As the world moves wireless, tech lovers are eliminating cables wherever they can. New laptops often come without ethernet ports entirely and a minimum of USB ports, forcing users to rely on Bluetooth and WiFi for their connectivity needs. Fixed-tower desktop users, and gamers especially, have been often resistant to this change, preferring the speed and reliability of ethernet to the inconsistency of WiFi. But with the most recent WiFi ac and ax generations, wireless internet has gotten really good. With a strong router and a strong internet connection, all that you need to be able to have a reliable connection is a good WiFi card. And this guide will help you choose the WiFi card that is best for you.
Some of you might be thinking of a WiFi dongle when we talk about adding wireless internet connectivity, based on the older USB models that were common for years as a method of adding wireless internet connections to desktop PC’s. DON’T BUY ONE OF THOSE! This guide focuses on PCIE WiFi cards for a reason. Unless you absolutely cannot add a PCIe WiFi card (due to lack of slots or lack of compatibility), avoid the USB dongles! They do not provide the same level of speed or reliability as a PCIe WiFi card and cost nearly the same amount.
So with that in mind, let’s dive in and give you our recommendations for the four best PCIe WiFi cards available today:
Best PCIe WIFI Cards – My Recommendations
Best Overall PCIe WIFI Card
Perhaps not the cheapest WiFi card available, but definitely not the most expensive, our choice for best overall PCIE WiFi card combines a high-level of reliability, very fast dual-band connectivity, and an ease-of-use that will help you ensure a great connection. We have no difficulty recommending the TP-LINK Archer T6E for your next build.
The Archer T6E is an overall great combination of all the things we want in a WiFi card: dual 2.4GHz/5GHz options, speeds of up to 1300Mbps, a heat sink to avoid overheating, long range with a double-antenna set-up, and all with a two-year warranty and tech support in case of any questions. While we would love to see an updated model with 802.11ax, ac is still by far the most common WiFi generation right now and is industry standard, providing more than enough speed for 99.9% of users.
At $35, the T6E is definitely a step up in terms of price from the cheapest PCIe or USB WiFi options, but it is also a leap up in terms of speed and reliability and unless you really need to save every last dollar, well worth the cost. It may not match a hard-wired ethernet connection, but if wireless is the goal, the T6E will help you get there.
Best Budget PCIe WIFI Card
At the budget level, we are really looking for something that will just get us online. Big file downloads might be rough, and while we want as much stability as possible, we might have to put up with the occasional spike in latency when gaming. But, with the right set-up, gaming should still be possible and watching HD video shouldn’t be a problem either. So if you’re looking for a cheap solution to get you online without any wires, the Rosewill N300 is a good choice.
With still good speeds of 300Mbps on the 2.4GHz WiFi 802.11n protocol, and a dual-antenna design to help increase range and coverage, the Rosewill N300 is a good choice for a basic PCIe WiFi card. Rosewill is a known producer of budget-level components, and is tied to Newegg as their ‘in-house brand’, so we are able to avoid going for one of the really-cheap-no-name-products that is just as likely to break when we plug it in and provide any sort of connection.
At right around $20, it would be hard to find a cheaper solution that will actually give you a reliable internet connection. You aren’t getting the latest or greatest with the Rosewill N300, but at this price point, you can expect a reliable connection with enough speed to avoid feeling like you’re back in the 90’s. For a budget PCIe WiFi card, we would say that’s exactly what you need.
Best High-End PCIe WIFI Card
On the other end of the spectrum from the N300 are the luxury, high-end PCIe WiFi cards. We are looking for extreme stability, serious speed, great build-quality, strong warranty and reputation, and the newest tech possible if we are going to spend a good chunk of change on a WiFi card. So for someone with the budget to ensure the best possible wireless connection possible, we recommend the ASUS PCE-AC88 AC3100.
Other online reviews refer to this adapter as the ‘crown jewel’ of wireless choices, or as the absolute best you can find, listing only the price as a detractor from simply telling everyone that the AC88 is the only choice possible. But for a luxury buyer where price isn’t the issue…. well, the AC88 really is the only choice worth considering. With a dual-band 4×4 WiFi set up for speeds up to 3100 (!) Mbps, four antennas that can be removed or replaced as needed to increase lifetime, an external base to allow for ideal placement of receptor, WiFi AC support, and the ability to operate in almost any temperature environment, we are truly talking about an adapter that has any and all features available for PCIe cards today. ASUS is a known brand with a great reputation, and this component seems to offer the same quality we expect from one of the biggest names in computing.
For this type of elevated quality comes a similarly elevated price, and if you want to ensure the best WiFi connection possible with the AC88, you are looking at spending between $115 and $120. For most people, that price just is too much to pay when something like the T6E is available at a fraction of the price, but for someone that is going to be downloading/uploading large files or competitive gaming regularly over their WiFi connection and want as much stability and speed as possible, the AC88 truly is the ‘crown jewel’ and the only choice at this price.
Best PCIe/M.2 WIFI Card Combo
So we’ve covered the three budget segments for PCIe cards and given our recommendations for the overall, budget, and luxury tiers. But when considering a PCIe WiFi card, there’s one other solution to think about based on your specific needs. M.2 slots are becoming a popular alternative to PCIe for WiFi connectivity, and many motherboards are even now including M.2 WiFi/Bluetooth adapters out of the box. But if you are using an older motherboard or do not have a M.2 slot available, you can search for an M.2/PCIe adapter that combines the two technologies to give you a strong and reliable internet connection. And if you are curious about this, we recommend going with the Intel AX200 M.2 WiFi card & Fenvi PCIe/M.2 Adapter.
Now this option is for those that are more comfortable with PC’s and do not mind fiddling around a bit as the Fenvi adapter requires an internal USB header, and you need to be ready to put the M.2 card itself into the Fenvi slot. But it is really not too difficult, and if you are thinking of adding a PCIe card, this is not much more in terms of necessary steps to get you online. And the biggest upside is that for a price similar to the T6E, you get the latest and greatest in WiFi/Bluetooth technology because the Intel AX200 does not only support WiFi AC, but also the newest generation WiFi AX, which promises increased speeds and reliability.
So if you have an internal USB header available, don’t mind doing a little bit more work, and are comfortable with a two-part solution, this combination of the Fenvi adapter and Intel WiFi M.2 card will give you the newest generation WiFi. For the price of the T6E adapter, right around $35, this is definitely an option to consider.
We are living in an increasing wireless world, and WiFi has become a central component of that push towards wireless connectivity. While many desktop owners will continue to look to ethernet as the fastest, cheapest, most reliable internet connection available, some people will use WiFi to either avoid wires or simply because they do not have easy access to a hard-wired solution.
And if you need WiFi, then you will want the fastest, most reliable connection available, no matter your budget. If you can stretch it, the T6E will provide a great all-in-one solution. If you have to keep your budget as small as possible, the N300 should be a great value-tier choice. If you have enough money to shoot for the moon, the AC88 will ensure your WiFi is as good as it gets. And for one last alternative, if you don’t mind playing around a bit and have an internal USB header available, the combined Intel AX200 M.2 card and Fenvi PCIe/M.2 adapter will give you access to the newest technology at a reasonable cost.