Last updated: August 6, 2021

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We all know the advantages of wifi in our homes: a fixed internet connection via radio signal without the annoying tangle of cables. A wifi adapter helps to improve the wifi connection of end devices (PC, laptop, TV, etc.) or to set up wifi at all. Wifi adapters are available in different types, such as a wifi adapter card, a wifi adapter USB stick or a wifi adapter socket.

In our wifi adapter test 2021 we therefore present the three most common types of wifi adapters. We also show you their advantages and disadvantages and provide you with evaluation criteria to make your purchase decision easier.




Summary

  • A wifi adapter is a piece of hardware that is attached to a specific interface (USB, PCI, LAN) of a device to enable or enhance wifi access.
  • Wifi adapters exist as cards, sticks or sockets and must be matched to the connection of the respective end device.
  • Depending on the type of device, operating system, Wlan standard or transmission speed, a particular Wlan adapter is suitable for you.

The Best Wifi Adapter: Our Choices

Buying and evaluation criteria for Wifi adapters

The selection of different Wifi adapters is large and it can be difficult to make a purchase decision. We make this choice easier for you with a few criteria to consider.

With the help of these criteria, you can decide on the right wifi adapter:

In the following sections, we explain what to look for in the individual criteria.

Compatibility with end devices

If you are thinking about buying a wireless adapter, you probably have a specific device in mind. It is important to find a wifi adapter that is compatible with this device. The compatibility depends mainly on the connections / interfaces. You should therefore check whether your device has the respective interface (USB, PCI, PCMCIA).

PCI / PCI(e) interfaces are found on computers. Laptops and notebooks have a PCMCIA interface. CF type II WLAN cards can also be integrated here.

A suitable interface doesn't necessarily mean the operating system is compatible.

A USB port can be found on many more devices, such as computers, laptops, televisions, printers or game consoles. There are USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports, which is something to consider when buying the right stick. A Wifi stick 3.0 is recommended because it is also downward compatible.

Finally, in addition to the connections, it is important to note whether the respective operating system (e.g. Mac OS or Windows) is supported by the wifi adapter.

Wlan sockets have the greatest compatibility with various devices because they allow access via a short Lan cable. They can be used for devices with a Lan connection and are independent of the operating system used.

Supported wifi standard

Over the years, various wifi standards have emerged:

  • Wlan1: 802.11
  • Wlan2: 802.11b
  • Wlan3: 802.11g
  • Wlan4: 802.11n
  • Wlan 5: 802.11ac
  • Wlan 6: 802.11ax

When choosing an adapter, it is important to know which Wlan standard is supported. The newer Wlan adapters are usually also downward compatible. The different Wlan standards use a certain frequency range or can partially select this.

Frequency range and transmission rate

The transmission rate and frequency range are also a question of compatibility. In this case, between the router and the wireless adapter.

The frequency range between the transmitter (Wlan router) and receiver (Wlan adapter) must match in order to work. These two frequency ranges exist in Europe:

  • 2.4 gigahertz range
  • 5 gigahertz range

The transmission rate, i.e. how many MBit per second are transmitted, depends on the performance of the Wlan router. If you have a high transmission speed, you should also buy a correspondingly powerful Wlan adapter to make full use of its potential. Nevertheless, it must be said that the gross transmission rates are never achieved in practice.

Range and signal strength

An important factor to consider when choosing a wifi adapter is the position of the router. The radio signal that a router emits becomes weaker with increasing distance and can be shielded by thick walls, ceilings or objects.

Since wifi cards / chips and usb adapters rely on the radio signal in the air, their range is limited.

Additional antennas can increase the signal strength at the adapters.

The wifi cards always come with one or more antennas. However, connection problems can occur if the computer is close to a wall and the antenna does not have good reception. Wlan sticks are also available with antennas. They are more expensive than those without antennas, but offer much better reception even at a greater distance from the router.

Unlike other Wlan adapters, Wlan sockets are also suitable for use at a great distance from the Wlan router or where there are obstacles such as walls or ceilings.

Wlan adapter sockets transmit the Wlan signal via the power grid (also called powerline), which allows the powerline adapter (socket) to receive a strong Wlan signal.

Ease of use

Connecting a wifi card is not for beginners, as computers need to be unscrewed first or laptops need an additional adapter for installation. The wifi card is not for technical laymen.

Wifi sticks and sockets often offer plug-and-play installation.

Finding the USB slot, on the other hand, is easier. Plugging in the wifi stick is child's play. Putting the stick into operation can be very easy or require more effort. Some sticks feature plug-and-play, where nothing more needs to be done than plugging in the USB wifi adapter. Other sticks require the installation of a driver.

Wifi sockets are extremely uncomplicated to install. To begin with, they are connected to the router via a Lan cable, which establishes a connection. Wifi sockets do not require a driver.

Number of devices

For individual devices that need wifi access or whose connection to the wifi needs to be improved, a wifi card or stick is suitable. These can be purchased individually at low cost and used for the respective end device.

Those who opt for the Wlan socket should have larger plans and want to supply several end devices with Wlan. The sockets come in a set of two and cost more than the simple adapters. If you want to buy more wifi sockets at a later date, your choice is limited. The socket adapters of the various manufacturers are often not compatible.

Decision: What types of wifi adapters are there and which is the right one for me?

We distinguish between three basic types of wifi adapters:

Type Advantages Disadvantages
Wlan adapter card Wireless, medium range due to antennas Sophisticated installation
Wlan adapter stick Wireless, suitable for medium distances to the router, simple to install Protrudes from the housing and can break off
Wlan adapter socket Very good connection through Lan cable, suitable for long distances to the router Not wireless, susceptible to interference in case of network problems

The various types of Wlan adapters differ quite a lot. Depending on what you value, only a certain type is suitable for you. In the following, we list the advantages and disadvantages of the wifi adapters.

Wifi adapter card

Wifi adapter card

Wifi cards / chips can provide a stable wireless connection to your device. Thanks to the antennas, they offer good reception even over medium distances from the router.

Advantages
  • Wireless
  • Good reception due to antennas
  • Invisible after installation
Disadvantages
  • Difficult installation
  • Signal problems near walls
  • Some devices do not have a suitable slot

One disadvantage is the effort involved in researching and dealing with the respective end device. Whether the device has the respective interface (PCI(e), PCMCIA) for a WLAN card is not immediately apparent from the outside.

In addition, the connection of the Wlan cards to the end device is somewhat demanding. It requires a certain amount of technical understanding to unscrew the terminal and attach the card to the correct slot.

Especially with computers that are placed against a wall, poor reception can occur despite the antennas.

Wlan adapter stick

Wlan adapter stick

USB Wlan adapters look like a normal USB stick and are just as easy to attach to a free USB slot. They can also be removed just as easily if you want to connect another device with a USB port to the adapter.

Advantages
  • Wireless
  • Very good reception over medium distances
  • Easy start-up with plug-and-play
Disadvantages
  • Can break off easily
  • Sometimes an extra driver has to be installed

Wifi adapters can achieve good transmission speeds at shorter distances, i.e. within a home without too many obstacles. Especially models with an antenna improve performance. For very long distances across floors, however, the inexpensive wifi sticks are less suitable.

Putting the Wlan sticks into operation can be very simple, but also more complicated. Some models can simply be plugged in and require no further settings (plug-and-play). Other models, on the other hand, require the installation of a driver, i.e. additional software that runs in the background.

Wlan adapter socket

Wlan adapter socket

A Wlan socket guarantees good Wlan reception even at greater distances from the router. This means that even in a multi-storey house where the router is located in the basement, good wifi reception can be achieved on the upper floors.

Problems can only occur with overloaded power grids. In addition, there should be a separate socket / network socket for each Wlan socket in order to function optimally. A multiple socket should not be used for the adapters.

Advantages
  • Suitable for long distances to the router
  • Easy installation
  • Suitable for Smart Home
Disadvantages
  • Lan cable to end device necessary
  • Lack of compatibility with other adapters
  • Susceptible to interference in case of overloaded power supply

The installation without any driver is very uncomplicated, but requires a brief introduction to the functionality of the socket.

In addition, the Wlan sockets offer the possibility of setting up a home network consisting of several devices connected to the sockets. In addition, many manufacturers offer the possibility of a smart home, so that devices can be controlled via the smartphone.

A disadvantage can be the connection via Lan cable, as the device is not completely mobile. Nevertheless, the wifi adapter saves you from having to lay a miserably long lan cable from the router.

When buying an additional device, you are usually dependent on the same router manufacturer for compatibility reasons. Wifi sockets from different manufacturers often do not harmonise and cannot be connected to each other.

Guide: Frequently asked questions about Wlan adapters answered in detail

If you still have questions about wifi adapters, hopefully the following paragraphs can help you a little.

What is a wireless adapter?

A wireless adapter is a piece of hardware that enables a device (e.g. computer, laptop, tablet, printer, game console) to connect to the wireless network or to improve it.

Wlan Adapter-1

Wifi adapters have different forms and functions.
(Image source: Halacious / unsplash)

The adapter "adapts" the wifi signal coming from a wifi router. The prerequisite is therefore a functioning router.

The adapters can be attached to different interfaces of the end devices and therefore differ greatly in their appearance and functionality.

For whom is a Wlan adapter suitable?

Wifi adapters are particularly suitable for people who do not want to lay annoying lan cables and want to receive a good wifi signal despite greater distances to the wifi router.

In principle, a wireless adapter can provide a more stable and stronger wireless signal for any device.

Optimising the wifi connection is particularly suitable for gaming on computers / laptops or game consoles (X-Box, Playstation, etc.), as a larger and faster data transmission can be achieved.

On the other hand, older devices that are not yet Wlan-capable (e.g. computers or printers) can be retrofitted with a connection through the adapter. Wlan-capable models can be updated with the newer Wlan standards through the adapter.

Which wifi adapter is suitable for my device?

You can find out which wifi adapter is suitable for your device by finding out the connection options (USB, PCI, LAN etc.) of your device and the operating system.

Wlan Adapter-2

There are many technical devices in our household, but not all of them have the same connections and run the same operating system.
(Image source: Yeulet/ 123rf.com)

When looking for the right wifi adapter, you will find overviews with the decisive information on compatibility, such as the supported operating system (Mac OS, Windows, Linux, etc.).

A final tip is to use the device name and the keyword "WLAN adapter" in your search. Especially for TVs, there are very special wifi adapters.

How much does a Wifi adapter cost?

The prices of wireless adapters vary depending on the type and performance. One thing is certain: the higher the maximum transmission speed (MBit per second), the more expensive they are.

Type price range
Wlan adapter stick approx. 10-80 €
Wlan adapter card approx. 10-100 €
Wlan adapter socket approx. 40-150 €

Before buying, you should be aware of the maximum data transfer rate of the Wlan router. If it only has a certain performance, it is pointless to buy an extremely powerful Wlan adapter. For everyday use, transfer rates of 150 to 300 MBit/s are sufficient.

Wlan adapter cards and USB sticks are quite similar in price. The most expensive variant is a wifi socket, although simple models are available from around 40 euros.

Why does the connection to the WIan adapter break down?

There are many reasons why the connection to the WIAN adapter is interrupted again and again. Typical causes are as follows:

  • The distance between the router and the Wlan adapter / end device is too great
  • The power supply (for Wlan sockets) is overloaded
  • The Wlan adapter driver is out of date and needs an update
  • Windows activates the energy saving mode

A good test to rule out the lack of range as a problem is to bring your device closer to the router. If the connection is now stable, your wifi adapter is not sufficient to bridge the distance.

Wlan Adapter-3

A common cause for the wifi to break down is that the distance to the router is too great.
(Image source: Kym Ellis / unsplash)

If you cannot solve the problem yourself, you can often find entries in forums where users of the same wifi adapter have had similar experiences and were able to solve them.

Image source: 亨 木村/ 123rf.com

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