USB WiFi vs PCI & The Differences


There is an argument for both USB WiFi and PCI wireless cards and both have their own merits. Hard-core gamers prefer PCI as it offers more stability and better speeds. USB however offers portability and you can get decent speeds out of the newer 3.0 USB offerings. The choice ultimately is yours and depends on your unique requirements.

Our Top WiFi Adapters

Best Overall

NETGEAR Nighthawk AC1900 WiFi USB Adapter

NETGEAR Nighthawk AC1900 WiFi USB Adapter
  • ­802.11ac
  • ­3x4 MIMO design
  • ­Speeds of up to AC1900
Premium Choice

ASUS PCE-AC88 PCIe Adapter

ASUS PCE-AC88 PCIe Adapter
  • External magnetic antenna base
  • Custom heatsink
  • NitroQAM (1024-QAM) technology
Great Value

OURLINK Dual Band Dongle Adapter

OURLINK Dual Band Dongle Adapter
  • 802.11ac technology
  • Beamforming+
  • SoftAp feature

Best PCI Wireless Card

So you have decided on the PCI wireless card as your adapter of choice. Now you need to decide which one is the best to purchase. There are a few things you need to consider when making this decision and although it can seem a little daunting, you can get to grips with it quite easily once you understand what it is you need to look out for in a PCI wireless card. We will try to give you some insight as to what you should look out for when deciding which one is the best for your needs.

The first thing you need to consider when deciding on which PCI wireless card you want is its size. These cards will fit into expansion slots and you need a card that will fit. Rule of thumb is the card must be smaller than or equal to the available slots. PCI 1 cards will fit into slots that are smaller than they are if the slots are open ended. The different sizes of cards are listed below for your reference.

PCI-E 1: 25mm (18 pins)
PCI-E 4: 39mm (39 pins)
PCI-E 8: 56mm (49 pins)
PCI-E 16: 89mm (82 pins)

The next major consideration is your motherboard and what it can handle. Getting the best PCI card with high speeds will be no good to you if you are throttled by the limitations of your motherboard. This can lead to frustration on your part when you find that your speeds are not what you expected to get.

PCI wireless cards are installed directly onto your motherboard and when they work overtime, as they do when gaming, then they tend to get hot. Having one that comes with a heatsink will improve its performance and help keep not only it but your motherboard cool. Your heatsink will ensure that your network remains stable even in hot environments.

Consider also the PCI wireless cards that offer external antenna, this will enhance not only your reception but also offer you greater speeds and more stability. The ASUS 4×4 AC3100 is one such wireless network card and is one of the best on the market in 2020.

Read our review on this great PCI adapter in our list of Best WiFi adapters for gaming. Ultimately the best PCI card for you is completely dependent on your needs and the equipment you are currently using. We hope that this article helps you to understand more thoroughly what it is you should be looking for, and makes your decision a little easier.

PCI Wireless Adapter

A PCI wireless adapter is a network card that helps your router communicate better with your motherboard. The quality of the communication between these two components is what determines not only the stability of your network, but also its speed and reliability. The PCI or Peripheral Component Interconnect Express will be installed directly onto your motherboard using an expansion port.

The size of the available ports will determine which PCI card you should consider purchasing. The speeds you can achieve with a PCI wireless adapter is dependent on the speeds your motherboard can handle. These cards also benefit from a heatsink which keeps it cool during heavy usage such as gaming.

External antenna also help with getting the best performance out of your PCI wireless adapter and some like the ASUS 4×4 AC3100 offer external antenna as well as extension cables to ensure you can place it in an area that will offer optimum signal. These types of adapters are preferred by a lot of gamers for their stability, reliability and speed. They usually offer faster speeds and are not prone to interference like their USB counterparts.

Best USB Wireless Adapter

The best USB wireless adapters on the market will offer features that will enhance the stability, reliability and speed of your wireless network. These adapters are great for those who like to travel due to their small form factor. They are also the best option for people who use multiple PC’s or gaming laptops. When considering which USB wireless adapter is best there are some factors to consider.

What WiFi standard does your USB adapter support is one of them. The 802.11ac standard is the best and getting a USB adapter that is capable of supporting this standard is preferable – see our review of the top USB wireless adapters for gaming. Beamforming will focus your data stream from your gaming router to your adapter. The 3.0 USB will offer you up to 10x better speed than your USB 2.0.

External antenna are always preferable to internal antenna. Larger and more flexible antenna will increase not only your signal strength but also stability and speed. The best USB wireless adapter will be a personal choice and depend on your own hardware and requirements.

Wireless adapter for Desktop

Both USB and PCI will work well for your desktop, however PCI will give you greater speeds and a more stable, reliable signal. The difference comes down to personal choice. Many people will go for the USB connector for convenience as they are plug and play, and the PCI-E cards require you to install them into your PC attaching them to your motherboard.

If you alternate between your desktop laptop or if you like to travel, then using a USB adapter would suite your needs better. If you are using a desktop only and are a hard-core gamer then a PCI wireless adapter would be the one you would look at getting.


There will be those who prefer using PCI wireless adapters and those that opt for USB but ultimately, the best wireless adapter is the one that you are comfortable with. USB is convenient and easy to use. PCI requires installation and although great on desktops are not the most convenient if you travel of use more than one PC. Ultimately the choice is yours.