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6 important factors in choosing the right Wi-Fi adapter for your needs

Finding the right Wi-Fi adapter in the midst of numerous viable choices can be overwhelming. Here’s some tips that can help.

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Image: TechHive

Wireless adapters come in all shapes and sizes. Just because two devices look alike doesn’t mean they’re the same. Similarly, having two antennae doesn’t always make an adapter stronger than another with a single antenna. Picking the right dongle requires that you look into not just the aesthetics, but the specs as well.

Below are six essential considerations to make when choosing a Wi-Fi adapter.

USB or PCI?

When you request for a Wi-Fi adapter, your retailer will likely give you two types, USB, and PCI, their primary difference being how they connect to a host computer. A USB adapter trades a bit of performance for convenience, in that it’s as easy to install and operate as a typical flash drive. And, although many USB adapters come in small, portable and antenna-free packages, their capabilities go all the way up to dual-band Wireless-N networking.

PCI adapters, on the other hand, come with multiple antennas and spatial multiplexing for maximum wireless-N throughput, but installing one will require more than just “plugging and playing.”

Choosing between a USB or PCI wireless adapter depends on what is most important to you between convenience and performance. Of course, if you own a laptop, a USB adapter will be the most practical choice.

Wireless protocols

Wireless routers all have the number 802.11. The letter that follows this number is what dictates the transmission protocol that the router supports. 802.11b routers offer the shortest, slowest connection, while 802.11ac will provide the broadest and fastest connectivity.

The key here is to ensure the adapter you pick can transmit on the same protocols as your router. If you have an 802.11ac, for instance, you’ll want an 802.11ac wireless adapter. 802.11n or 802.11ac is usually recommended for users shopping for both the router and the adapter, to ensure fast and reliable connectivity.

Type of USB ports

If you go for a USB dongle, the speed of your connection will depend on the type of ports you have. If your laptop only has USB 2.0 ports, for example, the maximum theoretical speed you can get is 60MB/s. In comparison, USB 3.0 tops out at 640MB/s.

This won’t matter if your broadband subscription is below 60MB/s, or if you choose any protocol other than 802.11ac, but it’s an important factor nonetheless.

Wireless frequency: 2.4GHz or 5GHz

Both frequencies have their strengths and weaknesses, so it’s perhaps best to do some research before making your choice. As a general rule of thumb, however, go for 2.4GHz if your home has a lot of walls, or if there won’t be too much interference from other wireless devices. Many wireless gadgets operate in the 2.4GHz spectrum, which means 5.0GHz will less prone to interference. However, 5.0GHz transmission tends to suffer from signal-loss over long distances.

Some modern adapters support both 2.4GHz and 5GHz (dual-band adapters), so buying one of those will enable you to pick whichever band your situation requires.

Build Quality

The market is filled with low-quality models that promise great performance but hardly last a month. In addition to the specs, therefore, pay attention to the external build of your adapter of choice. Take the time to visit a trusted Wi-Fi adapter buyers guide and identify the dongles that offer the best balance between quality and cost.

Adapter Size

Some Wi-Fi adapters are bulkier than others, and more often than not, it’s your computer setup that will determine how big you can go. USB ports are usually close to one another, which means the device you buy needs to be small enough not to block adjacent ports.

Furthermore, if you’re using a laptop, a small dongle will be less likely to bump into obstacles and break while you’re repositioning the computer.

Conclusion

Finding the right Wi-Fi adapter in the midst of numerous viable choices can be overwhelming. Nevertheless, the tips above should be sufficient enough to help you do some fruitful comparison shopping.

Just another guy who likes to write about tech and gadgets.

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