PCI vs. USB Wi-Fi Adapters

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pci vs usb wi-fi adapters
There are two ways that you can access the internet on your PC, either through an ethernet cable or through Wi-Fi.

Whether it is due to the unavailability of an ethernet cable or because you don’t want to trouble yourself by having to take the ethernet cable with your laptop, you can opt for Wi-Fi instead. And if your PC doesn’t support Wi-Fi, then you will need an adapter.

There are a total of two Wi-Fi adapters, Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) adapters, and USB adapters, that you can go with. So, What’s the difference between them? Glad you asked!

In our guide below, we will get you up to speed with the pros and cons of both PCI and USB Wi-Fi adapters.

PCI Wi-Fi Adapters

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PCI Wi-Fi adapters have been widely used for Wi-Fi connectivity from the very beginning. A PCI adapter is plugged onto a PCI slot on your PC’s motherboard and it has an antenna that pops out of the back of your computer for providing maximum signal strength.

Why Should You Choose PCI Wi-Fi Adapters?

Since PCI adapters come with an antenna, it is obvious that they are better equipped than USB adapters in picking up stronger as well as weaker signals, and ultimately, providing faster Wi-Fi transmission.

Although there are a handful of USB adapters with the option for attachment of one or two antennae, finding PCI adapters with two or three antennas already installed is just as much easy.

Moreover, PCI adapters offer you the option to replace a weaker antenna with a stronger one in case it fails to pick up signals, an option to which some USB adapters are unknown.

Furthermore, since PCI adapters use PCI slots for Wi-Fi connectivity, your USB ports can be free for connecting other peripheral devices like keyboard, mouse, headphones, etc.

On top of that, some PCI Wi-Fi cards also include Bluetooth capability, a feature that is not common among most USB adapters.

Having a USB Wi-Fi adapter can be problematic especially if all of your USB slots are full. You will have to deal with the fact that replacing your USB Wi-Fi adapter with another important device, that you may need to plug in, will deprive you of internet access.

In addition to this, many users who use USB adapters have reported that when used for network-intensive tasks, USB adapters tend to overheat.

While it is true that not all USB adapters experience such behavior, you can avoid this problem altogether by simply choosing a PCI adapter instead and carry out as much data transfer as you need to.

More importantly, for a USB adapter to function properly, the USB adapter and the Wi-Fi router need to be in a straight line. So, if your desktop computer is in one room while the Wi-Fi router is in another, you are likely to face continuous interruptions in your internet connections.

USB Wi-Fi Adapters

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USB Wi-Fi adapters are comparatively recent as compared to the PCI Wi-Fi adapters. Though the USB adapters had a wobbly start in the market with them being purchased only a handful of occasions, over time, they have improved to provide a tough competition to their PCI counterparts.

Why Should You Choose USB Wi-Fi Adapters?

The biggest upside to USB W-Fi adapters is that they are super easy to install into a PC. All you have to do is plug in your USB adapter into any one of your PC’s ever-familiar USB ports.

On the contrary, for a PCI adapter, you will have to go bear the complexity of opening up the PC’s case, locating the motherboard, and plug it in a free PCI slot. It is a process that will be much harder for you to understand if you don’t have much knowledge of computer hardware.

What’s worse is that without the know-how of hardware components, you may end up damaging them.

Furthermore, there are also USB adapters that come in “cradles”. These cradles are long USB wires with a stand at the end to input and USB and keep it in place; in other words, these cradles are USB port extenders.

So, what you need to do is, plug the wire into any one of the free USB ports on your PC, plug the USB adapter into the cradle, and place the cradle in a spot where it is likely to receive the strongest Wi-Fi signals from your router.

You can simply switch the position of the cradle in case you are not receiving strong signals. This way, you can avoid all Wi-Fi dead spots and signal-killing spots.

PCI adapters have antennas for the same purpose. However, if an antenna does not work well, replacing it would be a far greater hassle than simply moving the cradle from one place to the other. Moreover, you may not like the old-fashioned look of antennas sticking out of the back of your computer’s case.

USB adapters are also particularly effective when it comes to laptops. In a laptop, for Wi-Fi connectivity, there are PCI adapters, built into its compact hardware.

If this PCI adapter somehow stops working, replacing it without professional help is difficult for the average user.

The good thing is that laptops are guaranteed to come with a USB port. So, you can plug in a USB adapter and avail of uninterrupted access to the internet.

PCI vs. USB Wi-Fi Adapters – Which one is the best for you?

If you possess a desktop computer, your activities are largely data-intensive like downloading and high-quality video streaming, you need a lot of USB ports for plugging in a bunch of peripheral devices, then a PCI Wi-Fi adapter is your best bet.

On the other hand, if your budget is a little bit tighter and you are looking for a Wi-Fi adapter that is easy to install and move around the room for better signal strength, then a USB Wi-Fi adapter is your choice.

USB Wi-Fi adapter also comes in pretty handy when installing PCI adapter is not easy, like in the case of a laptop.

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