PCI-e WiFi Card vs USB WiFi Adapter (Which One is Better?)

Showing my USB wifi adapter in my laptop

When I first built my computer I was too far away from my router to connect an ethernet cable, so I had to buy a wifi adapter for my pc.

I ended up buying a cheap USB wifi adapter and it worked well for the first couple of weeks.

Then, a few months later I switched to a PCI-e wifi card, and here is what I found.

PCI-e Wifi cards offer a better wifi connection to your pc because the wifi card connects directly to the motherboard. Whereas a USB wifi adapter is more user-friendly and easier to install but will have a worse connection because it doesn’t directly connect with the motherboard.

There isn’t a big difference between the two wifi adapters, but there are some features that might make you pick one over the other.

Still not sure which one to buy? I will go through the pros and cons of both the wifi card and USB adapter, that way you can make your final decision.

How Does a PCI-e WiFi Card Work?

The PCI-e wifi card connects to your computer via the PCI-e slot. This is great because the wifi card will be directly connected to the motherboard, allowing it to perform at its maximum potential.

Usually, the wifi card comes with either 2 or 3 antennas, which will provide your computer with a better signal. Although you can connect to the wifi with 1 antenna or even 0 antennas, the extra antennas provide a stronger connection.

If your wifi adapter has only one antenna, it will not be able to send and receive the signal at the same time making your connection slow down. However, with 2 antennas you will have one dedicated to receiving a signal to your computer and another sending your computer’s signal out.

Having a third antenna will make this signal even stronger assisting the two other antennas when they start to bottleneck.

How Does a USB WiFi Adapter Work?

USB Wifi adapter

Having a USB wifi adapter is a lot more user-friendly because the only thing you have to do is plug it into a USB port on your pc.

When installing a USB wifi adapter make sure it’s plugged into a USB 3.0 port to improve the maximum efficiency. You will want the most speed you can get because it is not directly connected to your motherboard.

Advantages of PCI-e WiFi Cards

There are a few advantages of using a PCI-e wifi card over a USB wifi adapter. The first advantage is that it directly connects to the motherboard, which can help the speed and stability of your connection.

Next is, they are just built better and have a stronger wifi connection. PCI-e wifi cards can exert more power and performance because of the PCI-e connection. The PCI-e connection is the fastest and strongest connection port in your computer, allowing you to use more powerful and faster hardware.

This allows these wifi cards to support more antennas and have a faster wifi connection than a USB wifi adapter.

Another advantage that the PCI-e wifi card has over the USB adapter is that it is less likely to overheat because it has enough space to have a heatsink built-in, and it’s inside of your pc case where all the fans and cooling happens. This keeps your wifi card cooled down to allow it to work at 100% all the time.

Personally, when I switched from a USB wifi adapter to a PCI-e wifi card I saw a big performance difference and a faster wifi connection to my pc.

When I had a USB wifi adapter I would constantly see the low download and upload speeds with my wifi constantly, and if my pc was running for more than a couple of hours I would start to see lag spikes in my wifi due to overheating.

Not only that but the USB wifi adapter was very fragile and made out of plastic, whereas the PCI-e wifi card was made out of metal and has been performing well for almost a year now.

One thing I found really bad about the USB wifi adapter is that I hit it once with my arm and the plastic part broke off, I have found the USB adapters to be very fragile and very vulnerable to breaking because they stick out of your pc a lot more than PCI-e wifi cards do.

Advantages of USB WiFi Adapters

My wifi adapter in my laptop

Although a PCI-e wifi card might sound like the winner, there are actually some advantages to having a USB wifi adapter.

First of all, a USB wifi adapter is very user-friendly and easy to install. All you have to do is plug it into a USB port and you’re good to go.

Also, most USB wifi adapters come with a dual antenna connection now, so worry about your wifi bottlenecking because a lack of antennas is no issue.

They are also great in situations where your wifi router isn’t too far away from your pc, giving your wifi adapter a linear connection to your router.

From my experience, the USB wifi adapter didn’t work well for me because my computer and router are on the opposite sides of my house, so I needed something with a stronger faster connection to keep up.

When I got the PCI-e wifi card I decided to use my USB adapter with my laptop, and I found that if you are only a couple of rooms over, the connection is pretty stable.

So, what I learned from this is that USB wifi adapters are good if they have a closer connection and they are very portable if you need to move around a lot.

They are also better if you are looking to get a better wifi connection for your laptop because a PCI-e wifi card can be a pain to install on one of those.

How Much Should You Pay For a WiFi Card?

A good wifi card can be found for around $30-$50 anything less will probably give you a poor connection. $30-$50 is the best price to performance range for a wifi card in my opinion.

Anything more, you will be either paying for the design or your connection will be slightly better, but you will start to see a performance drop as the price increases, as it is just not worth paying more for a better wifi card unless you are making an overkill pc.

The wifi card that I currently use and recommend is the TP-Link AC1300 PCI-e WiFi Card which can be found on Amazon for about $40.

It has provided me with a very strong and fast connection, I have never had issues with the wifi card itself. This wifi card has noticeably increased my performance from my original card, where I used to have connection issues when playing games, but now I don’t.

How Much Should You Pay For a USB WiFi Adapter?

If you’re looking to buy a USB wifi adapter you should be looking to pay around $20.

$20 is a good budget for one of these wifi adapters because anything under $20 will most likely get you an unstable wifi connection and for anything over $20 you should just buy a wifi card instead.

This JFONG wifi dongle is the USB wifi adapter I use on my laptop and recommend it to anyone looking for a USB adapter.

FAQ

Does It Matter What Wifi Adapter I Get?

Yes, it does matter what Wifi adapter you get because some are better than others. usually, the more you pay for a Wifi adapter the better your internet connection will be with your computer.

Do All Wifi Cards Work With All Motherboards?

Almost every single modern motherboard has a PCI slot that supports a Wifi card. The only problem you might run into is that all the PCI slots are taken up by another PC component such as your GPU, Audio card, or Bluetooth card.

Is a PCIe Wifi Card Good For Gaming?

If you aren’t able to connect your gaming PC to the internet via ethernet cable then a PCIe wifi card is your next best option. If you are able to afford a very high-performance Wifi card then that would be ideal for gaming. Here is an article I wrote that goes more in-depth on Wifi Cards For Gaming

Conclusion

If you’re looking to get the fastest wifi connection then you should opt for a PCI-e wifi card, they offer the best performance and will have the least amount of problems.

However, if you’re not an experienced pc builder and don’t feel comfortable opening up your pc. The USB wifi adapter will offer a good enough wifi connection and a user-friendly easy to install experience.

Just be aware that USB adapters are more prone to overheating, more fragile, but are more budget-friendly.

Lucas Coulson

I first got into building my own computer when I was around 12 or 13. The first computer I had ever built didn't work. So I kept researching to figure what I did wrong. I really enjoyed researching, learning, and building computers, so I decided to turn it into an online business, and here I am.

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