WiFi used to be a no-go for serious PC gamers. Even the best WiFi card would be hobbled by poor connection quality, frequent dropouts, and slow speeds compared to a wired ethernet connection. But as routers and WiFi technology improves, the notion that wireless is inherently worse is quickly becoming outdated.
For years now, WiFi 5 (802.11ac) has proved reliable enough for even the most hardcore gamer. On top of that, the latest WiFi 6 protocol (802.11ax) even has enough throughput to challenge traditional wired connections. While ethernet is still the simplest and cheapest way to go, WiFi is now a compelling option for most users.
Whether you’re upgrading your current motherboard’s WiFi capabilities or bringing an old one into the modern-day, we’ve got just the list for you.
Our Picks for Best WiFi Cards
Before we begin, note that this list is targeted at users looking to add WiFi to their current motherboards or upgrade it to a newer protocol. If you’re building a rig, get a motherboard with built-in WiFi instead.
As we discussed in our guide to choosing a motherboard, a PCIe WiFi card will take up a PCIe slot and lane. This may limit your expansion options down the line. Furthermore, the price difference between the WiFi-equipped and non-WiFi versions of a motherboard is sometimes smaller than the price of a decent PCIe WiFi card.
Best Gaming WiFi 6 Card: TP-Link Archer TX3000E
If you’ve bought a WiFi 6 router and want the best WiFi 6 card for your online games, look no further. TP-Link’s Archer TX3000E is powered by a rock-solid Intel WiFi 6 chip. It supports WiFi 6’s key MU-MIMO (multi-user, multiple input, multiple output) and orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA) technologies.
OFDMA support should improve internet speeds and reduce latency when gaming, even if multiple devices are connected to the same router. Combined, these technologies give WiFi 6 cards like the TX3000E up to 2402 Mbps throughput on 5 GHz, with a still-impressive 574 Mbps on 2.4 GHz.
TP-Link includes two high-gain antennas with the TX3000E, which should offer solid reception. As a bonus, the antenna base is magnetized. This lets you attach the antennas anywhere on your case for the best possible connection to your router.
As a bonus, the red heatsink looks pretty fetching too. Sure, PCIe WiFi cards might not even need heatsinks, but it’s better than staring at a plain green PCB. OS-wise, the Archer TX3000E only supports Windows 10 64-bit.
Best Budget WiFi 6 Card: EDUP PCIe WiFi 6 Card
Want to add WiFi 6 support to a desktop on a budget? EDUP’s PCIe WiFi6 card is a solid choice. While it may not have the brand name of the TP-Link WiFi card we listed above, it packs the same high-quality Intel WiFi 6 chip.
The EDUP has the complete set of WiFi 6 features you’d expect, including MU-MIMO, OFDMA, and WPA3 encryption. Bluetooth 5.0 is also present. Given that it’s using the same Intel WiFi 6 chipset, WiFi speeds are pretty much identical to the TP-Link card. EDUP claims up to 2400 Mbps on 5 GHz and up to 600 Mbps on 2.4 GHz.
The only significant downside of the EDUP is that it doesn’t have a separate antenna mount. This won’t be an issue if your desktop has direct, unobstructed access to the router. But if it doesn’t, you won’t have the option of mounting the antennas in a better location on your case. Aftermarket antennas are an option, but if you’re going that route, you might as well just buy the TP-Link card.
There’s also a version of the EDUP PCIe WiFi 6 card with a black heatsink, so you can color-coordinate it perfectly with the rest of your system. The EDUP card doesn’t just offer a choice of color, though. It comes with official drivers for Linux and Chrome OS alongside Windows 10. If you need a WiFi 6 card for your Linux machine, this is it.
Best Gaming WiFi 5 Card: ASUS PCE-AC88
ASUS’ PCE-AC88 is easily the Ferrari of WiFi 5 cards with its standout support for 4×4 WiFi. Coupled with a router with 4×4 WiFi support, the PCE-AC88 can hit up to 2100 Mbps (5 GHz) and 1000 Mbps (2.4 GHz) — which are staggering speeds for a WiFi 5 card. It makes the PCE-AC88 easily the best WiFi 5 card for gaming.
Of course, not every 802.11ac router will support 4×4 MU-MIMO WiFi, so it’s best to make sure yours does before you get too excited about the speeds. Still, if your home network is set up right, then the PCE-AC88 will offer speeds that rival WiFi 6.
The PCE-AC88 comes with four antennas connected to a magnetic base for top-notch WiFi reception. You’ll be able to attach the antenna base to your case or any other magnetic surface. You can also unscrew the antennas from the base and connect them directly to the back of the PCE-AC88 for a more compact setup.
The ASUS PCE-AC88 is powered by an enterprise-grade Broadcom chipset, so connection quality shouldn’t be anything to worry about. The main downside aside from the cost is its lack of Bluetooth connectivity. This isn’t anything a USB Bluetooth adapter can’t fix, but it’s a sore point given the asking price. Its OS support is solid, with official support for Windows 7 and newer.
Best Budget WiFi 5 Card: TP-Link Archer T4E
TP-Link’s Archer T4E WiFi card is a no-frills 802.11ac card that will do a great job of getting your desktop connected to AC WiFi. Supporting 2×2 MU-MIMO, the Archer T4E will max out at 867 Mbps on the 5 GHz band and 300 Mpbs on the 2.4 GHz band.
As with most of TP-Link’s 802.11ac products, the Archer T4E supports beamforming, which should help with connection quality. Like our budget WiFi 6 option, the T4E doesn’t come with an external antenna base, so your desktop’s position and orientation will matter a bit more here.
We really like having external antennas for our PCIe WiFi cards, but sacrifices have to be made when you’re shopping at the $30 price point. Another sacrifice is Bluetooth support which the T4E lacks. As with the ASUS PCE-AC88, you’ll have to get a Bluetooth USB adapter if you need to connect any Bluetooth peripherals.
The TP-Link Archer T4E will also appeal to those of you building a small form factor (SFF) or HTPC, as it comes with a low-profile bracket in the box. It supports 32- and 64-bit versions of Windows XP onwards.
Best Budget WiFi 4 (And Older) Card: Rosewill N300
Welcome to the absolute budget end of the WiFi card market. Need to get a computer connected to the internet wirelessly, regardless of network speed? Maybe grandma needs to get online, or you just need a temporary fix. If that’s the case, the Rosewill N300 might be the card for you.
Coming in at under $20, the N300 is cheap enough to fit any budget. Of course, you’re giving up quite a lot to hit that price point. The N300 only supports WiFi 802.11b/g/n, with maximum speeds of 300 Mbps on 2.4 GHz and no 5 GHz band. This definitely isn’t the card you want for online gaming.
Bluetooth is also out of the question, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. As you might expect with a WiFi 4 card, the N300 supports Windows XP all the way up to Windows 10. Sure, there are many better cards on the market right now, but few are this cheap. If you absolutely can’t or won’t spend more than $20 on a WiFi card, this is the product to go for.
Important Specs When Choosing A WiFi Card
Picking a WiFi card isn’t really that complicated, and any of the cards listed here will do a great job. Still, it’s always good to know what specs and features to look out for.
This is the most important spec to be aware of when shopping for a WiFi card. Generally speaking, you want to get a WiFi card that supports or exceeds the protocol that your router supports. There’s no performance penalty, nor are there any compatibility issues. If you’re thinking of getting a new WiFi 6 router down the line, go ahead and get a WiFi 6 card now. It’ll save you from having to open your PC up again once you get the new router.
However, getting a WiFi 5 card to use with a WiFi 6 router will limit your performance to WiFi 5 speeds. That leaves a lot of bandwidth on the table and will be a waste of your powerful WiFi 6 router. So it’s essential to make sure the WiFi card you buy supports the WiFi standards your router uses.
Another useful spec to look at is the WiFi frequency bands that the card supports. WiFi operates on two bands, 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. 2.4 GHz is slower, but the signals travel further and through thicker walls. 5 GHz is faster but has a limited range.
5 GHz is also less congested, which might help with signal quality. The 2.4 GHz spectrum is used by household appliances too, which will result in more interference. Unless you live in a huge house, 5 GHz is almost always the better option.
If you have a dual-band (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) router, make sure your WiFi card supports both bands as well.
When it comes to antennas, quantity isn’t necessarily the most critical factor to consider. How the antennas connect to the card is more important. Does it have a movable base, or do the antennas connect directly to the card?
We like cards with movable antenna bases, as you can position the antennas for better WiFi reception. It’ll help with Bluetooth connectivity, too, as having a clear line of sight between the antenna and your Bluetooth peripherals will improve connection quality.
If you’re a Windows 10 user, you won’t really have to worry about OS support. Almost any PCIe WiFi card released within the past few years will natively support Microsoft’s latest operating system or have updated drivers available on the website. Users of older Windows versions might have issues with WiFi 6 cards, though, as most of them seem to only officially support Windows 10 64-bit.
It’s even more challenging if you’re a Linux user. Official support for Linux seems pretty rare; of the cards on our list, only the EDUP WiFi 6 card officially supports Linux and Chrome OS out of the box. According to their website, ASUS’ PCE-AX3000 also seems to support Linux, albeit only distros with Kernel 5.1 and above.
With WiFi 5 and WiFi 6, wireless internet has shed its bad reputation and become an essential part of any PC build, gaming or otherwise. Ethernet might still be the gold standard, but going wireless won’t hold you back anymore.
All the WiFi cards we’ve listed will do a great job of adding WiFi capabilities to your desktop rig. We like the TP-Link Archer TX3000E the most because of its WiFi 6 support and TP-Link’s proven track record in networking products. But, really, you can’t really go wrong with any of these choices. As long as the card you get won’t hold back your router, you’re set.