It is easy to think of wireless adapters simply as another frivolous and unnecessary invention because wired adapters work just fine. However, wireless adapters come with a lot more benefits than originally thought.
You will never appreciate wireless adapters once you have had to occasionally deal with the eyesore and inconvenience that is messy and tangled wiring. Especially when you are working on and using a custom computer, wired connections can be a pain.
The stigma associated with wireless adapters (wireless anything, really) has no basis. In fact, if set up correctly and if you use the right equipment, connections by wireless adapters can rival those of wired ones.
Before you start looking for that wireless adapter to add to your custom build, go over these 8 best PCI wireless adapters in 2018.
1. ASUS 4×4 802.11AC Wireless-AC3100 PCIe Adapter (PCE-AC88)
This wireless adapter from ASUS is the most expensive item on this list, but we can’t really complain after we looked at its specs and performance. The PCE-AC88 is one of the best wireless NICs today and is definitely worth the hefty price tag.
The dual-band 4×4 design can handle 1000 mbps and 2100 mbps on the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands, respectively, thanks to their so-called NitroQAM technology. As a premium model, the PCE-AC88 supports MU-MIMO and lets you modify the placement of the four WiFi antennas. This adapter is compatible with 32- and 64-bit Win 7 and 10.
In general, the PCE-AC88 is a good investment that should be in the home (or office!) of any serious techie. At around $120 or $130, this model is easily twice or thrice the price of most of the other wireless adapters out there. However, its figures are more than worth it.
• Flexible antenna design
• High-quality build
2. TP-Link N900 Wireless Dual Band PCI-Express Adapter (TL-WDN4800)
TP-Link has been around for a while and never fails to get mentioned whenever the discussion shifts to adapters. This time around, they are offering the N900 PCIe wireless adapter. This model has quite a nice list of features for its claim to fame.
This adapter provides 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi connectivity (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands), three external antennas, and a maximum throughput of 450 mbps. Looking at these specs, it is obvious that the N900 is just sufficient for any wirelessly connected PC.
It also does a fine job with online gaming, heavy file sharing, and HD video streaming, which makes it a good option for home and office use. This model works with 32- and 64-bit Win XP, Vista, 7, and 8.
Some users report having seen advertisements that this adapter is compatible with Win 10, but we did not see that in this case so it may have been in a specific territory only.
• Easy setup
• Flexible antenna design
• Stable connection
• Defects in certain units
3. ASUS Wi-Fi PCI Express Adapter (PCE-AC56)
One of the first things you are bound to notice in the PCE-AC56 is the appearance. Its sleek finish definitely stands out and will look good on nearly any build. The other key feature is a USB 3.0 interface, which is not common in other wireless adapters in its class.
The PCE-AC56 has a WPS button and can therefore be connected to a router and used without entering the router passcode. The throughput is impressive and goes well over 400 mbps under optimal conditions. Fortunately, this applies with or without the external antenna (The model has an internal antenna, which makes the big external one an extra or optional antenna.).
The only problem users seem to be having has something to do with the utility software that comes with this wireless adapter. Apparently, it has been found to be a little problematic, but we are not seeing this complaint a lot so it may be isolated.
• Fast speed
• Looks good
• Large antenna
• Issues with packaged utility software
4. FebSmart N600 (Basic Edition)
If you are heavily into streaming HD videos and gaming online, you may find the N600 satisfactory because it was specifically designed for those functions. Its detachable 6 dBi external antenna is the component responsible for speeding up the connection enough for those purposes.
The N600 is a dual-band adapter that delivers speeds of up to 300 mbps over both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. It uses a Qualcomm Atheros chipset. This adapter provides 802.11 ac/a/b/g/n connectivity and is compliant with the highest security standards.
A lot of wireless adapters in this class appear to either have issues with Win 10 or are not compatible with the said OS at all. Thankfully, the N600 is very much compatible, so you might want to give this a try if you are running Win 10.
Overall, we like and recommend the FebSmart N600 mainly because it delivers a lot relative to the price. We also think that it can address even general browsing needs because if it is fast enough for HD video streaming and online gaming, then it should be quick enough for all other applications.
• Very affordable
• Good with Win 10
• Detachable external antenna improves speed a lot for gaming
• Not as fast as other adapters in its class
5. Rosewill N900 (RNWD-N9003PCe)
The RNWD-N9003PCe provides 802.11 b/g/n connectivity. According to the manufacturer, the throughput of this wireless adapter can reach 450 mbps over both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands (11N wireless network).
Although Rosewill does not specifically market this model for HD video streaming and online gaming, a lot of users have noted that this adapter actually performs quite well for these purposes. If you are into video streaming and gaming, you may want to start your search for the most suitable adapter with this model. Finally, the RNWD-N9003PCe supports advanced security requirements.
The only problem we are noticing so far is that the three antennas tend to make the whole unit a little unwieldy (But then again, this depends on your setup.) and/or unsightly. However, if all you are after is performance, then this should not worry you one bit.
• Easy setup and installation
• Good for gaming and HD video streaming
• Antenna design can make the adapter unwieldy
6. Gigabyte GC-WB867D-I REV 4.2
This wireless adapter model from Gigabyte is one of the top techie favorites today. It has been around for quite a while and continues to garner a lot of good reviews from satisfied users.
One of its main features is its fully qualified Bluetooth 4.2 capability with EDR support. The design is IEEE 802.11ac-compliant, and the model supports Intel WIDI. According to Gigabyte, the antenna can support WLAN 2T2R transmission and can provide connection speeds of up to 867 mbps.
The only thing you may have to watch out for is that apparently, in some units, users have issues when WiFi and Bluetooth are simultaneously enabled.
• Fast speed
• Works with drivers downloadable from ASUS
• No need for Bluetooth dongle
• Problems in some units when WiFi and Bluetooth are simultaneously turned on
7. TP-Link AC1300 (Archer T6E)
Although the manufacturer does not specifically brand this model as a gaming or HD video streaming wireless adapter, we see a lot of recommendations stating that this works perfectly for those activities, which makes us think that TP-Link’s claim of having a maximum throughput of 867 mbps (5 GHz) may be completely true.
This is a dual-band model, and the declared maximum speed over the 2.4 GHz band is 400 mbps. For a mid-range wireless adapter, the AC1300 does have some attractive specs and offers impressive numbers.
• Easy to set up
• Good with Win 10
• Backward compatible (IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n)
• Just does not work for some
8. HiRO H50323
The HiRO H50323 is a dual-band wireless adapter providing 2T2R transmission and 802.11ac connectivity. According to the product packaging materials, the maximum throughput expected is 867 mbps.
For the price, the HiRO H50323 works well and withstands even possible weather-induced signal interference. A lot of users have reported the speed to be very impressive, which means this may work well for HD video streaming as well.
The only problem reported by some is that setting this up can be a little problematic. However, this gets rarely posted so it may have been a fluke.
• Good with Win 10
• Backward compatible (IEEE 802.11 b/g/n)
• Looks good and compact
• Difficult to set up
The sheer number of PCI wireless adapters available on the market today can be overwhelming. These are just 8 of the best options that you can buy. While specs can be dizzying, at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that you get the adapter that suits exactly what you need it for. Thanks for reading, and we hope you enjoyed this list as much as we did.