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Wi-Fi adapter USB 2.0 or USB 3.0: know the differences and which is better

The main manufacturers of network equipment such as routers, switches, WiFi access points and more, also have in their portfolio this type of device that is so useful for users, and it is the cheapest and easiest way to provide WiFi or update the WiFi from our computer. However, we must look at its technical characteristics before buying one, because there are several types and, depending on our needs, we must buy one or the other.

What to look for when buying one

When buying a WiFi adapter, we must look at several very important aspects. Depending on the features we choose, we will have greater coverage and wireless performance, or lower WiFi performance, so it is very important to know what specifications we have available.

WiFi standard used

Nowadays we can find WiFi adapters that only support the WiFi 4 standard. We must remember that the WiFi 4 standard can work both in the 2.4GHz band and in the 5GHz band, however, generally if a device uses the 802.11 standard, it does not WiFi 4 will work only and exclusively in the 2.4GHz band. This frequency band has greater coverage but a lower real speed, mainly due to the width of the channel and interference with other WiFi networks.

There are also WiFi adapters that are WiFi 5, in this case they are generally selectable dual band, that is, they can connect to the 2.4GHz band (with the WiFi 4 standard) and also to the 5GHz band (with the WiFi standard). WiFi 5). These types of WiFi adapters are the most popular today and the ones you should buy, because they are great value for money and will provide you with excellent performance.

Finally, we have the WiFi 6 adapters, which the manufacturers already have ready for sale very soon, although there are some models that are already on the market. WiFi 6 is still a very new technology, for this reason it is rare to see too much variety, for example, all PCIe WiFi adapters are based on the Intel AX200 or Intel AX210 chipset (with WiFi 6E), however, in WiFi adapters we will see Realtek chipset.

Supported frequency bands

It is very important to check if the WiFi adapter that we are going to buy supports both frequency bands, that is, 2.4GHz and 5GHz. If we have selectable dual band, we have the possibility of connecting to any current WiFi network, except if they use the WiFi 6E standard with the 6GHz band, but currently there are no USB WiFi adapters that support this 6GHz frequency band, we only have the Intel AX210 which is internal PCIe in computers.

Depending on the WiFi standard and the class, we can check if it is compatible with the two frequency bands. If it supports the 802.11b/g/n standards, it means that it supports 2.4GHz, and if it also supports 802.11ac, it means that it supports the 5GHz band, since the latter standard is only capable of working in the 5GHz band. Our recommendation is to buy a WiFi adapter that is dual band selectable.

External or internal antennas

A USB WiFi adapter can have internal or external antennas. If you are not going to connect too far from the WiFi access point or WiFi router, then you can buy a WiFi adapter with internal antennas without problems, you will get very good coverage and great speed. In the event that you are going to connect in places far away from the router, then our recommendation is that you buy a WiFi adapter with external antennas, because they generally have greater gain and you will get better reception.

There are WiFi cards that have several external WiFi antennas, this is ideal to achieve the best possible performance thanks to MIMO, and there are even models that have an internal antenna and another external antenna, to get the best of “both worlds”, in this way , it will behave excellently in places close to the router, and also in places far away.

Once we know the main characteristics that we should look at when buying a WiFi card, we must pay special attention to whether the card interface is USB 3.0 or USB 2.0, because the WiFi performance that we are going to achieve will depend on it. with our adapter.

With USB 3.0 or USB 2.0 interface?

The low-mid range WiFi adapters they usually incorporate a USB 2.0 interface, and the reason is clear: the speed of the USB 2.0 interface is up to 480 theoretical Mbps, but this type of WiFi adapter will not be able to provide us with more than approximately 200Mbps. We must take into account the real speed that we will get with the WiFi adapter, and that is that if we buy an N300 class adapter, it means that we can get up to 300Mbps of theoretical speed in the 2.4GHz band, but in real life we ​​will get about 150 -200 Mbps approximately, so the USB 2.0 interface is more than enough to provide these speeds.

If we have an AC600 class WiFi adapter with the WiFi 5 standard, some manufacturers choose to put a USB 2.0 interface and others a USB 3.0 interface, it does not matter if we have one interface or another because we will not reach approximately 400 Mbps with this type of devices, having a single antenna. In these cases we should read analyzes of these WiFi adapters and check what performance they are capable of providing us, if we see that it does not exceed 300 Mbps, it does not matter that it has USB 2.0 because the limitation is not from the interface itself.

If we have a WiFi adapter that uses the WiFi 5 standard and is AC1200 class or higher, in these cases it is absolutely necessary that it has a USB 3.0 interface, because we will be able to achieve speeds greater than 500 real Mbps via WiFi, so USB interface would be bottleneck. There are AC1900 class WiFi adapters, with which we achieve speeds of up to 700 real Mbps without many problems, so in these cases we are well above the USB 2.0 interface, so the manufacturer directly puts a USB 3.0 interface.

It does not matter which interface a WiFi adapter uses, the most important thing is the WiFi class whatever, because the manufacturer will put USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 where appropriate. The most critical thing is in cases where we have a WiFi card of AC600 class or similar, because there are manufacturers that put USB 2.0 and others USB 3.0, in these cases it would be necessary to check if the real performance that we will achieve between one model or another is substantial, to opt for the fastest.

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