WiFi Card vs WiFi Adapter: Which One Should You Get?

WiFi Card vs WiFi Adapter

Usually, desktop computers do not come with a built-in WiFi system. If your desktop computer is located far away from your router or ethernet cable, you will need to add wireless capability to it. Here, you have two options to choose from: a PCI-e WiFi card and a USB WiFi adapter. So, which one should you pick?

“Simply put, if you want excellent connection quality and faster internet, getting a WiFi card will be your best option. Conversely, if you prefer an affordable, user-friendly, and easy-to-install system, at the cost of compromising the connection quality a bit, a USB WiFi adapter is for you.”

The differences between WiFi cards and WiFi adapters are not drastic as each option come with its own features, advantages, and disadvantages. To make a decision, you will need to understand what each of them has to offer.

In this article, we will discuss all the details you need to know to choose the best WiFi system for your desktop PC. Let’s start with how WiFi cards and WiFi adapters work, their installation process, and their performance.

How WiFi Card Works?

A PCI-e WiFi card connects directly to your motherboard through a PCI-e slot. Thanks to this direct connection, WiFi cards tend to offer the best possible wireless performance. The card also includes Bluetooth functionality as well.

WiFi Card working

A WiFi card comes with 2 or 3 antennas. Although you can connect to the WiFi without any antennas, using the additional ones will provide you with a much better signal.

If you are using one antenna, then you may experience a slower connection as the card cannot send and receive signals at the same time. Whereas if you are using two antennas, then you are dedicating one antenna for sending and another for receiving signals simultaneously, getting an amplified connection.

You can further improve this connection quality with a third antenna which supports the other two, ensuring a better range and a more secure connection.

Installation

Your motherboard needs to have a free PCI-e slot to install a WiFi card. Almost all motherboards come with them. You can install your WiFi card just by plugging it into the slot. Alternatively, you can install the card in a larger slot if you do not have any free space left. If your card is not plug & play, then you will have to install the driver.

Since the process requires opening your PC case, make sure you have disconnected all electrical connections before starting. Additionally, it is essential to earth yourself to prevent electrostatic charges from damaging your system.

Performance

The resulting speed will depend on your WiFi card’s model and other factors, such as the distance of the PC from the router and surrounding obstacles. The newer models of WiFi cards are capable of providing a maximum transfer speed of 2.4 Gbps at 5 GHz frequency and 574 Mbps at 2.4 GHz frequency.

Pros and Cons of PCI-e WiFi cards

The pros and cons of PCI-e WiFi cards are as follows.

ProsCons
• Stronger network connection• Not portable
• Equipped with antennas to amplify connectivity• Somewhat complicated installation process
• Reliable and stable• Comparatively expensive
Less likely to overheat
Pros and Cons of Using PCI-e WiFi Cards
PCI-e WiFi card

How WiFi Adapter Works?

A WiFi adapter works in a straightforward manner. You plug it into a USB port and start using it. When you plug it in, the adapter starts sending and receiving data through your WiFi network. This data transfer works in the form of radio waves.

USB WiFi adapters can be used with laptops as well. They can improve your laptop’s WiFi connectivity by offering a more reliable and faster connection by overriding the computer’s onboard wireless system. 

WiFi Adapter Photo
WiFi Adapter Photo

Installation

As we have already mentioned, “WiFi adapters are very easy to install. All you have to do is just plug it into any free USB port on your desktop PC. Connecting it through a USB 3.0 port will ensure the maximum performance possible. You should be able to start using it right after. However, some WiFi adapters require driver installation.

Performance

The connection quality depends on the WiFi adapter’s model, the USB port, and the surroundings. However, performance-wise, USB WiFi adapters are a bit inferior compared to WiFi cards. A USB WiFi adapter offers up to 867 Mbps of speed at 5 GHz frequency and 400 Mbps of speed at 2.4 GHz frequency.

Pros and Cons of WiFi adapters

The pros and cons of WiFi adapters are as follows.

ProsCons
• Portable• Weaker network connection
• Can be used both on desktops and laptops• Likely to overheat if used for a long time
• User-friendly and easy to install• Less reliable and stable connection
• Some models include dual antenna connections• Does not work well when there is a long distance from the router
• Affordable
Pros and Cons of Using PCI-e WiFi Adapters
WiFi Adapters

WiFi Cards vs WiFi Adapters: Key Differences

Now that you have a good understanding of both these devices, let’s take a look at all the key differences between a WiFi card and a WiFi adapter.

WiFi CardWiFi Adapter
1. Connects directly to the motherboard through a PCI-e slot.1. Connects through a USB port.
2. The installation process is complex for a user with basic computer knowledge.2. The installation process is easy for a user with basic computer knowledge.
3. Newer models conform to WiFi 6 protocol.3. Conforms to WiFi 5 protocol.
4. Not portable.4. Portable.
5. Offers a maximum transfer speed of 2.4 Gbps at 5 GHz frequency, and 574 Mbps at 2.4 GHz frequency.5. Offers a maximum transfer speed of 867 Mbps at 5 GHz frequency and 400 Mbps at 2.4 GHz frequency.
6. More reliable and stable network connection.6. Less reliable and stable network connection.
7. Does not overheat.7. Tends to overheat.
8. Works well with long distance from the router.8. Does not work well with long distance from the router.
9. Comparatively expensive.9. Comparatively affordable.
10. Can be used only on desktops.10. Can be used on both desktops and laptops.
11. Better build quality.11. Some models may be fragile.
12. Can be used for a long period of time.12. Perfect for a quick fix.
WiFi Card Vs WiFi Adapter Differences

Which One Should You Get?

Now that you know everything about WiFi Cards vs WiFi Adapters, it’s your turn to make the decision. Your choice should depend on what sort of tasks you do on your computer and your preferred level of convenience and performance.

For online gaming, the best option will be to get a PCI-e WiFi card. However, a USB WiFi adapter will suffice if you are not experienced in opening up your PC or if you are looking for just looking for an affordable connectivity option. Therefore, think carefully and pick the one that best serves your needs.”

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