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What Is a Wireless Network Adapter?

In order for a computer to connect to a WiFi network, it needs a wireless network card, sometimes known as a network adapter, connected to its motherboard. A wireless card picks up wireless signals from a router or access point via its antennas, allowing the user to create a wireless connection to the internet.

If you have never seen or heard of a wireless adapter, it is probably because most of todays motherboards come with onboard WiFi cards built in. Thus, you usually won’t need to buy a separate WiFi adapter when you purchase a new computer. However, if you are building a desktop PC, some motherboard models require you to install your own wireless network adapter instead.

You might also use an adapter if your PCs built in card doesn’t support the latest WiFi technology, such as dual band 2.4GHz / 5GHz or the WiFi 6 standard. If your PC currently doesn’t support Bluetooth connectivity, you might also be looking for a so called combo card that also adds Bluetooth functionality.

Which Wireless Network Adapter Should I Choose?

These are some of the most important factors to consider when you are evaluating the specs of a wireless network adapter:

USB vs. PCIe: USB WiFi adapters connect to your computers USB port, typically via a USB-A connector. They are convenient to install and easy to move from one computer to another. Take note of the supported USB protocols if you are looking for the high speeds of USB 3.0. PCIe adapters connect directly to your motherboard through its PCIe slots. They are slightly more complex to install, although still relatively simple, and they tend to provide faster performance than USB adapters.

Form Factor: Some USB wireless adapters use only a fingernail sized dongle. Others, including most PCIe based models, use multiple external antennas to provide improved signal strength.

Connectivity Standards: Some wireless adapters also include Bluetooth compatibility, allowing you to connect Bluetooth devices to your computer. If your router uses popular speed boosting standards like MUMIMO or dual band WiFi, make sure your wireless adapter is compatible with these standards so you can enjoy the full advantages of their improved speeds. Finally, with more people making the transition to the WiFi 6 standard, it can also be a smart idea to look for WiFi 6 compatibility - so long as your router also supports it.

Operating System: Some adapters only support Windows or macOS, or in some cases, certain Linux distros).

Find The Best Wireless Network Adapters at Micro Center

Shop Micro Centers selection of wireless network adapters here and find the perfect connectivity solution for your PC. We offer industry best pricing on top networking tech brands like TP Link, Netgear, ASUS, and more. Setting up WiFi for your home? See our full lineup of wireless networking devices, including routers, range extenders, and more.

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