PCI-E WiFi Cards Versus USB WiFi – Which Is Best For You?

I am a bit behind the times and have only recently moved over to WiFi-based Internet service from a hard-wired Ethernet-based service. When I did this, I had to decide between using a PCI-E WiFi card in my desktop computer or using a USB WiFi adapter which seemed to be a lot less hassle to me.

When I first looked at these two options, I thought to myself “well they do the same job don’t they so why bother researching this any further?” I am a curious person by nature and I just couldn’t help myself. I had to know what the real differences were, so I went on a mission to find out.

In this article, I will share my findings with you. If you are facing the same decision about PCI-E WiFi card vs USB, I sincerely hope that this will help you and prevent you from going through the same pain that I did!

What is a PCI-E WiFi Adapter?

PCIE wireless card connected

The first part of my research was to find out what kinds of PCI-E WiFi adapters were available as I wasn’t 100% sure. However, suppose you have a desktop computer that has a spare PCI-E slot available. In that case, you can get a wireless adapter that has at least one antenna that will communicate directly with your WiFi router.

Check out: Best PCIe wi-fi cards

Of course, if you want to go down this route, then it will involve opening up your computer and installing the PCI-E WiFi card. This was OK for me as I have many years of experience working on computers but you might feel nervous about doing this.

It is actually a pretty easy thing to do. If you really don’t fancy doing this, you can always ask a computer shop to do it for you or a friend or family member who knows a bit about computers.

What is a USB WiFi Adapter?

This is a USB device that provides connectivity with your WiFi router. Not all USB adapters come with an external antenna, but a lot do these days. Also, most desktop computers have a number of USB slots available and as long as you have one free, you can use a USB wireless adapter.

One of the best things about a USB wireless adapter is that anyone can use one to quickly and easily establish a connection to the Internet. You do not have to install anything and never need to take the cover off of your computer.

It is just simply a matter of plugging the USB WiFi adapter into a spare USB slot in your computer. After that, you are good to go. I tried a few different USB wireless adapters and they were all very easy to plug in and get going.

So at this point, you may be thinking “why should I bother even considering a PCI-E WiFi adapter if the USB solution is so much easier to install and setup?” I had the same thoughts but there are advantages and disadvantages to both of these types of WiFi adapters.

Advantages and Disadvantages of PCI-E WiFi Cards

  • Powerful network connection
  • Built-in antennas
  • Does not require USB port
  • Physical installation needed
  • Not a portable device

Usually, PCI-E WiFi cards are more powerful than USB WiFi adapters. One of the main reasons for this is that the PCI-E card connects directly to the motherboard of your computer. This means that the connectivity is a lot faster as there is nothing between the PCI-E card and your mainboard. You cannot say the same about a USB adapter.

Another advantage of a PCI-E wireless adapter is that they usually always have at least one external antenna. Some of the better quality cards have more than one antenna – having three antennas is fairly common. This means that you should be able to pick up a stronger signal from your WiFi router.

These days, you need USB ports for just about everything and if you use a USB wireless adapter, you will permanently take up one of these precious slots.  PCI-E wireless adapter slots straight into your computer motherboard and does not require the use of a USB slot.

When I was testing the USB WiFi adapters I found that one of them became really hot when I was using the Internet a lot for downloading and other things. This is not something that you have to worry about with a PCI-E WiFi adapter.

The only real disadvantages of a PCI-E wireless adapter are that you have to install them into your computer physically and are often more expensive than a USB wireless adapter.

Advantages and Disadvantages of USB WiFi Adapters

  • Plug and play device
  • Easy to setup
  • Portable
  • Can be hot for long time usages
  • Requires a USB port
  • No built-in antennas
  • Less powerful than pcie cards

The clear advantage of using a USB wireless adapter to connect with your WiFi router is that no cards are installed. So you will not need to take the cover off of your computer at all, which will probably be a significant relief to you if you are scared to death of doing this kind of thing!

All that you need to do is just plug the USB WiFi adapter into a free USB slot. I mean what could be simpler? Unfortunately, when USB wireless adapters first hit the market, most did not have an external antenna. This meant that it was not that easy to pick up a strong signal from the WiFi router.

These days, you can find USB wireless adapters that have an external antenna. But this is never going to be the same as having a PCI-E card that has three antennas. If your spare USB slots are at the back of your desktop computer, you can get a USB WiFi adapter with a cradle arrangement.

This means that there is a cable with a USB plug on the end of it that plugs into the USB slot at the back of your desktop. The cable on the cradle is long enough for you to place it on a desk or even on top of your desktop box so that the adapter has a better chance of picking up a strong signal from your wireless router.

As I said earlier, I found that one of the USB wireless adapters that I used got hot quickly when I was streaming and downloading a lot, which was a worry for me. Surely these things are not supposed to get too hot?

What kind of Wireless Networking Adapter works best for you?

Now that you know the advantages and disadvantages of both types of wireless adapters, you need to choose the right one for you. If performance and power are a must for you, I recommend that you go for a PCI-E WiFi card. It is always likely that a PCI card will outperform a USB adapter, and you can get more than one antenna for stronger signals.

If you are not bothered about the best performance, you should find that a USB wireless adapter is a cheaper option. It is certainly easier to install and you can do everything yourself even if you have limited experience with computers!

Josef is a freelance tech writer who specializes in writing gadgets reviews. His love for technology started at an early age and he has been writing tutorials about various aspects of technology ever since. He enjoys sharing his knowledge with other people and helping them understand the latest innovations in this field.


  1. Good post. I learn something new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon every day.
    It’s always exciting to read articles from other authors and practice something
    from other sites.

  2. Extremely good information. what diff will it make if i connect router to laptop
    through cable or through wifi adaptor ?

  3. An important point which has not been highlighted is the difference in speed between the 2 data bus which which are used. This is important as you will almost certainly have a lot of data running back and forth via any network card.
    PCI / PCI-e will run much more quickly, cleanly and efficiently than USB (even USB3.0) this can result in bottlenecks and slowdowns as you are using the Universal Serial Bus which is kind of an easy, simple to incorporate anything into it (and we do) and as a result it is probably the slowest of data bus in your machine (kinda like a jack of all trades but master of none analogy).

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