You have three major hardware options to connect your PC to a wireless network: onboard, PCIe, or USB WiFi transceivers. However, which is best depends on your needs. Onboarding is the most convenient, PCIe Wi-Fi cards are great for getting the best performance, and wireless USB is most appropriate if you’re on a budget.
At various points in your life, you’ve likely had very different needs for each of your computers. That’s how things were for me. This led me to deal with all sorts of WiFi hardware choices and taught me everything there was to know about each one. So, let’s talk about onboard, PCIe, and USB WiFi devices and find which one is best for you. Let’s jump right into it.
What Is Onboard WiFi?
If you have a motherboard with a WiFi chip built into it, you can connect to a wireless network without needing to buy an additional piece of hardware. If this is what your setup is like, you have onboard WiFi.
Essentially all modern laptop motherboards have onboard WiFi since you can connect to a network straight out of the box without needing to buy anything extra.
Do All Motherboards Come with WiFi Built-In?
So, how can you tell if you have onboard Wi-Fi on your PC’s mobo? Do all desktop motherboards come with WiFi?
The answer to that is no. Not all desktop motherboards come with wireless networking capabilities.
The first way to tell is through the model name, which is useful if you haven’t bought a motherboard yet. They will usually have “WiFi” in the model name, usually at the end.
You can also check the I/O panel on the back of your PC case and look out for antenna ports. Alternatively, you can search for your motherboard model online and go through the spec sheet or the product manual.
- Onboard WiFi is convenient. If your motherboard has the capability to connect to a wireless network straight out of the box, it means you don’t need to worry about installing or plugging in a new part.
- If you already have the motherboard, it saves you from needing to buy a new part.
- It is perfect for smaller builds such as those centered around Mini-ITX boards, where you have limited space for add-ons.
- You cannot upgrade to a newer card for better performance. Instead, you’ll have to buy add-ons if you want to upgrade your wireless performance.
- Onboard Wi-Fi can sometimes be lacking in terms of speed and range.
- A new board with built-in WiFi can sometimes be more expensive than just getting a motherboard without WiFi and a comparable PCIe wireless card.
What is a PCIe WiFi Card?
PCIe, or Peripheral Component Interconnect Express, is a hardware standard used to connect a variety of high-speed peripherals to your motherboard.
One class of peripherals you can attach are PCIe cards which give your PC wireless capabilities, primarily for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
- PCIe, or Peripheral Component Interconnect Express, is a hardware standard used to connect a variety of high-speed peripherals to your motherboard.
- One class of peripherals you can attach are PCIe cards which give your PC wireless capabilities, primarily for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
- PCIe cards are the most challenging to install if you’re not too conversant with computer hardware.
- They will cost you the most out of any of these options.
- These cards take up space in your computer, which can be annoying if you have a smaller build or a limited number of PCIe slots.
What is a USB WiFi?
A USB WiFi is a little USB stick with antennas. Once you plug this into any free USB port, you’ll be able to connect to a wireless network.
- Installing it is as easy as plugging it into a USB port. They are typically plug-and-play, so you don’t even need to worry about installing drivers, as Windows will handle that for you.
- These dongles are perfect for people on a budget as they won’t cost you anything considerable.
- They integrate well into smaller builds where you don’t want to use up a PCIe slot.
- The major disadvantage is that their performance is simply not as good. They have slower and less stable speeds and weaker reception.
Which WiFi Option Is the Best Choice?
Deciding on which of these WiFi hardware options is the best for you can be hard. However, you’ll find it easier to choose if you can think of what your priorities are for your computer build.
If you’re a gamer or anyone in need of the very best speeds and stability, I’d highly recommend that you go for a PCIe card. Not only do you get the best speed, but you can upgrade easily as the need arises.
If you’re on a budget, I’d say that you should go for USB WiFi. These are easy to install and very affordable.
Finally, if you’re building a computer from scratch and have regular requirements when it comes to wireless performance, just opt for a motherboard with onboard WiFi. The convenience will certainly be worth it.
If you’re looking to equip your PC with wireless capabilities, there are three major options available for you. You can either go the route of a PCIe card or a USB WIFI or if you’re lucky, your computer’s motherboard already has WiFi built-in. However, which is best for you is reliant on your needs. For those looking to get the very fastest network speeds, you’ll find yourself best suited with a PCIe card. The more affordable option is USB WiFi, so if you’re on a budget, these can do the job nicely. Finally, onboard WiFi is great if you need good speeds and the convenience of not needing to install anything.
Was this article able to show you the way when it comes to your hardware choices when it comes to giving your computer wireless network connectivity? If so, make sure to check out more of our articles to learn more.
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