PCI-e vs USB WiFi Adapter: Which One Is Better For Gaming

PCI vs USB wifi router

WiFi standard has emerged as the most convenient form of internet connection in recent times. 

Yes, Ethernet connections are more secure, more reliable, and faster than WiFi connections but most people nowadays don’t have the time to run Ethernet cables throughout their house. It’s way too much of a clutter.

On the other hand, all you need for a WiFi connection is a WiFi router and a WiFi-enabled device. Your router will broadcast WiFi signals and any device (with password authentication) will be connected to your router via its built-in wireless adapter (also referred to as a WiFi card or network card). Then, you can have internet access on your device.

But there is a catch here.

Many PCs don’t come with WiFi connectivity by default, and the ones which do (like laptops), often feature outdated WiFi adapters. These outdated adapters lack the speed, responsiveness, and security provided by the latest WiFi standard – 802.11ac.

So it’s a no-brainer to get a 3rd-party WiFi card.

But this is where things get interesting due to the fact that there are not one but two types of external wireless cards: PCI-e adapters and USB WiFi adapters.

Let’s talk about what both of these are, how they are different from each other, and their respective pros and cons.

PCI-e Adapters

The first ones are PCI-e adapters.

As their name implies, they are plugged into the PCI-e slot (which can also be used for adding a graphics card) in the motherboard of your desktop PC.

Plugging into PCI-e slot means you won’t be able to use these cards in your laptops. Also, plugging in your desktop is not easy unless you have PC building skills. Therefore, non-tech persons should stay away from these.
Once you manage to install them, you’ll get some benefits only these adapters provide.

First one of them is the WiFi reception. PCI-e adapters usually come with 2 or 3 external antennas which enables them to catch WiFi signals even from long range (more than 30 feet distance).

Secondly, many PCI-e based WiFi adapters feature MIMO (not to confuse with MU-MIMO feature found in many gaming routers) which helps them achieving better speed as compared to USB adapters. To fully understand what MIMO is, you can go here, but for the sake of this article, let me explain it in simple terms.

In traditional wireless communications, both sender and receiver are equipped with an antenna used to send and receive signals respectively. This approach is good theoretically, but, in real-world environments, it gives multiple paths for signals which can cause a delay in transmission.

In MIMO, on the other hand, the sender transmits more than one signal through its multiple antennas (one for each antenna at the receiving end) which causes signals to reach more quickly to the destination.

The only big disadvantage of the PCI-e adapter is the inability to remove it on-the-go. You have to remove your CPU case first to remove it. This leads to the second point which is that you should be careful when installing it due to being surrounded by electrostatic components. Being careless here can cause you some serious damage.

USB WiFi Adapters

USB wifi adapter

USB Wifi adapters are the total opposite of the PCI-e adapters we discussed earlier.

Just connect them with your PC through the USB port, and they will connect it with your Wi-Fi network.

Their play-n-play nature makes them perfect to be used with more than one PC, and as you might have concluded by now, you can use them with your desktop PCs as well as laptops (something which PCI-e adapters can’t do).

But the biggest advantage of these adapters is the flexibility they provide. They literally require less than 10 seconds to be set up, and unlike PCIe Adapters, there’s no way you can plug them wrong.

There are a few disadvantages of USB WiFi adapters.

First, most of them don’t come with any external antennas which makes them less powerful than PCI-e adapters. Also, many people have reported getting less internet speed from these adapters, as compared to PCI-e adapters.


Now comes the real part.

Which one is better for online gaming: USB or PCI-e WiFi Adapters?

My pick here is the PCI-e adapters.

If you’re playing online games over WiFi, then you should get as much WiFi reception and speed as possible. Yes, they require a bit more space and aren’t as flexible as USB adapters but these things don’t matter much in desktop PC gaming.

That being said, if you own a gaming laptop, you have no choice other than getting a USB WiFi adapter. These adapters only require a USB port and consume far less power than PCI-e adapters, which would be a win-win situation for you.

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This post has been submitted by our Guest Contributor, William Johnson. All the views and opinions expressed in this article are his own.

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