What is a USB WiFi Adapter?

usb wifi adapter icon

USB has become very popular over the years and it is now possible to get just about any add-on to your computer in USB form. So it should be no surprise to you that you can get a USB WiFi adapter that will enable you to connect to the Internet via a wireless router.

You should have a number of USB ports with your computer whether it is a desktop or a laptop. As long as you have one of these free you can plug in a USB WiFi adapter and then this will communicate with a WiFi router that will provide you with access to the Internet.

In this article, I will explain how a USB WiFi adapter works, how you can use one with a computer and how to set them up for use. I will use layman’s terms throughout as I have a lot of expertise with computers but I do not want to confuse you with a lot of technical terms that will just make your head spin!

What does a USB WiFi Adapter Do?

The first question I want to answer is what a USB WiFi adapter actually does. In the simplest terms, it is a device that enables a computer to communicate with a wireless router. With this communication in place, the computer user can access the external Internet.

Before wireless routers became popular, you used to have a physical cable to connect your computer or laptop to an Internet router using the Ethernet system. Everything is going wireless now and with the WiFi standards, it is really easy to access the Internet via a wireless router using a USB WiFi adapter plugged into your desktop computer.

How does a USB WiFi Adapter work?

If your laptop or desktop computer does not have any wireless connectivity functionality built-in then you will need to provide this if you want to communicate with a wireless router to access the Internet.

There are cards available that include all of the necessary electronics that you need to work with WiFi standards and create a connection with a wireless router. In the case of a USB WiFi adapter, all of the required electronics are provided on a smaller scale inside a USB stick that you simply plug into a free USB port.

How-USB-Wifi-Adapter-works.jpg

With most USB WiFi adapters you will have an antenna built into the stick itself. This is used to pick up the signals from your wireless router. These tend to work reasonably well if your computer is fairly close to the wireless router.

You can also purchase a USB WiFi adapter that includes an external antenna which helps to pick up WiFi signals from your router if your computer is some distance away. These are more expensive than the USB WiFi adapters that have the antenna built-in but they can be very useful if you tend to move around a lot.

When you plug your USB WiFi adapter into a USB port on your computer it will be able to directly communicate with your processor and other important parts of your system. It is a lot easier to install a USB WiFi adapter than it is to install a PCI-E WiFi adapter on your computer.

How to Use a USB WiFi Adapter on a Windows PC?

If your Windows PC has never used a wireless network before then there will probably be a number of steps that you need to go through to use your USB WiFi adapter for Internet connectivity.

If your ISP is installing your wireless router for you then tell them where your computers and other devices are located in your home or office so that they can set it up in the best position. Once your wireless router is working and you have tested it using a device that already has wireless connectivity (e.g. a laptop or mobile device) then insert your USB WiFi adapter into a free USB slot on your computer.

I will cover the installation of drivers and other setup requirements in another section so I am assuming here that your USB WiFi adapter is ready to go at this point. Open the Control Panel in Windows and open the “Network and Sharing Center” (it may be called something different such as “Networks” depending on the version of Windows that you are using).

Windows 10 Control Panel

If you do not see a wireless network there then you will need to create one. This is easily done by clicking on “set up a new connection or network” and then following the instructions that Windows provides to you.

Windows 10 Network and sharing center

Once the wireless network is up and running your USB WiFi adapter will go to work looking for available wireless routers. Yours should have a unique name so that you can easily find it. If you live in an apartment building there might be many different wireless networks (routers) detected by your USB adapter so be sure to know what the name of yours is.

The last step will be to select your wireless network from the list and then you will be asked to enter an “SSID”. This is just a fancy name for a password that was used to set up your wireless router. If your ISP did this for you then they will supply you with this password. Enter this correctly and you will establish a connection with your wireless router.

If you are not prompted to enter an SSID or password then this probably means that your wireless network is not secure. This is something that you need to fix because if you don’t then anyone with a wireless adapter can connect to your wireless network. Ask your ISP for help with this if you need it.

How to Setup/Install a USB WiFi Adapter?

All wireless adapters require additional software to make them work properly. These are called “Drivers”. When you are choosing a USB WiFi adapter for your computer be sure to check what versions of Windows it will work with so that you can avoid any setup problems.

If your USB WiFi adapter came with a driver CD then have this ready as you will need to use it to install the device properly. In the case where you do not have a driver CD then I strongly recommend that you look for the right drivers online and then download them using another computer. Copy these to your desktop before you plug in your USB WiFi adapter.

As soon as you plug in your USB WiFi adapter Windows should detect it and then try to automatically install the right drivers for the device. Windows is pretty good at recognizing wireless adapters and installing the proper drivers but this does not always work 100% of the time.

Even if Windows does do this properly I would always recommend installing the drivers from the CD or those you downloaded. This is because the Windows drivers will be very basic and you will probably find that your USB WiFi adapter works more efficiently if you install the correct drivers.

Once you have gone through this process, your USB WiFi adapter will be ready for use (assuming that there are no errors or other problems). You should not have to install the drivers again. If you experience problems, get a cup of coffee on as it could be a long night trying to resolve these!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose of a USB WiFi adapter?

A USB WiFi adapter replaces the computer’s built-in wifi, allowing you to connect to available network signals faster and more reliably via the USB port. Since most computers have at least one USB port, you can usually use it on both laptops and desktops.

Is a USB WiFi adapter any good?

A USB adapter works best when there is a straight, clear line from the adapter to the wireless router. That’s the best case for any wireless adapter, but especially for USB. However, some users find that USB wireless adapters provide extremely decent speeds.

How is Wi-Fi different from a WiFi adapter?

Basically, a wireless adapter is what allows a computer to connect to wireless networks. A wireless router is a router that can also handle routing, DHCP, and other things. Some wireless adaptors have an “AP mode” feature that lets them work as an access point or router.

Can you get Wi-Fi with a USB Wi-Fi adapter?

People often use the words “USB adaptor” and “dongle” to mean the same thing, but they are actually very different devices. A USB adaptor changes a device that doesn’t have Wi-Fi into one that does, so it can connect to a wireless network.

Does a PC need a WiFi adapter?

A WiFi adapter is needed for your laptop or desktop PC to connect to your wireless network. It is typically pre-installed in laptops, tablets, and some desktop PCs. Thus, it is most likely that you do not need a WiFi adapter for your laptop or tablet.

Where do I plug my wireless adapter in?

You need to plug your wireless USB adapter into one of your computer’s free USB ports. If your wireless adapter comes with a USB cable, you can plug one end of the cable into your computer and the other end into your wireless USB adapter.

Which is better: a USB card or a Wi-Fi card?

In general, PCIe WiFi card has better speeds when it comes to performance. On the other hand, USB WiFi is cheaper, easier to move around, and easier to set up. So, for the average user, both options are good, and each has its own pros and cons. Here, you can find out more about them.

Is a Wi-Fi adapter a router?

The computer can connect to the Wi-Fi network with the help of an adapter. The adapter is a separate receiver. A router is a device that will organize this network. The router and adapter can’t connect to the network on their own; they can only work together.

Is every USB Wi-Fi adaptor the same?

The size, structure, and speed of the USB adapter can all be different. There are a lot of different kinds of USB Wi-Fi adapters, so it’s easy to find one that fits your needs. But you should look at more than just how it looks because there are also some important trade-offs to consider.

Conclusion

The USB WiFi adapter is popular because it is easy to install on any computer and the small form factor makes it easy to transport and use on multiple computers. I hope you enjoyed this article, and if you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to post them below.

Since the age of 16, Prayas has been enthralled with all things tech. As a result, he’s developed an extensive skillset that has allowed him to help people with their computer and smartphone problems. When he’s not at his PC, you can find him riding his motorbike.

6 Comments

  1. Hello i bought one, but i’m not sure if i still need it after reading these. The thing is, our router is downstairs and my laptop is connected to the internet but it’s painly slow, I was thinking it would make my connection better upastairs if i have it plugged in. Am I wrong?

    • Hi Aria, you should use a Wi-Fi extender at upstairs. There are some routers which can be used as Wi-Fi extenders. Hope this helps.

  2. Hello, Chakma, is it exist a workable mpcie to usb for wifi (supports mpcie as with usb base and without it) ?

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