PC Gear Lab

Onboard Wi-Fi vs Wi-Fi Card vs Wi-Fi USB

Wireless networking is a relatively new thing in the timeline of computers, considering that a few decades ago only a handful of households owned a computer and networking was not as widespread as it is now.

With wireless connections, users can do a lot on their computers from just about where there’s a signal. You don’t need cables and Ethernet ports to connect to a network and you do not need to remain tethered in just one location.

When it comes with WiFi on computers, you have three very common options: Onboard Wi-Fi vs Wi-Fi Card vs Wi-Fi USB. Here we will learn about how these three differ in terms of pros and cons.

More computers, especially portable ones like laptops come with built-in Wi-Fi to facilitate wireless networking. However, most desktops do not ship with this and it, therefore, falls upon the user to find workarounds if they need to connect to Wi-Fi networks.

Also Read: Best Motherboards with WiFi

Wi-Fi on a Motherboard

Some motherboards come with inbuilt Wi-Fi whereas some need extra components because they may lack a Wireless interface card. This can be in the shape of a PCIe Card or a USB WiFi Dongle.

Despite what method you use, a Wi-Fi connection is easy to establish with your computer.

What are the difference between the three and what advantages and disadvantages do they bring about.

Also Read: Powerline Adapter vs WiFi – Benefits Compared

Onboard Wi-Fi vs Wi-Fi Card vs Wi-Fi USB

What is Onboard Wi-Fi

Onboard Wi-Fi vs Wi-Fi Card vs Wi-Fi USB
Certain motherboard come with WiFi card built in

This is the simplest way to connect to a wireless network. Onboard Wi-Fi comes supported in certain motherboards.

It allows users to connect their computers to a wireless network without having to install any extra components.

Desktop motherboards with inbuilt motherboards are not as common as laptop motherboards, however, you most certainly can find desktop motherboard that come equipped with the WiFi modem.

They are more expensive though.

Also Read: Best Motherboard with WiFi

Pros of Onboard Wi-Fi

For users who need to use Wi-Fi, a motherboard with onboard Wi-Fi will eliminate the cost of purchasing an extra component.

USB Wi-Fi dongles may be cheap but it saves the time and cost for purchasing and delivering the component if you already have it pre-installed.

With onboard Wi-Fi, people without access to cable networks can access their networks immediately after finishing their builds. This lets them access online content faster and with less hassle.

They are more, in a sense, more streamlined and optimized.

Cons of Onboard Wi-Fi

There may be faster options for accessing Wi-Fi, including getting a faster Network card that has higher speeds and lower latency.

With onboard Wi-Fi, this upgrading the built in WiFi is not a feasible option and you will end up having to settle for the speeds that are provided by your board’s onboard Wi-Fi adapter.

For example, if you motherboard comes with WiFi 5 card, you will not be able to upgrade it to WiFi 6.

Additionally, all things considered, a motherboard with onboard Wi-Fi may be more expensive than one without the facility. This might be something that users who don’t need Wi-Fi would have to consider.

What is a Wi-Fi Card

Best Motherboards with WiFi
PCIe WiFI Cards slot into PCIe X1 slots

A Wi-Fi card is a high-speed PCIe device that adds Wi-Fi support for a motherboard by connecting to one of its PCIe slots.

Wi-Fi cards themselves are relatively affordable, but compared to WiFi USB, they can be a little expensive. However, for users with a PCIe slot to spare, this maybe the best option for fast wireless connections.

Also Read: Which PCIe Slot for Wireless Card

Pros of Wi-Fi Card

It offers high speed stable wireless connections. This is great for activities like online gaming. You can get a card that suits your taste. Budget ones can be used for basic home and office use. More expensive ones can be used for tasks like gaming.

One of the biggest advantage here is that you can replace them with a newer card. You can also switch them over to another PC when need be.

Cons of Wi-Fi Card

Wi-Fi PCIe cards can be challenging to install for the novice user. They are also more expensive than USB Wi-Fi adapters so most users on a budget would opt for the latter instead.

Another big disadvantage with WiFi card is that they take PCIe lanes. If you do not have a PCIe lane available, they are of no good. Therefore, you need to make sure that you have both a free PCIe slot as well as a free PCIe lane.

Also Read: How Many PCIe Lanes do I Have?

Finally, a WiFi Card can be an issue when you have cramped up space inside in the PC. In some instances, they can even block larger components like graphics card from being installed.

Recommended WiFi Cards

The following are our recommendations. The first two conform to the latest WiFi 6 Protocol.

What is Wi-Fi USB Adapter


Unlike PCIe cards, these do not go inside the case. They are plugged into a USB port and as soon as the drivers are installed, they work.

These adapters are usually very affordable meaning that most users who want WIFI can go for them. Because they are affordable, you may be tempted to think that they are low-quality options.

However, over the years, high-quality USB adapters have been developed. Some also have antennas for better signal reception.

Pros of Wi-Fi USB Adapter

They are very easy to install. All you do is plug the device into an available USB slot and Voila! Drivers are installed and you’re good to go.

You can get one with a USB extender that can help you beat WIFI dead spots in your workspace, allowing you to get the best signal coverage.

You don’t need to open up your case, learn about PCIe lanes or about PCIe socket with these. They are small devices that work almost like a USB flash drive.

Since they are small you can literally carry them around with you.

Cons of Wi-Fi USB Adapter

One of the biggest advantage here is that they are weak. They have weaker reception. Their transfer rate is much slower as compared to a built in card.

Also, since they’re exposed, you could end up unseating the adapter in the USB slot by accident, therefore, interrupting your network connection.

You also plug this device into a USB slot. The result is you will always end up with one less free slot for other devices.

Recommended USB WiFi Adapter

Other FAQ

What is Wi-Fi?

Wi-Fi is a technology that is based on the IEEE 802.11 standard. It is the technology behind wireless internet that most people use today from their homes to their offices. It lets users with Wi-Fi-enabled devices connect to a wireless access point.

Wi-Fi itself does not connect devices to the internet, instead, it connects devices to each other, and somewhere in the network; an edge router exposes the interconnected devices to other networks and the internet.

Where is Wi-Fi Used?

Large institutions use Wi-Fi because cabling all network devices can result in cable clutter and high costs, not to mention cable installations and maintenance.

Imagine having a cable connected to your phone whenever you need to browse the internet. It’s not ideal, right? Wi-Fi is used with mobile devices to make it easier to connect to the internet.

When cabled connections aren’t possible, Wi-Fi becomes the next option. The radio waves can allow multiple devices over a certain area to be connected.


Here we compared onboard Wi-Fi vs Wi-Fi card vs Wi-Fi USB. While the final say remains with you, each of these implementations has its own perfect application scenario. An onboard adapter is great for users with basic Wi-Fi needs like light browsing. Since these are not as intensive, you wouldn’t need a really fast Wi-Fi card.

A PCIe Wi-Fi card is excellent for users who do heavy tasks on the internet over a wireless connection. Tasks such as streaming and recurring heavy downloads need fast connections that can be supported by a PCIe card.

A USB dongle can be a great way to provide basic Wi-Fi to a motherboard that doesn’t have onboard Wi-Fi. It’s also ideal for moderate Wi-Fi users on a budget.

Add comment

Your Header Sidebar area is currently empty. Hurry up and add some widgets.