PCI vs. USB WiFi Adapters: Which Is Right for You?

WiFi has become a central part of connecting to the Internet. If you’re not fortunate enough to be able to connect via ethernet, WiFi is still a solid choice for a fast connection. However, when getting a computer online, you’ll be faced with two of the most popular options – a PCI adapter and a USB adapter. They both do the exact same job of getting you online, but it’s very unclear as to what the differences are!

So if you’re planning to get a computer onto a WiFi network, what are the choices you have and which one is best for you?

PCI Adapters


PCI adapters have been the mainstay of WiFi connectability since the start. Plugging into a PCI slot onto your PC, they come with an antenna that sticks out of the back of your PC to maximise signal.

What Makes Them Good?

Due to PCI cards coming with antennae, this makes them naturally better at picking up a stronger signal than USB adapters. While you can find USB adapters that come with one or two antennae attached, you can just as easily find a PCi card with two or three of them installed! Even better, if you’re struggling to pick up a decent signal with a PCI card, you can easily detach the antenna and replace it with a much stronger one which may not be an option on some USB models.

Using a PCI slot also helps free up your USB ports. Having the adapter on a USB port can be a real pain if your USB slots are full, and you need to plug in something else. Removing the dependency on USB and moving it to the PCI means that you can plug in as many keyboards, mice, tablets, phones, or other devices as you want without worrying about having to remove your Internet as a consequence.

There have also been reports that USB adapters can be prone to overheating should you use them for network-intensive activities. While not every USB adapter will break when put under a huge strain, you can help negate this problem entirely by simply opting for a PCI card instead. That way you can do as much data transfer as you like without having to worry.

When Should You Get One?

PCI adapters are a solid choice if you own a desktop computer, have PCI slots free, care about keeping USB slots free, do data-intensive tasks such as high-quality streaming and large downloads, and you care a lot about your signal strength. If you want the absolute most out of your adapter, PCI is the better choice.

USB Adapters


The newer entry into the market, USB adapters had a shaky start vs. their PCI counterparts. Over the years, however, they’ve built themselves up to rival the PCI card which makes choosing between the two a real conundrum.

What Makes Them Good

USB adapters are very easy to install. Granted, installing a PCI adapter definitely isn’t the most complex hardware installation there is, but nothing beats plugging something into the ever-familiar USB port. If you’re fearful about opening your PC to install hardware, a USB adapter will remove the need to go into your PC and tinker with the slots on your motherboard.


You can also purchase adapters that come in “cradles,” which are essentially USB port extenders. They’re long USB cables with a stand at the very end which holds the adapter in place. Plug the cable into your computer, plug the adapter into the cradle, then place the cradle in a position where the adapter can get the strongest signal. This allows you to beat dead spots and avoid WiFi-killing obstacles by simply moving the adapter. PCI adapters can have antenna extensions installed that perform a similar role, but with so many USB adapters coming in their own cradle by default, buying a USB adapter solves two problems in one!

They’re also great if you want to solve a WiFi problem with a laptop. Laptops come with a WiFi adapter built into the unit, tucked away within its compact hardware. If this adapter should somehow break, become faulty, or prove to have a very weak signal strength, it’s very hard to fix it without professional help. Laptops with PCI slots are becoming a rare breed these days, but they’re almost guaranteed to come with a USB port, which makes USB adapters an easy replacement for a misbehaving laptop adapter.

When Should You Get One?

If you like the convenience of an adapter that installs easy, or comes with its own cradle so you can position the adapter around your room, USB is the better choice. It’s also the best choice if you physically can’t install a PCI card, such as with a laptop. USB adapters can come very cheap; this makes them either a good option for those on a budget, or a cheap fix for a malfunctioning built-in adapter.

The Choice Is Yours

While both PCI and USB adapters will do the job, different users will want different things from their adapters. Now you know the benefits of both and where they both shine. Just remember to always purchase products that are well-reviewed and trusted, or else your choice in adapter won’t mean a great deal!

Do you prefer PCI or USB? Or do you have a different favourite WiFi solution? Let us know below!

Simon Batt
Simon Batt

Simon Batt is a Computer Science graduate with a passion for cybersecurity.

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