PCIe vs. USB WiFi Adapters. What to Choose?

In the modern world, the freedom to move around and still have connectivity to high-speed networks is one of the blessings that comes with the advancement of WiFi technology.

Although WiFi in itself is not perfect either, and in many categories like latency it still loses to a good old-fashioned LAN connection, slowly but surely new WiFi technologies such as the 802.11ac standard that offers a maximum speed of 866.7 Mb/s are catching up.

Unfortunately, not all PCs or rather the motherboards inside of them have WiFi capability so to take full advantage of WiFi an extra purchase needs to be made – a WiFi adapter.

The main rivalry you have in the market is the USB vs PCIe WiFi adapters fighting for superiority and market dominance.

USB vs PCIe Wireless Adapter

When considering which kind of wifi adapter to purchase first of all you need to understand the pros and cons of both offerings. To make your job easier we have already compiled most of the information so all that is left for you to do is follow along!

Pros – PCIe Wireless Adapter

rosewill rnx-ac1900pcev2

A PCIe WiFi Card vs a USB WiFi dongle offers a lot more network features and capabilities as these adapters can offer more speed and a reliable signal overall. This is mainly due to the fact that most PCIe adapter cards come equipped with multiple antennas that can take advantage of multiple-input-multiple-output (MIMO) spatial multiplexing which boosts your WiFi signal reception.

It is also worth noting that in this PCIe vs USB WiFi debate, most of the high-end adapters in the PCIe category can offer speeds of up to 2.1 Gb/s when in the 5GHz band or speeds of up to 1 Gb/s when operating in the 2.4GHz band.

By comparison, even when considering the maximum bandwidth potential of a USB 3.0 adapter coupled with 802.11ac WiFi, this still only results in a measly 867 Mbps over 802.11ac 5 GHz.

Cons – PCIe Wireless Adapter

The biggest downsides of purchasing a PCIe WiFi adapter are the cost and the higher complexity of the installation process.

A PCIe WiFi adapter can cost anywhere from 20$ for the budget options, and up to 60$ or even more for the advanced networking cards. This might be an issue if you were hoping to connect your PC to the WiFi network for cheap.

The installation process for a PCIe adapter albeit simple still involves opening up your PC and finding a free PCIe slot you can use for your adapter. This can become tricky if your motherboard comes equipped with only 1 PCIe slot, or if you are already using the extra PCIe slots for other expansion cards such as a sound card.

Pros – USB WiFi Adapter

netgear nighthawk a7000 ac1900 wi-fi adapter

If you have decided to go for a USB WiFi adapter instead of the PCIe route, then you will benefit from lower costs for your adapter and a very easy installation process.

When comparing a PCIe WiFi card vs USB WiFi adapters people tend to often forget that a USB WiFi adapter can start at 5$, which is dirt cheap for the ability to connect to a network!

Moreover, the ability to just plug the USB dongle and instantly gain WiFi connectivity sounds significantly easier than having to fiddle with a PCIe card during the installation process.

Cons – USB Wireless Adapter

At the same time, not everything is sunshine and rainbows in the USB WiFi adapter land considering the fact that most of the time, the lower costs are also equal to significantly lower network performance.

The smaller sizes plus the lack of cooling compared to their PCIe brethren that come with dedicated heatsinks usually leads to the overheating of the USB adapters therefore connection is often lost during those periods of time.

It is also recommended that USB WiFi adapters be used close to the WiFi source, without added barriers or impediments to the signal, as those might also significantly reduce the quality of your experience.

PCIe vs. USB WiFi Adapters- Which Is for You?

Ultimately, the choice between the ease of use of the USB adapters or the extra performance of the PCIe adapters is up to your personal circumstances, both of them serving their purpose well.

May your networking be as smooth as silk and may you never drop connection!

About The Author

Chris Bulgac

Chris is a passionate gamer, streamer and PC tech enthusiast. The PC peripheral market has a special place in his heart, as there are few enthusiast-grade products that he has not tried, and even fewer products he has not researched already. Overall, Chris is a BIG nerd and he is absolutely proud of it!

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