Computer Station Nation is reader-supported.
When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.
The 802.11ac Wi-Fi spec is disturbingly complicated, with more than a dozen different performance levels referred to by “AC” and a number. The adapters we found perform at the AC1200, AC1300, and AC1900 levels. That is how all of those “AC” numbers in that range translate into potential speeds on the two main Wi-Fi frequency bands. If this still makes your head hurt, just remember that higher numbers are better.
Good computer Wi-Fi is a modern necessity, especially for homes where multiple people are trying to work, learn, or be entertained. As we carve out odd spaces for home offices, we’re ending up in weird corners of kitchens, attics, or basements where Wi-Fi may not reach.
The best way to improve your Wi-Fi signal is to switch from a single router to a mesh network system. But mesh systems can be expensive. Wi-Fi extenders are also an option, but they can create interference and add latency. If you just need to eke a little bit more Wi-Fi out to one laptop or desktop, a USB adapter is a much cheaper alternative.
Our top 3 of Best 802.11ac USB Wi-Fi Adaptors
Greet Speed USB Wi-Fi Adaptors
The Archer T9UH works both as a docked adapter and as a plug-in dongle. TP-Link is a company that’s been silently powering the world’s computer networks for years.
Their enterprise-grade hardware can be found in data centers all around the world, and many laptop manufacturers buy their chips in bulk. But not every manufacturer is willing to spring for their performance line of networking equipment.
This portable version of their popular AC1900 chipset is your opportunity to give a serious upgrade to your portable computer without breaking the bank.
Due to pandemic restrictions that keep me stuck at home—which is why I need one of these adapters in the first place—this isn’t real lab testing on a clean and measured connection.
We tested against a 400Mbps symmetrical Verizon Fios fiber connection using a Verizon FIOS G1100, AC1750 router. Ideally, we’d want to use a gigabit source and a Wi-Fi 6 router. We tested each device using a 2018 Huawei Matebook X Pro laptop with its own internal Intel AC8265 802.11ac adapter, which appears from the spec sheet to support AC1300.
Your laptop probably supports 802.11ac—most laptops released since 2013 do—but if it doesn’t, that’s another reason to get an adapter. 802.11ac is a massive improvement over the previous 802.11n and can give you a boost even without counting the benefits of the bigger antenna.
Pros and Cons
- Great speed. Suitable for ultra HD videos.
- Wide connectivity
- Good for its price
- This Wi-Fi adapter is less suitable for mobile use in a laptop because if its size.
- Does not work well with 2.4GHz network.
Compatible USB Wi-Fi Adaptors
The Archer T4U Plus sits at the sweet spot of price and performance. This adapter doesn’t plug directly into your PC; it’s a trapezoidal dongle with two six-inch antennas. Plug it in with the included USB cable and you’re good to go. The T4U Plus uses the AC1300 standard.
The T4U Plus reliably connected to both my 5GHz and 2.4GHz networks, giving me a decent average signal improvement of 6.5dB on the 5GHz network.
That translated into considerably better Wi-Fi performance in my office and out by the elevator than the laptop alone achieved, to the point where the difference was certainly noticeable—at the elevator, speed loss declined from 95% with just the laptop to 69% with the T4U. In terms of squeezing out more Wi-Fi speed for relatively little money, the T4U Plus really does the trick.
Pros and Cons
- Comes with two-year warranty.
- It is compatible with Mac, Linux and Windows PC.
- A bit bulky
- Poor performance at long range.
Air Rader USB Wi-Fi Adaptors
The ASUS USB-AC68 is a dual-band USB Wi-Fi adapter that instantly upgrades your desktop, laptop or even your NAS with Wi-Fi speeds up to 1300 Mbps (5GHz) and 600 Mbps (2.4GHz) for a total bandwidth capability up to 1900 Mbps. It features a 3×4 MIMO antenna design with ASUS AiRadar Beamforming which optimizes the Wi-Fi reception. Those functions and features in combination should provide you with a great result and worry-free wireless signals.
Thanks to USB 3.0 and its 5 Gbps capabilities, the USB-AC68 shouldn’t run into any bottlenecks connection wise and easily be able to deliver its full bandwidth of up to 1900 Mbps through the combined 2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz bands. This is particularly useful for mobile users with older generation Wi-Fi built-in. This adapter can easily reach 300% faster Wi-Fi compared to an 802.11n 3T3R setup that is built into many laptops and notebooks.
Being a USB adapter, you’d think that the antennas could be on the weak side. ASUS worked around that by adding built-in 3-position antennas that flip out from the body itself, allowing for better signal reception than internal positioned antennas. Next to those two external antennas, the USB-AC68 also features two internal antennas for a total of four.
Pros and Cons
- AiRadar ensures a larger and more stable Wi-Fi signal.
- The Wi-Fi adapter has Wireless AC with a Wi-Fi speed of up to 1,300Mbps.
- Wi-Fi Standard AC is up to 3 times faster than Wi-Fi standard N.
- The Wi-Fi adapter isn’t small, so it sticks out of your laptop.
- The drivers for Windows 10 aren’t included by default.
Our pick is the TP-Link Archer T9UH. At this AC1900 adapter has the best balance of price and signal-boosting. The Netgear Nighthawk adapter was even more powerful but more expensive at the other adapters were cheaper, but didn’t do as much for the connection. Read on for the details of testing and tech.
Provide your computer with wireless internet using the TP-Link Archer T9UH Wi-Fi Adapter. After installation, you can browse wirelessly with a speed of up to 1,300Mbps. That is more than enough to stream a movie in Ultra HD over your home network and download updates at the same time.
The USB holder that comes with the Archer T9UH has an integrated extra antenna, which improves the reception of your Wi-Fi network. The Wi-Fi adapter is equipped with WPS, so you can connect to your wireless network with 1 push of a button. The stick is suitable for all forms of encryption, ensuring a secure connection. To see more options, visit Amazon.com.