Home Article How to add Wi-Fi to your PC using a USB dongle. Wi-Fi transmitter for pc
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How to add Wi-Fi to your PC using a USB dongle. Wi-Fi transmitter for pc

How To Convert a Desktop Computer to Wi-Fi (Make It Wireless)

Unlike laptops that come standard with built-in Wi-Fi, keyboards, and mice, desktops often require wired connections to link the various hardware. While wired connections usually get the job done when dealing with desktops, going wireless can help improve your overall experience, making browsing or typing a lot easier. So how can you convert a desktop computer to wireless?

  • How to connect a desktop to Wi-Fi (no ethernet cable)
  • How to connect a desktop to Wi-Fi using USB Wi-Fi adapters
  • How to connect a desktop to Wi-Fi using PCIe Wi-Fi adapters
  • How to upgrade to a Wi-Fi-enabled motherboard
  • Install the batteries and insert the Unifying Receiver
  • Turn on the wireless keyboard and wait for the keyboard to pair
  • How to connect a wireless mouse to a desktop using a receiver
  • How to connect a wireless mouse to a desktop using Bluetooth
  • Buy a USB expansion card and a USB Bluetooth adapter
  • Install the USB Bluetooth adapter
  • Pair the USB Bluetooth adapter with your desktop PC
  • Install the USB drivers (automatic or manual)
  • Insert the USB transmitter into the USB port
  • Plug the VGA cable into the VGA receiver

To convert a desktop computer to wireless, use USB adapters and PCIe Wi-Fi adapters to connect your desktop to a wireless network. A unifying receiver can also help establish a wireless connection between your desktop and a mouse or keyboard. Or you can upgrade to a motherboard with built-in Wi-Fi.

Converting a desktop computer to wireless shouldn’t be too hard if you follow the proper steps.

I just have to mention that I’m not too fond of the term “convert a desktop to Wi-Fi”, the better way to say it is to add Wi-Fi connectivity to your desktop.

Read on as we break down how to connect Wi-Fi, keyboards, mice, and other devices to your desktop computer wirelessly.

How to connect a desktop to Wi-Fi (no ethernet cable)

The easiest way to connect your desktop PC to a wireless network is through a USB Wi-Fi adapter or installing a dedicated PCIe Wi-Fi adapter.

However, you can also upgrade to a motherboard with built-in Wi-Fi if you plan on changing the motherboard.

Below is a brief description of how the methods mentioned above can connect your desktop PC to the internet without an Ethernet cable.

How to connect a desktop to Wi-Fi using USB Wi-Fi adapters

The easiest way to connect to Wi-Fi without using an ethernet cable is through USB Wi-Fi Adapters.

These devices connect fast once plugged into the desktop, as the operating system is quick to recognize them.

While you might need to install drivers to get the USB Wi-Fi adapter to work, subsequent wireless connections should be pretty straightforward.

Since you’re working with a USB adapter, you can plug it into any functional USB port, either in the front or rear of your device.

Both USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 can work. However, it’s an even better idea to get a USB adapter compatible with your router’s transfer speeds (in Mbps).

Although easy to install and use, USB Wi-Fi adapters also have their shortcomings.

First, USB Wi-Fi adapters — similar to other cables plugged into USB ports — will stop working once the system enters sleep mode.

That means you might need to tweak your Windows settings to ensure your device doesn’t enter sleep mode after a short period of inactivity.

Another disadvantage that comes when using USB Wi-Fi adapters is inconsistent performance.

Buying adapters that don’t suit your router’s total speeds might lead to unsteady, inconsistent connections.

Therefore, if you intend to use a wireless connection to connect your Desktop to the internet consistently, then a USB adapter might not be the best option.

Instead, go for PCIe Wi-Fi adapters, which we’ll discuss in the next section.

How to connect a desktop to Wi-Fi using PCIe Wi-Fi adapters

PCIe Wi-Fi adapters tend to deliver better, more consistent performance than USB adapters.

With a PCIe adapter, you’ll get similar performance to what you’d get when using motherboards with Wi-Fi (built-in).

Going the PCIe Wi-Fi adapter way is also recommended if you’re the type to use all, if not most of the system’s USB connections.

A PCIe adapter tends to cost more than the basic USB Wi-Fi adapters due to its ability to provide a seamless wireless connection.

over, PCIe adapters also require a fairly complex installation process that can prove daunting for first-timers.

Your motherboard’s configuration can also be a hindrance when installing a PCIe Wi-Fi adapter, especially if you’ve stuffed other hardware in the system.

Installing a PCIe to your desktop PC’s motherboard shouldn’t be an extremely tall order. You’ll need to turn off the computer and open the casing to expose the motherboard.

Open PCIe slots usually sit near the graphics card slot. Once you’ve installed the PCIe expansion card, the drivers should install automatically when you turn the desktop on.

On some occasions, however, you might need to download the drivers manually from the manufacturer’s official website.

How to upgrade to a Wi-Fi-enabled motherboard

Although not the most preferred way to make a desktop PC wireless, this method might come in handy if you planned to upgrade your desktop’s motherboard anyway.

The cost of upgrading to a Wi-Fi-enabled motherboard will definitely be higher than buying Wi-Fi adapters or PCIe Wi-Fi adapters.

However, it’ll be, by far, the most effective and hassle-free alternative in the long run.

How to connect a wireless keyboard to a desktop

You can enhance your desktop’s usability by ditching the wires and using a wireless keyboard.

Like Wi-Fi, connecting your desktop to a wireless keyboard shouldn’t be too challenging of a task, especially if you follow the steps below.

Install the batteries and insert the Unifying Receiver

Some wireless keyboards come with built-in batteries, while some will require you to insert a battery before use.

If you need to insert a battery, install it correctly for the keyboard to work as desired.

The next step is to remove the unifying receiver from its casing and insert it into your PC’s USB port.

This process is fairly straightforward, especially since receivers are usually designed to fit snugly into USB ports.

Turn on the wireless keyboard and wait for the keyboard to pair

The on/off switch is usually located on the side or back of your keyboard and is easy to press.

Press the button for half a second and allow the wireless keyboard to pair with your desktop PC.

If any dialogue appears on your screen, be sure to confirm and allow the two devices to connect or pair.

However, the connection might take a while (during first-time installation), so don’t be in too much of a hurry to start using the keyboard.

You might also need to update your wireless keyboard driver in case it’s missing or outdated.

Again, updating the wireless keyboard’s driver should be straightforward. You’ll need to go to the manufacturer’s website and search for the latest driver for the wireless keyboard.

Ensure you choose a driver that’s compatible with your Windows version and wireless keyboard model.

How to connect a wireless mouse to a desktop

Connecting a wireless mouse to a desktop computer shouldn’t be a hard task either.

Generally, you have a choice between the mouse’s receiver or Bluetooth if your desktop comes with Bluetooth connectivity.

Below are steps to follow when looking to connect your desktop PC to a wireless mouse.

Plug the mouse’s receiver into the USB port

The mouse’s receiver has a similar appearance to most receivers and will easily fit into one of the USB ports on your desktop’s CPU box.

Ensure you plug in the receiver first before turning the mouse on to allow the desktop to install any software or drivers required for wireless mouse functionality.

Ensure the mouse is already well-charged

Some mice come with batteries, while others require regular charging.

Either way, you’ll need to ensure the mouse has enough power, as it won’t function on empty batteries or on low charge.

For a new mouse, you might need to buy a battery if it doesn’t come as part of the package.

Turn on the mouse with the on/off switch

Once you’ve ensured the mouse is well-powered, the next is to turn it on.

The on/off button switch is either at the bottom or on the sides of the mouse. But you might need to consult your owner’s manual if you have a hard time locating the on/off switch.

Some mice come as plug-and-play, meaning they’ll be ready for use once turned on.

However, others usually feature a connect button that completes the link between the receiver and the mouse.

Check the batteries and turn on the mouse

Most mice have the on/off switch located at the back. But because of different manufacturers, some mice might have the buttons located elsewhere.

Whatever the location, press the switch so that it slides to the on position.

Again, check whether the batteries are functional before proceeding to the next step.

Turn Bluetooth on and search for it on your device

The next step is turning Bluetooth on. However, you can only connect a mouse wirelessly via Bluetooth if your desktop PC has Bluetooth functionality (we’ll discuss adding Bluetooth to a desktop in the next section).

  • Open the start menu on your desktop and click the settings icon.
  • Once you’re on the settings page, click on the icon titled ‘Devices’ (usually the second item in the settings menu).
  • After clicking on the devices icon, you’ll spot a button titled ‘Bluetooth other devices’ (located at the top of the left sidebar).
  • Click on the Bluetooth button to allow your desktop to start searching for a Bluetooth signal from the mouse.

Alternatively, you can open the start menu and type Bluetooth on the search box (for automatic searching).

If your desktop has Bluetooth connectivity, then it’ll take you to the Bluetooth settings page.

Ensure you turn on the Bluetooth button to allow your desktop to search for nearby Bluetooth signals.

Press the pairing button on the mouse

Bluetooth mice usually come with a centrally placed pairing button that you’ll press to activate Bluetooth.

Press and hold the Bluetooth pairing button for a second or two to make the device discoverable through Bluetooth.

On most occasions, a blue light will flash when Bluetooth is successfully activated on the mouse.

Finish pairing the two devices

Once Windows detects your Bluetooth mouse, it’ll appear among the list of discoverable devices.

Click on your mouse’s name to complete the pairing. It’ll prompt you to confirm the pairing, which is usually a reasonably straightforward process.

Once connected, you won’t need to repair the devices again in the future.

Turning on the mouse and clicking on the pairing button will be enough to establish a Bluetooth connection with your desktop, provided the computer’s Bluetooth is turned on.

How to add Bluetooth to a desktop computer

If you’re using a modern desktop, then chances are your PC already has Bluetooth connectivity, and this section won’t apply to you.

But if your device is incapable of making wireless connections, the steps below will help you add Bluetooth and make the most of your desktop.

Buy a USB expansion card and a USB Bluetooth adapter

Once you’ve counter-checked and confirmed that your desktop doesn’t have a Bluetooth radio, your next step is to examine your USB ports to ensure you have free slots.

wi-fi, your, using, dongle, transmitter

You might need a USB expansion card or a USB hub if all your desktop’s USB ports are in use.

These handy appliances give you additional USB ports, ensuring you can connect several devices that require USB port connectivity.

The most important item to purchase when looking to add Bluetooth to a desktop device is a USB Bluetooth adapter.

Luckily, you can get a high-quality adapter at an affordable price.

A Bluetooth adapter can connect to both old and new Bluetooth equipment, allowing you to connect Bluetooth-enabled devices like game controllers, stereo headphones, and mobile phones to your desktop PC.

Install the USB Bluetooth adapter

Installing a USB Bluetooth Adapter is as simple as installing receivers for wireless keyboards and mice.

You’ll only need to plug in your Bluetooth dongle on the free or working USB port and wait for your desktop to recognize the new device automatically.

In a lot of cases, Windows will install the necessary drivers once it recognizes the dongle.

However, you might need to manually install the Bluetooth drivers if you’re using an earlier Windows version.

Again, downloading the drivers shouldn’t be too hard, even for first-timers, as you can get them from the dongle manufacturer’s website.

Pair the USB Bluetooth adapter with your desktop PC

Now that you’ve successfully installed the Bluetooth adapter (and the necessary drivers), the two devices are ready for pairing.

You’ll notice a Bluetooth icon in the system tray once the Bluetooth dongle is installed.

Right-click on the Bluetooth icon and select the Add a Bluetooth Device option.

Then, choose Pair to connect to your preferred Bluetooth device. Don’t forget to turn the other devices, say your phone or speaker’s Bluetooth, on.

This will allow your desktop’s newly installed Bluetooth connection to pair with your other device.

One challenge you’re likely to encounter when using a USB Bluetooth adapter is inconsistent connectivity, especially when your device goes to sleep mode after being idle.

Another disadvantage associated with Bluetooth dangles is the limited range.

However, the Bluetooth connection will still work well if you have your devices close or not too far apart.

How to connect a desktop PC to a wireless monitor

Connecting your desktop PC to a wireless monitor across the room is possible through wireless USB technology.

The technology allows you to send video signals to a wireless monitor up to 30 feet away.

All you’ll need is to buy a wireless HDMI transmitter and receiver kit and observe the following steps:

Install the USB drivers (automatic or manual)

Some adapter kits come with CDs that allow for USB driver installation. While some adapter kits might install the drivers automatically, others will require manual installation.

Just insert the CD into your desktop’s CD drive and observe the instructions to install the USB drivers successfully.

Insert the USB transmitter into the USB port

Connecting your desktop to a wireless monitor will only be possible if you have a free USB port.

Consider getting a USB hub if you don’t have free ports. Insert the adapter kit’s USB transmitter on the functional USB port to kickstart the connection.

The transmitter should easily fit on the USB port.

Plug the VGA cable into the VGA receiver

Remove the VGA cable from the monitor and insert it into the VGA receiver that came with the adapter kit.

Next, plug the adapter’s power cable into a power outlet once the cable is in place.

You can now run the software installed on your desktop. However, if the software is already up and running, then you’ll spot an icon on the taskbar towards the left of the clock.

Click on the software and activate the connection with the receiver by clicking on Extend, after which you’ll be able to view it on the wireless monitor.

Wrapping up

Although not a walk in the park, converting your desktop computer to wireless isn’t rocket science.

You’ll need to determine the type of wireless connection you’re after and purchase the necessary devices.

And since there are many ways to make your desktop PC wireless, settle for the methods that best suit your budget and wireless needs.

For instance, when it comes to Wi-Fi connectivity, using a PCIe Wi-Fi adapter is highly recommended as it provides a consistent, hassle-free connection.

Marlo has always been obsessed with computers his whole life. After working for 25 years in the computer and electronics field, he now enjoys writing about computers to help others. Most of his time is spent in front of his computer or other technology to continue to learn more. Read more about Marlo

How to add Wi-Fi to your PC using a USB dongle

Our homes started out with dial-up, and now we have high-speed Broadband. Initially, we started out with modems connected to our main home computer, but now we can connect our home computers to the Internet without needing to be plugged in.

If you’re looking to get your home computer, netbook or laptop connected to the Internet, there are essentially three ways:

  • Plug in your computer to your home broadband router using an Ethernet networking lead
  • Connect to your broadband router wirelessly
  • Connected using Mobile Broadband (over the mobile phone network). Expensive!

On this page, we’re going to look at Option 2. Connecting to your router wirelessly

What you need for Wireless Internet at home:

This could be from BT, Plusnet, Sky, Virgin, or any of the home broadband services on offer

Broadband Providers Compared

Most UK broadband providers offer some kind of wireless (Wi-Fi) router. If you’re with BT, this is likely to be the BT Home Hub (pictured here).

These routers connect to your phone line for Broadband, and let you connect to a computer either via Ethernet cable, or wirelessly.

If you have a router that doesn’t support Wi-Fi, you can buy one from the likes of PC World or Dabs.com. If you can, opt for a router that supports the newer 802.11n standard of Wi-Fi, which offers better range and speed compared to the older 802.11g

Most laptops, net-tops, notebooks and tablet computers come with Wi-Fi built-in.

What is a Wi-Fi Dongle?

It’s a small device that plugs into a spare USB Port on your computer. It has a Wi-Fi transmitter/receiver built-in, and it allows your computer to talk to a nearby wireless router.

If you’re looking to buy a Wi-Fi dongle, here are a few things you need to know.

  • There are three main standards: 802.11b. 802.11g and 802.11n. The 802.11n type is the newest of the three and offers the best range and fastest speed
  • If you get an 802.11n dongle, make sure you get a USB dongle that is compatible with the older 802.11g format, in case you want to talk to something that doesn’t support the latest standard.

You can buy wireless USB dongles from around £15. Good names to look for include Belkin, Netgear and Linksys.

BELKIN F6D4050 802.11n Wi-Fi dongle NETGEAR RangeMax Dual Band Wireless-N USB Adaptor

We recommend you try the following:

  • PC World. A decent range of top-name brands. Buy online, or reserve at your nearest store
  • Maplin.co.uk. Stocking a decent range of Wi-Fi adapters
  • Dabs.com. Great for a wide range of low-price Wi-Fi kit.

How to use a Wireless Wi-Fi dongle

Each dongle and manufacturer are different, so you’ll need to refer to the documentation provided with your product, but here are the basics.

  • Install the supplied software and drivers onto your computer
  • Connect the USB dongle into a free USB port
  • From the dongle’s software, perform a scan for all access points in the area. Hopefully, you will see your router in the list
  • Try to connect to the router
  • You’ll be asked for a security key. This will normally be what’s known as a WPA Wireless key, and is to ensure a secure connection. Your router is in charge of this WPA key. check the router or router manual for information on where to find the WPA key.

Looking to convert Ethernet to Wi-Fi?

You might want to take a look at the Universal Wi-Fi Adapter.

This little device has an Ethernet socket and allows you to plug an Ethernet lead into a piece of quipment and get Internet connectivity over standard Wi-Fi. You can get these from Amazon, Maplin.co.uk and PC World. for more details see our Netgear Wi-Fi adapater page.

Netgear Wi-Fi Adapter

HELP! Something we can explain better or add to this page? Please get in touch

Links:

  • Wi-Fi Alliance. Information on the Wi-Fi standard
  • Internet Cameras. Reviewed by our podcast team
  • Home security- Our review of a leading home security system
  • Our Forum. For technical discussion of Wi-Fi protocols
  • Wi-Fi on a Netgem. Help with getting broadband access from your TV, wirelessly

How to Know If a Computer Has a Wireless Networking Card

Most modern computers include a wireless network card, which you use to connect to wireless networks in your office, on the road or at home. If your computer doesn’t have one, you can potentially install one or buy an external wireless network adapter for the computer. Check to see if there’s any mention on your computer itself or the documentation that came with it about whether it has a wireless connection card. If you can’t find any information one way or another, check your computer’s operating system.

Find Your Wireless LAN Card

Wi-Fi networking has become so ubiquitous that virtually any laptop computer you buy will have a wireless network card built in. This is a device including an antenna and some processing chips that let your computer connect to wireless networks in offices, homes, airports and coffee shops. Many desktop computers also some with a wireless network adapter built in, and they’re also in essentially all modern Smart phones.

If you’re not sure whether you computer came with one, try taking a look to see if there’s any mention of that fact on the computer itself. If not, look at the box the computer came in or the documentation that came with it. You can also call the computer manufacturer for assistance or visit its website to look up your model number.

If your computer was custom-built or potentially modified since it was built, or you can’t find the documentation or get a clear answer from its manufacturer, you can see if your operating system detects a wireless network card. If it can’t find one, it’s possible there is one in your computer that doesn’t work, but either way, you’ll need to install one or get an external unit if you want to wirelessly get online.

Find Wireless Card in Windows

If you’re running Microsoft Windows, you can look for your wireless network card in the operating system’s device manager. Click the search box on the task bar or in the Start Menu and type “Device Manager.” Click the “Device Manager” search result.

Scroll down through the list of installed devices to “Network Adapters.” If the adapter is installed, that’s where you’ll find it.

If you’re having trouble with your wireless adapter, you can try to install a new driver for it from this screen. A driver is software that your operating system uses to communicate with a specific device. Right-click the device and select “Update Driver,” then “Search automatically for updated driver software.” Follow the steps in the menu and restart your computer if prompted.

Find Wireless Card on Macs

If your computer is a Mac and it has a wireless card, you should see the wireless icon on the menu bar at the top of your screen. You can click the icon to turn wireless on and off or to connect to a particular network.

If you don’t see the icon and want to see your list of devices to verify there’s no wireless card experiencing difficulties, open the “System Information” screen. To do this, hold down the option key, click the Apple logo in the menu bar and click “System Information.”

If you have a wireless card, you should see “Wi-Fi” listed under network. Click it to see information about your wireless card.

Find Wireless Card on Linux

If you’re running Linux, you can access information about you wireless card and other network adaptors by running the “lshw” command, which stands for “list hardware.”

Simply open a command line window on your Linux system and type “lshw.” You may need to be logged in as root to see all available information. Type “sudo lshw” and enter your password to run the command as root. Scroll through the output to see information about your wireless card, if you have one, and other devices.

Many modern Linux distributions also have graphical tools for configuring your wireless card.

Internal PCIe vs External USB Adapters, Features Explained, Best Value Adapters

Everything you need to know about buying the best wireless adapter for your custom PC

How do you get Wi-Fi on a gaming PC build (or how do you add Wi-Fi to a prebuilt desktop)? It’s a common newbie question when building your very first gaming computer if you just realized the fact that the majority of modern motherboards don’t actually come with built-in wireless included. Some do, but you’ll usually have to pay a bit more for a more feature-rich motherboard that includes onboard Wi-Fi. So, if the motherboard you’re choosing for your PC build won’t have Wi-Fi, or you’re wanting to add Wi-Fi to an already-assembled PC, you’ll need to buy a wireless adapter (or “adaptor” for our UK readers).

How good of a model you should choose (AKA how much you spend) depends on how fast your internet connection and router is, and other factors like how far away your gaming desktop will be from your router, and of course how serious you are about getting the most reliable, low-ping, low-lag, dropout-free online gaming experience.

Speaking of wireless and gaming, before proceeding with everything you’d ever need to know about choosing a good wireless adapter, the gaming gods have whispered in my ear that I first must reiterate to you (in case you’re unaware) that if you want the best, most reliable internet connection possible for online domination then you should ideally be using wired ethernet whenever you can. Especially if you’re trying to be the next eSports/pro gaming phenomenon or you’re just really, really competitive and even the thought of lag makes you shudder.

That said, despite understanding that wired cannot be matched as a committed gamer, some of you will still want to use Wi-Fi for gaming anyway, and that’s okay. Wireless tech has, and continues to, come a long way. There are plenty of good, reliable affordable wireless adapters out there that’ll allow you to get a fast enough connection for super smooth online gaming with low ping.

However, not all Wi-Fi adapters are created equal and you want to consciously choose which type and specific model is right for your particular gaming computer so you don’t encounter issues or bad performance. That’s where this comprehensive guide to buying a good wireless adapter is here to help, and we’ll cover everything you need to know regarding what to look for when choosing best wireless adapter for desktop, including a breakdown of the features that matter and the best wireless adapters for the money.

Best Wireless Adapters for the Money (2023)

We’ll cover the specs to look for in a good wireless adapter throughout this guide, but if you simply want to know what our current top recommendations are for the best internal/external wireless adaptors to get Wi-Fi on your new gaming PC build, let’s discuss these first. All our below picks have been hand-picked based on countless hours carefully considering the wide spectrum of current available models, and are what we would personally buy ourselves for any given budget.

Swipe to Scroll the Table:

Best External USB Wireless Adapters

How to Choose a Wireless Adapter

What features should you look for when choosing the best wireless adapter for desktop gaming? Let’s discuss, and we’ll keep things as simple as possible as discussing wireless technology can get into what-the territory all too easily. There’s no need to understand all the specs in detail, but if there’s a certain feature you must know more about it, we hope you’ll find enough nuanced guidance below.

PCIe vs USB Wireless Adapters (Internal vs External)

Also called a USB Wi-Fi dongle, getting a USB Wi-Fi adapter is the most convenient way to enable wireless on a desktop computer as it’s simply a matter of plugging this little device into the front or back of your PC and voila. your system will now pick up the wireless signal of your wireless router.

The next step up is to buy a wireless network card that you have to install in a spare PCIe (PCI Express) slot on your motherboard. This is less convenient overall than getting a USB dongle, especially if you’re adding this to an already-assembled PC as you’ll have to go in to your case and carefully install it on your motherboard (and sometimes it may not fit as other parts may get in the way, or you might not have a spare PCI-E slot, etc).

However, getting a wireless adapter card is definitely not a hassle at all if you buy one when building a brand new PC build, as it’s just one extra little easy step in the hardware installation process. and you can ensure that the adapter you buy is compatible with all your parts (and that you have the spare PCI-E slot to accommodate it) before building your computer.

Which is cheaper? Which is faster? Which is more reliable? Which has the best signal range? Fair questions, but either an internal or external wireless adapter can work just fine for a gaming desktop (assuming you pick a decent model and one that’s right for your particular setup). Both types can offer good wireless signal and speeds, so choose whichever you prefer or is right for your setup, but they do have pros and cons explained below.

A USB adapter is going to be cheaper in general, and is more convenient as mentioned. They may also be good enough in terms of signal strength, and a decent USB model will allow for fast-enough speeds to match a good router.

However, an internal PCIe will typically give the best signal strength, as they tend to have better/bigger/more antennas than a USB adapter (which might not have an antenna at all). Although to be fair some good USB adapters do have multiple (and good-quality) antennas.

With an internal PCIe network card you also don’t have to worry about overheating, as USB adapters can definitely overheat when under load for too long, therefore making an internal network card the better overall long-term pick for reliability. Also, another little benefit to internal adapters (albeit small) is having an extra free USB port.

Just don’t forget to make sure you have the room for an internal card if you go that route, as you’ll need a spare PCIe slot inside your rig. Plus, make sure there’s enough room in your computer case, especially if you get a bulky card that takes up a lot of space. Large CPU coolers could also get in the way of your spare PCIe slot/s.

What Speed Wireless Adapter Do You Need?

What speed should you look for when choosing the right wireless adapter for your new gaming PC setup? Depends what speed your router and your internet plan can provide you, as there’s no point spending more on a top wireless adapter that supports super-fast speeds if you won’t be able to even get those speeds from your router/plan in the first place.

Check what maximum speed your home setup is capable of, then pick an internal or external wireless adapter that isn’t slower than that.

So, if your internet connection can theoretically get up to 600Mbps (your real-world speed will almost always be slower than what your router is actually capable of), buy an adapter that supports this speed such as an AC1000. Remember that with dual Band wireless adapters (pretty much any modern adapter), the maximum speed will be listed under the 5Ghz speed spec as that is the faster Band of the two.

There’s also nothing wrong getting a faster adapter then what your current internet plan can actually provide. For example, whilst there definitely is the possibility of overkill when buying an adapter (if your internet can only get up to 300Mbps, no point spending on an expensive high-end adapter that supports 2000Mbps etc), getting an adapter that’s a little faster than your current connection could be a good move if you plan on keeping your adapter around as a long-term investment. That way, you wouldn’t need to upgrade your adapter if you were to upgrade your router and/or internet plan to a faster speed later on (assuming it’s the same Wi-Fi standard though).

Single vs Dual Band Wireless Adapters for Gaming

When choosing the best wireless adapter for your desktop, you’ll see both single Band and dual Band models. No surprises that dual Band is better, and allows for a stronger, more reliable signal with less interference. With a dual Band adapter, you can receive data from your router across two wireless channels. both on a 2.4GHz frequency and a 5GHz frequency. The 2.4GHz frequency is the longer range yet slower Band, whilst 5GHz is the fastest but with less range. However, this assumes that your router is also dual Band, otherwise one of the bands will just go unused.

But even if your router is a single Band model, you can still get a dual Band adapter as it’ll still work (just be limited). Same goes if you get a single Band adapter and use that with a dual Band router. it’ll still work, but doing that would be a waste and so always try and get a dual Band adapter if your router is dual Band. But what’s the benefit of dual Band wireless? Faster speeds, as you won’t be limited by the speed that you get from a single Band.

Summary: Get a dual Band wireless adapter if your router is dual Band to reap the full benefits and fastest speeds. Otherwise it doesn’t matter, as any combination is compatible, as a decent single Band Wi-Fi setup can still be fine for gaming.

What Are Beamforming Wireless Adapters?

What is the beamforming feature you see in some wireless adapters? Without getting too technical here as it’s not something you need to know about when choosing an adapter for your desktop, beamforming is a nice-to-have feature in an adapter that works to more efficiently target the coverage of your wireless connection. In other words, it’s a fancy feature that helps signal speed and reliability, but isn’t at all necessary.

Summary: Beamforming is a nice-sounding feature that wouldn’t feel out of place in Star Wars, but it’s not necessary for gaming and just a nice bonus to have. It works to improves your adapter’s signal.

Does the Brand of a Wireless Adapter Matter?

Lastly, I would favor trusted names in the networking game when buying any sort of networking equipment. There are plenty of cheaper, lesser-known brands out there that may work out just fine for you, but when it comes to something like Wi-Fi where there are plenty of potential issues with products, I’d avoid them if you want a higher chance of longer durability and reliability.

Buying a good brand, which likely won’t cost much more (if anything) than a no-name model, also increases the likelihood of nice-to-haves like 24/7 support, technical support that actually knows their stuff, proper documentation, better OS support, easier driver support, etc. Same goes when buying any computer products, really. Just our two cents.

Summary: To avoid a dud, incompatibility issues, lack of support if things go wrong and so on. stick with well-known respected networking manufacturers when buying wireless products (Netgear, Asus, TP-Link, D-Link, etc).

PCIe vs PCI Network Cards

PCI Express (PCIe) is the more recent connection format, and modern wireless cards are all going to be of this type. But if you’re upgrading an older motherboard, you may only have a spare PCI slot on your motherboard, and not a spare PCIe slot. In this case you would need to purchase a PCI wireless card, as PCIe cards won’t fit in a PCI slot.

Understanding PCIe x1 vs PCIe x16 Slots

There are two types of PCI Express slots. PCIe x1 slots are the small, short PCIe slots, and the size that PCIe network cards come in. PCIe x16 slots are the long PCIe slots used for a graphics card. But don’t worry if you only have a long x16 slot available in your particular PC build, as a short PCIe x1 network card will fit just fine in a long x16 slot.

What Speed Wi-Fi Card Should I Buy?

Check the speed of your router, and try to match that or better. For example, if your router is an AC1900 model, try and get an AC1900 wireless card so that your card won’t restrict your bandwidth AKA speed. Also, don’t worry if you get a wireless card with a faster speed than your router supports, as then your system is future-proofed and you may not need to upgrade your adapter if you end up upgrading your router (so long as it’s still an 802.11ac router).

USB 2.0 vs USB 3.0 Wireless Adapters

Wireless USB adapter come in either USB 3 or the older USB 2 format. Favor getting a USB 3 model, assuming that you have a USB 3 port for it on the front or back of your desktop computer. A USB 3.0 device will be backwards compatible with a 2.0 port, but it would only work at 2.0 speeds.

However, buying a USB 3 Wi-Fi adapter is only crucial if you have a router (and internet connection) that is at a certain level of speed. USB 2.0 supports data transfer speeds up to 480 Mbps, while USB 3.0 can do as high as 5 Gigabits (4800 Mbps) which is 10x faster.

So, if you’re not gonna go higher than 480 Mbps with your connection (which is still real fast internet and good enough for online gaming in general btw) then it doesn’t matter whether you choose a wireless adapter with USB 3.0 or 2.0. But if you have a high-end connection and router, with speeds over 480 Mbps, you’ll need USB 3.0 otherwise your speed will be capped by USB 2.0.

“Do Nano Size USB Wi-Fi Adapters Work As Well As Larger Models?”

As technology continues its quest to become smaller and smaller, wireless adapters are no different, and there are some “nano” style adapters out there such as the TP-Link N150.

Its thin, inconspicuous design means you’d hardly notice it plugged into a laptop or desktop. But are they worth it? Well, as you can imagine, the small size of a nano drive doesn’t allow for a strong internal antenna, so you should only buy one if you’re sure you’ll get a strong signal from a hopefully-close-by router.

wi-fi, your, using, dongle, transmitter

“Are USB Wi-Fi Adapters Plug n Play?”

“What If I Don’t Have a CD/DVD Optical Drive to Install Included Drivers?”

You may be wondering if you can simply plug a new USB Wi-Fi adapter into your computer and immediately get connected to the internet so that you can then download the latest software device drivers for it. Some USB Wi-Fi adapters come with drivers on a CD (even though these drivers are usually outdated and you should download the latest drivers from the manufacturer’s website anyway) but sometimes you won’t have a CD/DVD drive in your system to be able to install the basic drivers in the first place to be able to download the new drivers.

So, is it possible to connect a USB Wi-Fi adapter to the internet without having drivers installed? Or, do USB adapters have pre-installed drivers inside the actual adapter? Fair questions.

Firstly, yes, some wireless USB adapters will indeed work as soon as you plug them in, as your operating system may have generic pre-installed wireless drivers that you can use to get online to then download the latest drivers. I know for a fact that Windows 10 has this, but I wouldn’t bet your life on this working 100% of the time, but you should be okay if you have no other way to get online to download drivers.

As for whether USB adapters have pre-installed drivers inside of them, yes, I have heard of this to happen before, but I would say it’s a rarity, and again, not something to be counted on.

If you plug in a USB Wi-Fi adapter and it doesn’t connect to the internet, and you either don’t have CD/DVD drivers or don’t have the CD/DVD drive to install those drivers, AND you don’t have another way of connecting your computer to the internet such as using Ethernet or using your phone as a hotspot, then you will have to download the drivers on another system and save them to a USB flash drive (then use that flash drive to install the drivers on your new PC).

Or you could download the drivers on your phone and connect your phone via USB (there are plenty of tutorials online on how to do this). Where there’s a will there’s a way, and don’t worry you’ll be back online in no time and breathing vital internet air once again.

Adapters With Internal vs External Antennas

Note that this applies to internal USB adapters, as external PCIe Wi-Fi cards have external antennas by default.

But which is best for a USB adapter: an internal antenna or an external one? I’m sure you’ve already guessed that an external one is going to provide the stronger signal, and you’re spot on. Multiple external antennas is even better for the strongest signal possible. However, there are some decent internal antennas on higher-quality USB adapters.

But the real question is, do you need an external antenna (or 2, or 4) for your wireless adapter when it comes to gaming (or general internet use for that matter), or will an internal USB adapter suffice for gaming?

The answer depends mostly on how powerful you need your adapter’s signal strength to be, or in other words, how far away your router is located compared to your PC and/or how much interference your signal will experience over that distance (such as walls, floors, other wireless connections/devices, etc).

If your router’s signal has to cover a long-ish distance, and/or has to pass through walls (which weakens the signal), you may really benefit from an adapter with an external antenna, or you may even need it to keep a strong-enough signal for your liking. If your router is fairly close, and/or there’s not much interference around your home, an internal antenna (ie no visible external antenna) may be just fine to get a strong signal.

Summary: Depends if you want/need the strongest signal strength possible. An external antenna is generally always best, however an internal antenna on a USB adapter may serve you well (especially if it’s one of the very best USB Wi-Fi adapters on the market such as a top of the range Netgear).

Trusted VPNs

VPN software is quite important in this day and age and will improve the security and privacy of your PC when online. There are also benefits to using VPNs for gaming.

There’s lots of VPNs out there but the ones I recommend most to gamers is ExpressVPN (special link that gets you 3 months off. they also offer a free trial here) and NordVPN which are both highly rated gaming VPNs because they’re the fastest and most secure.

About the Author

Indie game dev currently working on my first public release after years of hobby projects, a story-driven VR FPS built with Unreal Engine (to be announced soon here for anyone into VR FPS’s). Also likes writing about tech, which also helps fund development of the game.

My favs of all time are OOT, Perfect Dark, MGS1, MGS2, GE007, DKC2, THPS3, HL1, and HL2, with the most recent addition to my list of immortals being the VR masterpiece Alyx. If you want help with a new build feel free to ask on the main PC builds guide. If you found the site extra helpful and wish to support the work I do here, sharing an article with a friend helps a lot and is much appreciated Julz

Helping you build or buy better systems for less, here at Build-Gaming-Computers.com you’ll find simultaneously comprehensive yet simplified guides and tutorials, including continuously updated PC build examples, in-depth game requirement guides for the latest demanding titles, one of the most detailed PC assembly photo tutorials online, and always objective and non-biased buying guides and advice.

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Goltilar

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