Wi-Fi is increasingly common on desktop computers, but not all desktop computers have it. Add Wi-Fi and you can connect to the internet wirelessly and host Wi-Fi hotspots for your other devices.
It is a simple and inexpensive process. Buy the right little adapter and you can even take it with you, quickly adding Wi-Fi to any desktop computer you come across by plugging a small device into its USB port.
Why you might want to do this
If you’re happy with your current Ethernet connection, there’s no need to throw away the cables and go wireless. Good old Ethernet cables are still useful. They offer faster speeds, lower latency, and more reliable connections than Wi-Fi.
Of course, the benefits of Wi-Fi are hard to ignore, even on a desktop PC. With Wi-Fi, you can place your desktop computer anywhere in your home or office, as long as there’s a power outlet nearby. You can then connect it to your router without using an Ethernet cable. Adding Wi-Fi to your desktop PC can also help even if it already has an Ethernet connection. With Wi-Fi, you can host a Wi-Fi hotspot on your PC, allowing other devices to connect through its internet connection.
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The easy way: a USB to Wi-Fi adapter
Just as you can add Bluetooth to an old computer by simply plugging a small Bluetooth dongle into its USB port, you can add Wi-Fi to a computer by plugging a tiny dongle into a USB port. It is an easy and cheap option.
There are a large number of USB Wi-Fi adapters of varying quality on the market. Their price varies from a few dollars to 60 or 70 dollars, depending on the quality of manufacture and the features they have. Just because they can Costing so much doesn’t mean you have to spend so much – there are plenty of inexpensive options that will do just fine.
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Cheaper options tend to be small and use older Wi-Fi standards. If you’re looking for basic connectivity, something like this adapter from TP-Link is perfect. TP-Link has been around for decades and the company consistently comes up with great products. This type of adapter is small enough that you can stick it in a USB port and completely forget it’s there, and you won’t risk accidentally dropping it.
TP-Link Nano AC600 USB Wi-Fi Adapter
The TP-Link Archer TU2 Nano is a low profile USB Wi-Fi adapter. It supports 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi networks. It is simple to use and reliable.
If you’re looking for something high-end, like a Wi-Fi 6 or WPA3 compatible adapter, you’ll have to spend more. This adapter from D-Link is a great choice if you have a router that supports Wi-Fi 6 or if you’re just interested in future-proofing.
D-Link Wi-Fi 6 USB Adapter
D-Link’s DWA-X1850 has all the Wi-Fi bells and whistles you could ask for—it supports both Wi-Fi 6 and WPA3, and is backward compatible with older standards.
Bigger and better antennas should improve your connection (up to a point). If connection strength is a major concern and you have the space, there are plenty of USB adapters from reputable manufacturers with full-size antennas. This adapter from TP-Link costs $23 at the time of writing in April 2022 and should offer better connectivity compared to its cheaper counterparts.
TP-Link Archer T3U Plus
The TP-Link Archer T3U Plus offers Wi-Fi 5 compatibility, a more sensitive antenna and support for all major operating systems. If you need better reception and don’t mind a larger antenna, this is a good choice.
Install an internal Wi-Fi card
You can also add a Wi-Fi card to your desktop computer. This involves opening up your PC, then installing a dedicated internal Wi-Fi card in a PCI Express (PCIe) slot, PCI Express Mini slot, or something similar. Assuming your PC is designed to be opened easily and has a free slot for an expansion card, this should work fine.
The advantage of using a dedicated internal Wi-Fi card is that it will potentially have better reception than a small USB dongle – mainly because the internal version may include a larger antenna that comes out of the back of your PC , or can be placed near . They almost always include a Bluetooth adapter as well.
High-end PCIe Wi-Fi cards, such as Gigabyte’s GC-WBAX210, come with the latest and greatest wireless features, such as Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.2, and WPA3. They are not limited by the bandwidth of a standard USB 3.1 Gen 1 interface and come with full antennas. If you have a router that supports it, you can’t do much better.
GIGABYTE WiFi 6E GC-WBAX210
The GC-WBAX210 comes with everything you could want in a Wi-Fi card in 2022: Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.2 and WPA 3.
There are cheaper PCIe cards if you have an older router that doesn’t support Wi-Fi 6 or Wi-Fi 6E, such as TP-Link’s Archer T5E. The Archer T5E supports Wi-Fi 5 and Bluetooth 4.2 – plenty for the majority of apps. If you’re just looking to get a wireless desktop computer on a budget, this is a great choice.
TP-Link Archer T5E
The TP-Link Archer T5E is a solid choice for most everyday applications in 2022. It supports Wi-Fi 5 (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) and Bluetooth 4.2
Before buying a Wi-Fi card, make sure your computer has a free slot of the appropriate type and that you are comfortable installing it yourself. Assuming you can open your computer easily, just turn it off, open the case, plug the card into the slot and secure it with a screw, close the case and start. As always, be sure to follow proper safety precautions so you don’t accidentally damage any component.
When you’re done, your computer will be able to connect to Wi-Fi just like your average laptop. However, you may need to install the drivers that came with your Wi-Fi hardware first.