Onboard WiFi vs WiFi Card vs WiFi USB: Which One’s The Best

Atif Liaqat | Last Updated On November 22nd, 2021

Finding a stable and high-speed internet connection is one of the most important things you can do in the modern age.

Nobody ever wants to be interrupted by a faulty internet connection whether you’re gaming, watching videos, studying, or working.

If a wired ethernet plug isn’t an option, onboard WiFI and WiFi cards offer the same performance depending on the hardware specifications. Furthermore, I recommend using WiFi USBs as a last resort option if the other two aren’t available.

I’ll discuss the reasons why and everything else you need to know about WiFi further below.

In this guide, I’ll go over:

  • A full description of each type of WiFi
  • The pros and cons of each type of WiFi
  • Which WiFi to choose for your current situation
  • How to check your internet speed
  • and much more

Let’s jump right in.

What Is Onboard WiFi


First up, I’ll discuss onboard WiFi and why I personally use this method the most.

Onboard WiFi is when your motherboard has a WiFi modem built into it. This means that your computer will be able to immediately connect to the internet as soon as it’s turned on.

Desktop motherboards with onboard WiFi are becoming more and more common as people are starting to prefer desktop computers to laptops.

This is because desktops allow more performance capabilities when it comes to tasks like gaming, video editing (check this article for motherboards for video editing), and 3D modeling.

What we like

Convenience

A motherboard that comes with pre-built WiFi completely eliminates the cost and hassle of purchasing and installing another component.

Think about it like this.

Imagine that the parts you ordered to build your new computer arrived and you spend a few hours building it. You finish building it and are rushing with adrenaline as you turn it on and all the bright LEDs start lighting up.

As your new computer loads into the homescreen, you see that your network connection is unconnected and your computer is unable to find any internet.

You immediately realize your computer doesn’t have any actual internet capabilities because there’s no onboard WiFi. Furthermore, your router is located in another room so you can’t even use an ethernet cable if you wanted to.

At this point, you’d have to either order or run to the store to buy a WiFi card or USB WiFi adapter.

Not only is this a hassle because you’d have to open your computer again to install the WiFi card, the rush and excitement you had before now turns into regret and disappointment.

This is why I recommend purchasing a motherboard with onboard WiFi built in if you prefer convenience.

Price

You can find a motherboard with built-in WiFi for around $30 more than a motherboard without. For this reason, getting onboard WiFi is a no-brainer in most situations.

What we don’t like

Limited Selection

Although motherboards with onboard WiFi are becoming more available, they are still largely outnumbered by motherboard cards without onboard WiFi.

For this reason, the selection of available motherboards is more limited.

Upgrade Limitations

Since the motherboard comes with the WiFi modem built-in, you won’t be able to remove it later on. This causes an issue if you’d like to replace the WiFi card with a newer model. However, you can easily disable the onboard WiFi and add a WiFi card into an open PCIe slot on your motherboard if you’d like to upgrade later on.

This will however use up another PCIe which can be problematic depending on how many PCIe slots you need. Know what else can be plugged in a PCIe slot here.

What Is A WiFi Card

WiFi cards are external devices that need to be purchased separately and manually installed into a PCIe slot on your motherboard.

Furthermore, WiFi cards typically contain the latest WiFi technology that greatly improves speed and performance when compared to outdated models.

To install a WiFi card, you’ll need to turn off your computer and open up your computer case.

Then, you’ll need to locate the motherboard and identify an empty PCIe slot.

Afterward, remove the metal bracket on the back of your computer case that aligns with the open PCIe slot. This allows the rear bracket of your WiFi card to fit through the back of your PC.

Next, insert the WiFi card gently into the PCIe slot.

Now, reconnect the metal bracket on the back of your PC so that your WiFi card is stable and secured.

I recommend watching a YouTube video of the process so you fully understand how to connect it.

What we like

Upgrade Potential

Since the WiFi card is easily removable, you can replace or upgrade the WiFi card at any time. For example, let’s say a newer generation of WiFi cards were released. You could simply open up your computer, take out the old WiFi card, and then add the new one in.

Affordability

WiFi cards are extremely affordable, ranging from $40 to $100+ for higher end models.

What we don’t like

Manual Insertion

As I went through the WiFi card installation process above, you’ll need to manually insert the WiFi card into your motherboard. This can be scary for beginners who have never worked on a computer. However, it’s quite easy as long as you follow a tutorial and are careful while installing the card.

What Is A WiFi USB Adapter


In summary, a WiFi USB adapter offers less power for more convenience.

Most WiFi USB adapters come in the shape of a flash drive looking device. You can then plug the WiFI adapter directly into an open USB slot on your desktop or laptop. Afterward, you will be able to access your network and the internet.

When compared to onboard WiFi and WiFi cards, WiFi USBs have worse antennae and receive a worse signal.

If you’re gaming or doing any other intensive online activities, I would recommend opting for one of the other options above. Furthermore, if your router isn’t in the same room as your computer and is far away, I’d also recommend going for onboard WiFi or a WiFi card.

Since the antennae are weaker on the USB adapter, the connection speed exponentially decreases the further your computer is from your router.

However, if your only option is a WiFi USB adapter, I recommend buying the most expensive one you can afford. These WiFi adapters will offer USB 3.0 and usually be larger in size to contain more antennae.

Furthermore, the higher-end WiFi USBs claim to offer up to 600 Mbps on 2.4Ghz connections and 1300 Mbps on 5.0 Ghz connections.

What we like

Simplicity

A WiFi USB is extremely plug and play. All you have to do is plug the WiFI adapter into a USB slot. No motherboard configurations, no screwdrivers, no screws.

Pricing

WiFi USB adapters can be as cheap as $10 in some cases. For this reason, they are easily accessible to most people.

What we don’t like

Speed

With such simplicity and convenience, you are sacrificing a lot of speed with a WiFi USB. Since WiFi USBs have smaller antennae, they will have a harder time transmitting and receiving WiFi signals from your network.

Performance and value compared to other options

From a pure performance and price-to-performance value, onboard WiFi and WiFi cards are much more optimal than USB WiFi adapters.

Which WiFi Option Is Best For You

Onboard WiFi and PCIe WiFi cards will provide better range, download speeds, and stability over WiFi USB adapters in most cases.

USB adapters are not designed for intensive usage and you may encounter throttling if you’re downloading large files.

Furthermore, since WiFi USBs aren’t directly integrated into the motherboard like onboard WiFi and WiFi cards, it will have one more bus to transit through when receiving and emitting signals to your router.

So, your choice should only be between onboard WiFi and WiFi cards. The only time you should consider buying a WiFi USB adapter is if you are frequently using different computers that don’t have pre-built WiFi on them.

Between onboard WiFi and WiFi cards, the one you ultimately choose depends on your situation and what you exactly need. If you already have a motherboard without built-in WiFi, I recommend simply purchasing and installing a WiFi card.

If you’re looking to build a new computer, I recommend purchasing a newer generation motherboard with onboard WiFi. However, make sure to check the onboard WiFi’s specifications and reviews before committing to your purchase.

Best Motherboard With Onboard WiFi

The best motherboard with onboard WiFi is the Asus ROG Strix B550-F Gaming Motherboard.

This motherboard contains:

  • 4 memory slots that support dual-channel DDR4 memory (supporting up to 128GB of RAM)
  • WiFi 6 (802.11ax) and 2.5 Gb ethernet
  • Effective thermal cooling to prevent overheating
  • Premium audio quality
  • Dual-band support (2.4Ghz and 5Ghz)
  • Supports all the latest Intel and AMD processors

If you’re looking for the best option, look no further. This motherboard comes with the latest WiFi technology and more than enough features to satisfy any computer enthusiast.

Best WiFi Card

The best WiFi card that you can purchase is the TP-Link WiFi 6 AX3000 PCIe WiFi Card.

This blazingly fast WiFi card comes with:

  • WiFi 6
  • 2 antennae
  • Bundled in bluetooth capability
  • Dual-band support (2.4Ghz and 5Ghz)

Being built for WiFi 6, the TP-Link Wifi card offers ultra-low latency and sustained connectivity with OFMDA and MU-MIMO technology.

Furthermore, you can place the two antennae anywhere you’d like since it has a magnetized base. This allows you to find the optimal position for a more direct link to your router.

Best USB WiFi Adapter

If a USB WiFi adapter is your only option, don’t worry, I’ve got you covered as well.

The best USB WiFi adapter is the TP-Link Archer T9UH.

This adapter comes with:

  • Dual-band support (2.4Ghz and 5Ghz)
  • WiFi 5
  • AC 1900 speeds (600Mbps via 2.4Ghz and 1300Mbps via 5Ghz)
  • 4 high-gain antennae

This USB WiFi adapter is the perfect option for people who are always on-the-go. It’s easy to set up by simply plugging it in, and it is compatible with every popular operating system such as Windows, Mac OS, and Linux.

How To Check Your Internet Speed

You can simply visit testmy.net to test your download speed, upload speed, and latency. This is one of the most accurate ways of monitoring how fast your internet is.

If you’re noticing any significant spike in latency or lower than average download speeds, your current WiFi card/adapter may be the problem.

I would first check to see if any drivers need to be updated. Then, I would restart my router and test my internet speed again.

If there’s still an issue, I would consider purchasing a new WiFi card or motherboard with onboard WiFi.

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