USB vs. PCIE Wifi [Detailed Comparison]

Wifi is another name for online connectivity in the present digital era. Unlike a wired Ethernet connection, Wifi allows you to enjoy the freedom of movement while staying connected to the Internet.

However, a Wifi connection has its list of cons, including higher latency or fluctuating signals. That’s why you need to use a Wifi adapter to enjoy a faster and uninterrupted connection.

Two primary adapters are ruling the Wi fi world – PCIE vs USB adapters.

But which adapter to buy? Let’s find out in the following article, which offers an unbiased comparison between the two Wifi adapters.

What is a PCIE Wi-fi Adapter?

A PCIE Wifi card comes with an external antenna to enhance wireless signal reception at your computer’s end. Moreover, it’s one of the oldest solutions to make your desktop PC compatible with Wi fi technology. All you need to do is to plug the adapter in the PCI slot of your PC to enjoy faster wireless speed.

You can infer from the above description that a PCIE Wifi adapter is undoubtedly more powerful than a USB adapter because it directly connects to your computer’s motherboard. Moreover, a PCIE wireless adapter comes with one to two external antennas to guarantee faster connectivity. You should know that more number of external antennas corresponds to better Wifi signal reception from the router.

Most PCIE high-end adapters offer download speeds of up to 2.1 Gigabits per second (Gb/s) in a 5GHz band. Moreover, you can quickly achieve a speed of up to one Gigabits per second in the 2.4GHz band.

However, a PCIE adapter is more costly than a USB adapter. But again, consider it a one-time investment. Furthermore, a PCIE adapter has limited use for desktop PCs because modern laptops no longer have a PCI slot. Finally, in terms of flexibility and portability, a PCIE adapter lags behind a USB adapter.

Own Drivers

On the downside, you have to physically install a PCIE adapter in your computer, which isn’t a tough job. All you need to do is to install the required drivers after configuring the PCIE adapter, and you are good to go.

External Antenna Replacement

Another advantage of using the PCIE adapter is the antenna replacement. It means if you don’t experience a better signal reception, you can detach the existing antenna and replace it with a high-performing antenna. Unfortunately, this option isn’t available in the USB wi fi adapters.


A PCIE chip gives you the freedom to customize the card according to your Wifi requirements. It means you can add more antennas to enjoy seamless wireless connectivity.

A PCIE adapter takes full advantage of multiple-input-multiple-output (MIMO) technology. You must be wondering what MIMO is. It’s a wireless spatial multiplexing technology that uses multiple antennas to increase download speed, and of course, network bandwidth.

USB Ports Remain Free

Unlike the USB Wifi adapter, it doesn’t use your precious USB ports. It can be a real pain if one of your USB ports is occupied all the time by your wireless adapter. In this case, you need to remove the USB adapter to plug in your external hard drive or any other USB adapter to connect your laptop to another monitor.

If you use a PCIE adapter, you no longer have to worry about disconnecting your Internet connection by removing your USB wireless adapter.

Better Coverage

A PCIE chip has better coverage and signal strength because of the availability of external antennas. In addition, a PCIE card takes full advantage of a 12 V socket, offering better performance and user experience.

Who Should Use PCIE Cards?

If you own a desktop computer and a free PCI slot, you should go for a PCI-E adapter. Moreover, a PCI-E adapter is highly recommended for people with data-intensive workloads, such as vloggers and gamers who do high-quality streaming and uploads.

Bonus: How to Install a PCI-E Card on the Motherboard?

First, you must shut down your desktop computer and unplug the power cables. Read the instructions of the PCI-E card because some cards require you to install the drivers before configuring the PCIE Wifi card.

Next, you need to open your PC to access the motherboard. You can see one or two rectangular slots on the motherboard. One of these slots is used for graphic cards, while the other one is usually free if you haven’t installed any expansion cards earlier.

You can also refer to the mother board’s documentation if you face any difficulty locating the PCI slots. Each PCI slot has an associated bay on the computer’s back. Small metal protectors cover these bays to prevent any dust from entering the slots.

Next, you need to unscrew a single screw that holds the metal bay cover. Before you remove the PCI card from the anti-static bag, you should ground it to yourself to prevent an electrostatic discharge.

You can now safely grab the PCI card by its sides and line up the PCI contacts with the PCI slot. Furthermore, it would help if you didn’t touch the circuitry or the PCI card contacts present on the bottom.

It’s essential to place the card straight into the slot to ensure that it is perfectly leveled and seated inside the slot. Later, you must secure the PCI card in its place by using the screw that you previously removed from the bay cover.

Lastly, close the computer, and power it on to install the drivers. You can either use a setup CD, a USB flash drive to install the drivers.


  • Faster network connection
  • Includes built-in antennas
  • It doesn’t require any USB port


  • Not a portable adapter
  • Requires physical installation

What is a USB Wifi Adapter?

As the name suggests, a USB wifi adapter is a device that you can insert in any of the available USB ports in your PC or laptop to connect to a wireless network.


People prefer a USB Wifi adapter because of its convenient integration, unlike the PCIE card, which requires a spare PCIE slot in the computer. Furthermore, USB wifi adapters offer plug-and-play functionality because you don’t have to install any additional drivers.

Once you plug in the USB wireless adapters, the PC or laptop automatically detects without requiring any configuration. It’s because the adapter comes with integrated drivers.

Maximum Bandwidth

The maximum bandwidth offered by a USB 3.0 adapter is 867 Mbps over the 802.11ac 5GHz band, which is relatively lesser than a PCIE adapter.

Requires a USB Connection

Nowadays, slimmer laptops come with a minimum number of USB ports. It means a USB Wifi adapter can occupy your USB port permanently, and you may have to toggle between USB devices at some instance while disconnecting your Internet connection.

Compact Design

A USB WIfi adapter resembles a regular USB flash drive, thus taking minimal storage space. Unlike a PCI-E chip with external antennas, you can carry a USB adapter anywhere with you in your laptop bag.

USB Wifi Adapters with External Antenna

Another good news is that you can buy USB wifi adapters with an external antenna. However, the performance of this antenna can’t beat a PCI-E card with three antennas. You can do the math yourself!

How to Plug USB Adapters on Your Dekstop PC?

You must be wondering how to plug a USB adapter into your desktop computer. Well, in this case, you need a long cable with a USB plug or a USB port extender. Then, you can place the USB adapter on your desk to receive signals from the nearby wireless router.

You can also use a USB cradle, allowing you to place the USB adapter where signal strength is good.

Lesser Coverage

Unlike a PCIE adapter using a 12V power supply, a USB adapter uses the only 5V from the USB port. Moreover, a USB wi-fi stick has limited bandwidth because of the USB 2.0 interface.

If you can find a USB 30 adapter, you get fortunate. However, it’s a rare case because most of the available adapter is USB 2.0

USB Adapter May Get Hot

Moreover, a USB Wifi adapter may get hot while downloading, streaming, and browsing different things simultaneously.

Who Should Use a USB Wireless Adapter?

A USB wireless adapter is a perfect choice for people who face Wifi issues with their laptop.

Although laptops have their Wi Fi adapter built inside the hardware, the internal wireless adapter may break or become faulty, offering poor signal reception. If you don’t want to spend a hefty amount fixing the built-in adapter, you can resort to a relatively cheap solution – a USB wireless adapter.

Moreover, a USB adapter is a perfect companion at airports, cafes, hotels, and during the commute if your work demands traveling.

These days, you don’t find any laptops with a PCIE slot, so you have only one option to buy a USB adapter.


  • Plug-and-play operation
  • Easy to use
  • Offers portability


  • May become hot after continuous use
  • It doesn’t have any built-in antennas
  • Not powerful as PCIE card


After reading the above article, you can now make a well-informed decision whether to buy a USB or a PCIe Wifi adapter.

If you want to experience faster connectivity, you can go for a PCIE Wifi card. However, if your work involves traveling, a USB wireless adapter is an apt choice for you.  A PCIE is an expensive solution; however, you can buy a USB adapter at a relatively lesser price.

Nonetheless, the final decision is yours—all you need to evaluate your laptop or computer wireless requirements and buy a suitable wireless adapter accordingly.