U Plus probably connected to my 5GHz and 2.4GHz networks, giving me a nice average signal improvement from 6.5dB on the 5GHz web. That translated into considerably more reliable Wi-Fi performance in my office and out by the elevator than the laptop alone completed, to the point where the difference was undoubtedly noticeable—at the elevator, speed loss declined from 95% with merely the laptop to 69% by the T4U. While terms of squeezing out more Wi-Fi speed for relatively small pay, the T4U Plus does the trick.
2. Blueshadow USB WiFi Adapter 1200Mbps
$14.99 at Amazon
The off-brand AC1200 adapter Best USB Wi-Fi Adapters seems promising on paper, however that promise fails to materialize. Its features and chipset are both very related to the BrosTrend adapter below. If I plugged it in, it started making a disturbing high-pitched hissing and buzzing noise, recommending the manufacturer may not be so concerned about product quality. Its marketing is also misleading (the name speaks 1200Mbps, though the adapter is 867Mbps); also, the company does a Gmail address as its corporate contact. Avoid.
3. BrosTrend 1200Mbps Long Range USB WiFi Adapter
$29.99 at Amazon
This off-brand adapter is shoddily made and generic. It’s an AC1200 adapter by two rotatable antennas. You can plug it directly on your computer or use the included dock. But, the USB dongle doesn’t plug into its dock, giving some of the connectors exposed. The cable is assumed to route out of a notch in the bottom of the dock. However, it tends to pop out of the notch and make the dock wobble.
Performance-wise, this BrosTrend adapter Best USB Wi-Fi did worse than I expected from something with two large antennas. Above average, it got a 5.75dBm better signal at 5GHz than the laptop alone, which was greater than the Archer T3U but worse than the different TP-Link and Netgear adapters. It also wasted more connection speed than any TP-Link or Netgear adapters, though it still worked fine than the laptop alone. If you purchase this adapter, you might think it’s okay, though that’s just because you shouldn’t try anything more useful.
4. Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 Wi-Fi USB Adapter
$69.97 at Amazon
Netgear’s Best USB Wi-Fi Adapters great, solid AC1900 adapter performs great, but it prices too much for the performance you get. This is a chunky monkey. Folded shut, it’s 0.75 inches thick and 4 inches long, plus it unfurls to 7.5 inches. It’s too thick to plug directly in some thin-and-light laptops. Luckily, it has a nice, concrete USB dock that’s magnetic so that you can stick it at a surface (though it won’t stick to a lot of laptops).
Like the Archer T9UH, the Nighthawk performed very strongly on my 5GHz 802.11ac network but didn’t need to live in 2.4GHz 802.11n mode. This only wouldn’t get my router’s 2.4GHz network variant if it were on the different side of a wall from the router. It had the most significant average 5GHz boost of all—13dB—but the T9UH performed a bit strong on speed loss.
Ultimately, I can’t see a reason to get this instead of the T9UH. It’s near twice as costly, and though performance is good, it’s not noticeably more enjoyable.
5. TP-Link Archer T3U Plus
$24.99 at Amazon
TP-Link’s Best USB Wi-Fi Adapter’s most basic adapter is a tiny USB dongle with a 7-inch rotatable antenna sticking out of it. Plug it in, and it’s auto-detected by each Windows 10 or Mac OS. It is the simplest, best USB Wi-Fi Adapters example of “Stick a big antenna on something and see what happens.”
This is an AC1300 adapter, providing for two data streams on both 2.4GHz or 5GHz. This gave a small but noticeable signal boost in my home office, but not much of a remarkable change in signal loss out by the elevator. It didn’t do any harm, though not did it do much good.