If your laptop's Wi-Fi is on the blink, has stopped working entirely or is just old and slow, you can easily fix these problems through buying a USB Wi-Fi adapter.
Some PCs don't have Wi-Fi at all, and that's awkward if you don't want to use powerline network adapters or run a network cable from your router through your home to your PC in a different room. Again, a USB Wi-Fi dongle is the answer (assuming your PC is within Wi-Fi range of your router of course!).
We’ve rounded up some of the best adapters to buy, covering all budgets.
- Best Overall: Asus USB-AC68
- Best Value: Foktech Wi-Fi dongle
- Best Design: D-Link AC1900 DWA-192
- Also recommended: TP-Link T9UH
- Also recommended: Netgear A6100-100PES
Best Wi-Fi USB adapters
Asus USB-AC68: Best Overall
Alongside the wealth of features that Asus has packed into the sleek frame of the USB-AC68 adapter, there’s also the bonus of feeling like a secret agent on some covert mission thanks to the unfolding design.
Plug the device into your PC then carefully open up the twin red-antenna arms, or sit the adapter in the included desktop cradle, and it seems like you’re about to send highly classified information back to Control.
Teenage fantasies aside, this Wi-Fi dongle that can bring your humble old Wi-Fi card up to the AC1900 network standard. It has dual-band support for 2.4GHz @ 600Mb/s and 5GHz @ 1300Mb/s, 3x4 MIMO, and Asus’ own AiRadar beamforming technology to ensure a strong and stable connection to the network.
The USB 3.0 interface means you'll not be slowed down by local data transfer rates - so make sure your laptop or PC has a free USB 3 port.
It’s a little bigger than some of its rivals, mainly when the antennas are deployed, but at 100 x 30 x 20mm the AC68 is still small enough to put in your pocket.
Foktech Wi-Fi Dongle: Best Value
You might think we’ve included this one just because of its hilarious name, but that’s only partly true. If you’re looking for a small, unobtrusive way to add basic Wi-Fi to your laptop, then the Foktech dongle is an excellent candidate.
It supports 802.11ac with dual bands of 2.4GHz @ 150Mb/s and 5GHz @ 433Mb/s and runs over USB 2.0. It isn't the fastest, then, but for getting online, doing some shopping, keeping up with social media, and streaming content (including Zoom calls) up to HD quality it will be fine.
The low price is of course the main draw, as is the compact design that makes the dongle something you can leave plugged into your laptop without worrying about breaking it.
US readers can't buy it under the Foktech brand, but can opt for the USBNovel dongle which shares the same design and features, and cost $12.99 at the time of writing.
D-Link DWA-192: Best Design
Shirking the stick-style design of other adapters, D-Link instead opts for a sphere that resemble either a PokéBall or Thermal Detonator (depending on your particular taste in sci-fi and gaming). The result is a very attractive addition to your desktop which can also beef up your Wi-Fi capabilities.
It isn't as practical as a tiny dongle for a laptop, though, but it's fine for PCs, though the short USB cable might require an extension.
With dual-band radios supporting AC1900 and a USB 3.0 interface, the DWA-192 is no slouch in the performance stakes. Advanced AC SmartBeam technology means that connections remain stable and fast, and D-Link even states that the high-powered antennae in the DWA-192 will extend the range of your router by up to three times that of standard adapters.
Netgear A6100-100PES: Best Value Big-Brand Dongle
Continuing with the small-form adapters, Netgear is a trusted name in Wi-Fi routers and networking. This diminutive construction houses dual antennas that operate at 2.4GHz (150Mb/s) and 5GHz (433Mb/s) with support for 802.11 a/b/g/n and ac routers.
Data transfer is a little slower than some of its rivals and that's why Netgear has gone for USB 2.0 rather than USB 3.0, but the inclusion of Beamforming+ gives the A6100 the ability to keep solid connections in challenging environments.
We wouldn’t necessarily recommend any Wi-Fi adapter for gaming as it doesn’t deliver the kind of latency you might want for time-critical adventures, but the Netgear is fine for HD video and for general internet duties. It's affordable, too, but not easily available in the US, sadly.
TP-Link Archer T9UH: Best Mid-Priced Dongle
Another popular Wi-Fi dongle that features a fold-out design is the Archer T9UH from TP-Link. Unlike the multi-appendage approach of the Asus USB-AC68, this has a hinged edge to the body that opens up to make it nearly twice as tall.
The design is for the dual-band antennas (2.4GHz @ 600Mb/s and 5GHz @ 1300Mb/s) with 802.11ac AC1900 support.
As is standard now with higher-end adapters, TP-Link supports beamforming which delivers more consistent performance, ideal for streaming HD and 4K media content, and USB 3.0 is required because of the higher throughput, so you'll get the best speeds if you connect it to a USB 3 port, not USB 2.
The T9UH also comes with a dock that allows it to be connected further away from your PC or laptop. The 3m cable means you can position the adapter in the ideal place, which is handy if existing Wi-Fi connectivity is spotty in your location.