Why should you care about having the best PCI wireless card ? Well, imagine for a moment; You just purchased a brand new gaming PC, and are excited to test out the latest online multiplayer games. You switch on the PC, get your gaming gear (mouse, headphone, and keyboard) all set up, then leap into matchmaking to pwn some noobs. As soon as you enter the game, you notice something strange. Even though your PC is more than capable of running the game at a high framerate, your actual online experience is rather unpleasant. Frequent lag, desync, and stuttering can bring even the most skilled players down onto their knees.
But wait- instead of smashing your keyboard in frustration, or sitting on hold for your internet provider, have you checked to see if your computer has a decent PCIe WI-FI card installed? After all, the quality of your internet connection doesn’t matter if the interface between your ISP and PC is garbage. The WIFI adapter in your PC is what allows you to connect with an access point next room; Even the highest quality gaming routers are useless if you pair them with a cheaply built WIFI card.
And in this article, we are about to show you five of the best PCI wireless cards for your desktop. These adapters are built for gamers and feature high-quality components along with beefy coolers to ensure that the ping remains steady no matter how long you play. Remember- having the most powerful gaming PC won’t help you win in online games if your ping is over 200ms. It is like owning a muscle car with a 700hp engine, but really skinny wheels. All that power isn’t going to the ground, so you end up with a slow ride. Now we know this isn’t a very accurate analogy, but you get the point. Without further ado, let’s review some of the best PCIe wireless cards available on the market-
Our top 5 contenders for best PCI wireless card:
It has been here for almost 4 years now, and was introduced to the market as one of the first true high-speed 802.11 ac WIFI adapters for gaming PCs. ASUS slapped a beefy heatsink on the top and used high-quality components in the circuit for minimal signal distortion. It even comes with a low-profile bracket for ITX and mini-ITX cases.
TP-Link is a well-known name in the networking industry, their routers and wireless technologies have revolutionized internet access in businesses and homes across the world. What makes TP-Link so great is their flexibility- they make cutting-edge products for a steep price, but also take care of the average customer with their cheap, yet extremely reliable offerings. The Archer T6E fits the archetype of a budget TP-Link product- it contains various innovative technologies and is built with quality components, yet manages to be the cheapest PCIe wireless card on our list.
While it may not have the unique beamforming technologies of ASUS or TP-Link, this interesting little multitasker from Gigabyte features a built-in Bluetooth 4.2 module alongside the 802.11ac Dual-Band Wi-Fi. So you can use the GC-WB867D as an all-in-one solution for your gaming desktop, capable of transferring files between any phone and your desktop without having to use cloud share or micro USB cables.
Remember the TP-Link Archer T6E that we just reviewed earlier in the article? Well, the T9E is its big-brother and comes with a bunch of amazing extras. Features such as TP-Link’s explicit beamforming technology that allows for faster data speeds through obstacles between the router and the PCIe wireless card. And a larger aluminum alloy heatsink that keeps the chipset cool even after several hours of intense gaming and downloading.
If money isn’t a concern, and you are willing to go all-out in exchange for the best wireless networking adapter, this is what you want. The ASUS PCE-AC88 which has a 4 x 4 antenna setup for transmitting/ receiving data over a true dual-band spectrum (5GHz and 2.4GHz). It is capable of insane speeds at very large ranges, and has no trouble with capturing signals even through the thickest of concrete walls.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What separates a cheap WIFI card from a good one?
Cheap wireless PCIe adapters often feature poorly designed antennas, weaker chipsets, and don’t incorporate the latest technologies. Some of the cheap ones either have tiny heatsinks, or don’t even use a heatsink to extract all the heat from the chipset, because they know that their components use very little power and generate less heat. Expensive WIFI adapters, on the other hand, are equipped with the latest signal modulation systems, have high gain antennas to better capture WIFI signals over long distances, and feature 3 or more antennas for superior coverage across multiple devices. They also have beefy heatsinks to dissipate all the heat that is generated from their high power components. You may not know it, but a WIFI adapter has its own processor chip, memory, and mainboard just like your desktop PC. Spending more money on a WIFI adapter card gets you a product that will be future proof and capable of dishing out high-speed internet access to your computer.
What do the alphabets mean?
When we use the word “WIFI”, we are referring to the IEEE 802.11 standard of communication, and its various revisions/ updates. WI-FI (short for Wireless Fidelity) itself started out as a brand, a trademark of the alliance that promotes and certifies wireless technologies. It uses radio waves to transfer digital data between devices. So when you see the Wi-Fi logo on a device, it is usually accompanied with an alphabet, or a group of alphabets such as a, b, g, n, or ac. These alphabets represent the various revisions or updates to the original 802.11 standard for wireless communication that was introduced way back in 1997.
- The 1997 iteration of 802.11 supported a maximum data rate of 1.2 Mbps and has been obsolete for a long time.
- In 1999, 2 new protocols- a, and b were introduced. A could support up to 54 Mbps, while b protocol supported just 11 Mbps. Another difference was that 802.11a used the 5GHz radio band, while 802.11b used the 2.4GHz band.
- The n protocol, which can still be found in several phones and older laptops from before 2013, introduced even higher bandwidths compared to its predecessor g. It was more robust with wider support across a variety of networking gear.
- Wireless ac is the most sought-after standard today, and can support theoretical speeds up to 7 Gbps. 802.11ac devices utilize both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, for a combination of speed and range. If you didn’t know already, higher frequency gives better data rates but at the cost of range since high-frequency signals get absorbed more easily by obstacles and lose their energy faster over distance. Low frequency (2.4GHz) has less data speed but higher coverage. So if you are purchasing a wireless device right now, make sure it features 802.11ac for maximum speed and versatility.
Will a better WIFI adapter make my internet faster?
No, that is not going to happen. Your internet is what it is- no device in your home will change the speed at which your ISP sends data to your home. If you want faster internet, it is time to consult your service provider. A wired connection is the best way to get the most reliable speed from the internet line coming to your house, but if you are using wireless routers the speed can vary based on the quality of the router and the type of PCIe adapter that you use in your PC. A higher quality WIFI adapter will decrease the signal loss from obstacles, and cover a longer range before signal strength weakens. A WIFI adapter that is more expensive can handle more devices simultaneously while maintaining a better speed on average across all devices.
I have a whole bunch of WIFI devices in my home, which card should I buy?
If you have 6 or more wireless devices connected to the WIFI access point at the same time, we suggest that you purchase the ASUS PCE-AC88 3100Mbps wireless card that we reviewed in our article. Its MU-MIMO technology benefits devices of all kinds by reducing network congestion. And its 4 x 4 dipole antennas improve signal reception even in crowded rooms to give you the maximum realistic speed possible from your internet connection.
Will my computer be compatible with the latest WIFI standards?
Yes, as long as the motherboard in your gaming PC has an empty PCIe x1 expansion slot, you can slide in any of the wireless adapter cards that we reviewed. The Gigabyte one also requires an empty USB header on the motherboard to take advantage of Bluetooth, but you can still operate it in WIFI-only mode if you don’t have a free USB header on your motherboard.
What are MU-MIMO and Beamforming?
MU-MIMO stands for Multi-User, Multiple Input, Multiple Output technology. It is a next-gen wireless ac or Wave-2 ac. When 802.11ac protocol was initially released into the market, early 802.11ac routers and PCIe adapter cards could only communicate with one device at a time. Now you may be thinking, wait a minute- I have like 10 devices connected to the WIFI router in my home, how come you are telling me that my router can only transfer data to one at a time? Well, you see, the router does it sequentially and not in parallel. Your phone, printer, TV, laptop, and game console all talk to the router in a queue of priority. It sends out packets of data to one while the other is waiting. All of this happens so fast that it seems several devices are using the network together.
But in this standard approach, your router’s bandwidth is being wasted. Your phone cannot leverage the whole data rate because it has one antenna, your laptop probably has two antennas, and your router may have 3 or even 4 antennas. It transmits data streams from all 4 antennas simultaneously, so at any given point in time, 2 or even 3 out of those 4 data streams are being wasted. Not with MU-MIMO technology. With MU-MIMO your router can simultaneously stream data to 4 or more devices. So your phone, laptop, and TV combined can access all of the bandwidth from all 4 antennas of the router. No device has to wait in line for the next one. This improves speed in the network and increases efficiency. Learn more about MU-MIMO here in this video.
Beamforming is a technology that extends your Wi-Fi range, reduces interference from surrounding obstacles and devices, while maintaining a more stable connection between the router and your PCIe wireless card. A router without beamforming will send data in a spherical pattern, with radio waves traveling outwards in an expanding pattern, losing signal strength as they travel further. With beamforming, the router scans its surroundings and bounces the waves around intelligently to deliver the wireless signal directly to the device in a straight line. So less signal strength is lost over distance, and you get a more stable connection with higher speeds. You can learn more about Beamforming in this article.
Implicit beamforming is when your router supports beamforming, but your desktop or laptop has a wireless adapter that doesn’t support this technology. You will still get some benefits in terms of speed, but the advantage will be minuscule.
Explicit beamforming is when BOTH your router AND your wireless adapter support beamforming, resulting in a firm handshake between both devices for a much more noticeable boost in internet speeds. Which is why we highly recommend PCIe wireless cards such as the TP-Link Archer T9E and ASUS PCE-AC88. Both of these wireless cards support beamforming, and if you already own a router that supports beamforming, you will notice a massive boost in connection quality and speed while gaming.
Can I use a USB WIFI adapter for gaming?
No, we don’t recommend it. USB wireless dongles or adapters are designed with convenience first, performance second. They are equipped with tiny antennas and weak chipsets, so they fail to deliver borderline acceptable internet speeds after you move like 10 or 15 feet away from your WIFI access point. They are terrible when it comes to latency, and you don’t get the same potential for speed since a USB connection doesn’t support high data transfer rates like a PCI express bus does.
So which one is the Best Wifi Card for Gaming?
No PCIe wireless adapter on our list even comes close to competing with the ASUS PCE-AC88 3100Mbps adapter card. The beefy custom-designed red heatsink and thick mainboard performs better, looks great, and is built like a tank.
The 4 x 4 antenna setup grabs all the bandwidth that your WIFI router can dish out, and transfers that speed straight to your computer through the PCIe bus. But before it does that, the MU-MIMO and beamforming technology kick in to ensure that the incoming signals are of the highest quality, resulting in a connection that isn’t just fast, but also more stable compared to any other PCIe WIFI card that we have ever tested.
Latency is low, download and upload speeds are high. If your home is equipped with a high-speed fiber connection, there is no better way to leverage all that speed than to equip your gaming PC with one of these. Lastly, the ASUS PCE-AC88 can also support older devices that use the 802.11g or 802.11n standards, and it has dual-band capability so you can adjust for more range or higher speeds depending on how large your house is, and how many obstacles there are between you and the router.