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Best wireless adaptors in 2021: PCIe and USB dongles for boosting Wi-Fi

Included in this guide:

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The best wireless adaptors remain incredibly useful even in 2021, as they can allow pretty much any device to connect to a Wi-Fi network.

While most modern devices have Wi-Fi built in, there are many that don't such as PCs and set top boxes. Even though an increasing number of PCs now have Wi-Fi connectivity built into their motherboards, you may find that the connection isn't great, and an external USB wireless adaptor can help improve your wireless connection.

The best wireless adaptors make it easy to add Wi-Fi functionality, either via a USB dongle, or by slotting into the PCI slot of a PC's motherboard.

As for the best laptops, while they will have Wi-Fi connectivity, you may still want to invest in a wireless adaptor. For example, it's an affordable way to add newer Wi-Fi technology, such as Wi-Fi 6, without any costly upgrades - all you need to do is plug in an adapter. Using a USB extension cable can also help you fine tune the wireless reception for even better performance.

So, read on for our pick of the best USB and PCI wireless adaptors. You should also consider one of the best USB-C docks if you have multiple devices.

Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 Wi-Fi USB Adapter

(Image credit: Netgear)

1. Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 Wi-Fi USB Adapter

The best wireless adaptor money can buy

Specifications
Standard: AC1900 IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Frequencies: 2.4GHz + 5GHz
Dimensions: 4.7 x 1.8 x 0.9 in (120 x 45 x 22 mm)
Weight: 2.3oz (66.5g)
Reasons to buy
+Fantastic connectivity+Includes a desktop cradle
Reasons to avoid
-Rather large-Pricey

Netgear is a trusted brand when it comes to networking kit, and its Nighthawk range has an enviable reputation for offering brilliant performance, so it's little surprise to find the AC1900 Wi-Fi sitting at the top of our best wireless adaptors list.

It adds blazing-fast WI-Fi to any device you plug it into, and the magnetic desktop cradle means it's an ideal adaptor for desktop PCs as well. It plugs into a free USB port, so it's easy to install, though its large size means you may worry about it sticking out of your laptop and accidentally getting snapped off.  

ASUS PCE-AC88 Wireless PCI-E Network Interface Card

(Image credit: Asus)

2. Asus PCE-AC88

The best PCI wireless network adaptor

Specifications
Standard: AC3100 IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Frequencies: 2.4GHz + 5GHz
Dimensions: 103.3 x 68.9 x 21mm
Weight: 125g
Reasons to buy
+Brilliant performance+Remote antenna
Reasons to avoid
-Can be tricky to install-Extension cable is a bit short

If you've got a PC and want to add a Wi-Fi adaptor to your motherboard, then the Asus PCE-AC88 is the best PCI wireless adaptor money can buy right now. Its powerful antennae can pick up wireless signals with ease, and you can use the included extension cable to better position the antennae for even better reception.

The attractive design of this PCI card includes a custom heatsink to keep it running cool when in use, as well. This does make it a little bit more tricky to install than other adaptors, and the extension cable could do with being a bit longer, but overall this is a fantastic PCI wireless adaptor.

Trendnet TEW-809UB

(Image credit: Trendnet)

3. Trendnet TEW-809UB

A fantastic wireless adaptor for USB

Specifications
Standard: AC1900 IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Frequencies: 2.4GHz + 5GHz
Dimensions: 85 x 75 x 20mm
Weight: 48g
Reasons to buy
+Fast speeds+Great range
Reasons to avoid
-Design won't be for everyone-Bulky

Don't be put off by the spider-like design of the Trendnet TEW-809UB - this is one of the most powerful wireless adaptors money can buy right now. Sure, it's big and bulky, but it comes with four large antennae that can be positioned to maximise the range this adaptor can achieve.

Add support for Beamforming, and you've got a formidable USB wireless adaptor that can allow your device to access your Wi-FI network from previously unreachable locations.

(Image credit: TP-Link)

The best Wi-Fi 6 wireless adaptor

Specifications
Standard: Wi-Fi 6 IEEE 802.11ax/ac/n/a
Frequencies: 2.4GHz + 5GHz
Dimensions: 95.2 x 120.8 x 21.5 mm
Weight: 481g
Reasons to buy
+Supports Wi-Fi 6+Includes mount
Reasons to avoid
-No macOS driver

If you have a new Wi-Fi 6 router, then you'll want to make sure your device is able to make use of the improved speeds and coverage the new technology offers, which is why the TP-Link Archer TX3000E is on this page. This is one of the few wireless routers that offers Wi-Fi 6 support, and plugging it into your PC's PCI slot will allow it to benefit from next-generation wireless speeds.

Again, it comes with external antennae for improving reception, and it's small enough to be easily installed in desktop PCs - even ones with very compact cases.

(Image credit: Asus)

5. Asus USB-AC68

A great compact USB adaptor

Specifications
Standard: AC1900 IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Frequencies: 2.4GHz + 5GHz
Dimensions: 115 x 30 x 17 mm
Weight: 44g
Reasons to buy
+Easy install+Positionable antennae
Reasons to avoid
-Not the best 2.4GHz performance

This handy USB wireless adaptor supports USB 3.0, and features Asus AiRadar Beamforming, and MU-MIMO via its easily-positioned antennae. While it's not the fastest wireless adaptor on this list, it is affordable and easily portable, meaning that it's a great choice for someone who does a lot of travelling.

For added value, the Asus USB-AC68 also includes a desktop cradle for use in the home or office, making it a good choice for a desktop PC as well.

Linksys WUSB6300

(Image credit: Linksys)

6. Linksys WUSB6300

Small and compact

Specifications
Standard: AC1200 802.11ac
Frequencies: 2.4GHz + 5GHz
Dimensions: 41 x 18 x 12 mm
Weight: 5.9g
Reasons to buy
+Very small+Decent features
Reasons to avoid
-Not the best 2.4GHz performance

The Linksys WUSB6300 is a micro wireless adaptor, and it's easily the smallest one on this list. That makes it brilliantly portable, and ideal for people who like to travel. However, just because it's small, it doesn't mean it lacks features.

It supports AC1200 speeds and is dual-band. There's also MU-MIMO and Beamforming tech packed into its small body. Best of all, the asking price is almost as small as the device itself, making this a great budget choice that doesn't compromise on performance.

Matt Hanson

Senior Computing editor

Matt (Twitter) is TechRadar's Senior Computing editor. Having written for a number of publications such as PC Plus, PC Format, T3 and Linux Format, there's no aspect of technology that Matt isn't passionate about, especially computing and PC gaming. If you're encountering a problem or need some advice with your PC or Mac, drop him a line on Twitter.