When Ethernet is not a viable option, and your other options are delivering speeds way below what your router provides, your PC or laptop can get connected using the best PCIe WiFi card as well.
Having access to a reliable connection is crucial for everyone. Your devices will have either USB ports, Ethernet ports or card holders to help you get connected. Each has its own distinct advantages and disadvantages.
You must be thinking why on Earth you would ever need to be looking for the best PCI wireless card when everything works on your computer. Your computer may need an upgrade, or perhaps it is functioning on a much older wireless standard. This is when PCIe cards come in handy.
For today, we will focus on PCI and PCI-E wireless cards. The BlueGadgetTooth team dived deep into these networking devices, to see why they should be our preferred mode of getting connected.
What Is A PCI WiFi Card
PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) WiFi cards are networking devices that are installed in your computer using the spare PCI expansion slot. These help you get connected to nearby WiFi networks.
There are some devices that do not have the capability to connect to a wireless network. As wireless networks are the most common mode to get connected online, it is important that your device has the capability to get connected. A PCI WiFi card helps your device get connected to a network.
How To Choose The Best PCI & PCI-E WiFi Card
The best PCI or PCI-E wireless card should be chosen with these factors in mind:
If you computer is not receiving a strong signal or you find that your speed is very slow, a wireless card will boost your speeds, offering better throughput.
If your computer is not located close to your router or modem, you could be at a slight disadvantage if you cannot get a strong signal. A PCI card has extra antennas that helps provide a stronger signal, offering better range and coverage without having to wire your entire house or buy WiFi extenders. Simply adjust 2 antennas at 45 degree angles facing away from each other, and point the third one vertically for potentially accessing more data streams.
Antennas come fixed with the wireless card. If your computer is at an awkward location placed against an object, surrounded by walls and other obstacles, you will have no option in adjusting the antennas. Many PCI-E cards allow the antennas to be connected to the card via a cable. This allows you to raise the antennas’ height, placing them away from obstacles to deliver a stronger signal to your computer.
The antennas on a PCI or PCI-E card pick up the signal and boost it, allowing the WiFi range to expand. This is great for people who work at a location which picks up weak signals.
8 Best PCI-E WiFi Cards For PC & Laptop
PCI vs PCI-E (PCI Express) – The Difference
If you have decided to use wireless cards, you will have to finalize between PCI or PCI-E cards. PCI-E is abbreviated for PCI Express, the latest standard.
The latest computers should have space for a PCI-E slot.
PCI-E is faster than PCI: Being the latest standard, PCI-E’s speed is a massive jump from the PCI card. In comparison, a standard PCI slot can deliver 133MB/s, whereas a 16 slow PCI-E can handle speeds up to 16GB/s.
Different Interfaces: PCI-E uses a serial interface, replacing the older parallel interface used by the PCI cards.
Sizes: PCI slot sizes are fixed, making it easy for any device to use. A PCI-E’s slot size can vary depending on the type of PCI-E card being used. Bigger cards can have a maximum of 16 lanes, with each lane delivering 1GB/s, this equalling 16GB/s. While some PCI-E slots will shorter for 1x gadgets.
Popularity: As of now, PCI cards are more commonly used by manufacturers, even though PCI-E cars are far superior, simply because devices have not progressed to super fast internet speeds which warrants the use of a PCI-E card. PCI cards are simpler to use as well.
Reasons To Use A Wireless Network Card
Wireless Network Cards help to pick up a signal better than the networking hardware on your computer. If your computer is located at a spot which experiences poor signal, a wireless network card would be just what you need. You should consider getting a wireless network card if your desktop computer has available PCI slots and you want to keep your USB slots free for other devices.
If you care about the strength of your signal, and have a lot of online activities which involve heavy downloads and uploads, a wireless network card is perfect for you.
1. ASUS Wireless PCI-E Adapter PCE-AC68
The PCE-AC68 is a key player in the wireless card arena, designed for desktop computers.
The PCE-AC68 comes with the card itself and the antennas. The card is well built, better than other wireless cards that are available in the market. The red color is quite attractive, it stands out from the standard circuit board look that other PCI cards have.
The antennas can be attached directly to the card, but having the antennas located at the back of your PC is not the ideal place for them. This is why they can be connected to a separate magnetic base, connected to the card via a meter long cable.
The small sized PCI-E card can be easily inserted into the slot and screwed in if needed. The software for Windows 7 and 8.1 can face a few hurdles as you need the driver for the installation. You can get it on a CD or from their website. Use the Control centre software for connecting to a network and accessing advanced settings.
As of now, we cannot test the limits of the PCE-AC68 as current routers and internet speeds are not that fast. We measured 477Mbps speed at close range on the 802.11ac. Pair this with a powerful router, and you can see the speeds that this best PCIe Wifi card can produce.
Interestingly, the PCE-AC68 does fairly well in longer distances as well. With having a few walls in between the router and the PCE-AC68, we saw speeds of 324Mbps at a distance of at least 40 feet. Performance on the 802.11n was pretty good as well. We saw speeds of 152Mbps. This is overkill for people who are not looking for such a boost in performance.
2. ASUS PCE-AC88 Wireless PCIe Adapter
Quad band networking is finally accessible to desktop computers with the PCE-AC88, making this the best PCI-E WiFi card.
At first glance, the PCE-AC88 looks like a solid networking adapter. It almost looks a little jazzy, with 4 gold antenna connectors located at the front, and the whole PCB being a large heat sink for effective heat dissipation.
The PCE-AC88 has 4 antennas which can be attached either to the card, or to a separate base which can be located on your desk, in better Wifi range. This network adapter is compact in size, available in a half height PCIe 1x format card. The back is heavily shielded which decreases crosstalk in a loaded PC area. This Dual band 4×4 wireless card follows the same design as the PCE-AC68.
The set up process was straightforward, and you can get it up and running with a CD driver that comes with the wireless card. Even updating the drivers online is a piece of cake.
Let’s face it. The only reason you would need to buy a high performance wireless networking adapter like the PCE-AC88 is to boost your network’s performance and get access to better speeds. Well, this PCIe card sure delivers. This is due to the 1024 QAM that works on both 802.11ac and its earlier version of 802.11n.
File transfers were simply off the charts with the PCE-AC88. The speeds shown reached an impressive 862Mbps, the highest speeds we’ve ever seen from a non-wired connection. Of course, if you were close enough, you could just directly wire your device to your modem or router instead of the using the wireless card. The card really starts to shine the further the antenna base and your device is from the router. Amazingly, our transfer rates barely fell, still maintaining an impressive 837Mbps at a distance of 15 feet. When we tested it at a distance of 40 feet, the speed fell to 688Mbps.
3. TP-Link Archer T6E WiFi Adapter
This mid range dual band wireless cars is a great option for those who are looking for the best PCI-E WiFi card without breaking the bank.
The T6E has two detachable antennas that can be replaced with aftermarket options if needed. This black coloured designed wireless card almost looks like it fell off the batmobile. The heat sink covers the entire card, effectively distributing and dissipating heat so that it always works at cooler temperatures.
The installation process is easy. Slot into your computer’s motherboard and ensure that all the latest drivers are installed. This 802.11ac wireless adapter is backwards compatible with all wireless standards.
The Low latency and stable connection provided by the PCE-AC88 is great for gamers. The speeds reached on the 5GHz and 2.4GHz band are impressive for the budget friendly price. It can reach theoretical speeds of a combined total of 1300Mbps.
It may not give you gigabit speeds as yet, but this a great affordable option for those who don’t have the option or finances to get their homes wired.
4. Rosewill RNX PCI-E WiFi Adapter Card
Many claim that this is the best PCI-E Wireless card for PC, hailing in the next generation of WiFi. Let’s check it out.
The combination of black and red is pretty startling and the RNX-AC1900PCE has three external adjustable antennas that can always be replaced with aftermarket options. It has a well designed heat sink, helping the heat generated during use get evenly dissipated easily, allowing the wireless card to run at cooler temperatures.
It uses the most popular wireless standard of 802.11ac, and is also backwards compatible to accommodate any old devices that operate on the older standards of 802.11n, g, b and a.
It is a dual band adapter and delivers combined speeds up to 1900Mbps, with 1300Mbps generated on the 5GHz band and 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz band.
The slim design allows it to be easily installed into your computer’s PCIe slot. The set up process is easy and simple to follow. However, even though we did not face a problem, there have been reports of people who faced issues with Windows 10.
The performance is not affected even if your expansion slots are occupied. If you are using a dedicated graphics card, this wireless card and another PCIe card, then the number of lanes available o you will be lower than what you would have if all expansions lots were unoccupied.
You should ensure that all firmware is updated from the Rosewill website before you go ahead with the installation process to ensure that it runs smooth once set up.
Our internet experience with the RNX-AC1900PCE revealed lightning fast speeds, that would help any gamer if they have no option of getting their devices wired. It provided a reliable connection and maintained consistent download and upload speeds.
Watching HD video, online gaming, any online activity faces no buffering, lag times, or dropped connections.
5. ASUS AC55BT WiFi PCIe Adapter Card
This dual band wireless networking card can deliver speeds up to 1200Mbps on both bands.
When compared to other PCIe WiFi cards, the AC55BT doesn’t stand out that much. The circuit board looks just that and there is no heat sink designed to effectively combat the wireless card heating up. This may cause a problem if you use it constantly, but we didn’t face any problems.
The external antenna base feels like it is constructed from cheap plastic and doesn’t stand out in terms of design. However, having a separate base for the 2 antennas ensure you get better connectivity. The gold antenna connectors are sturdy build and the wires are all included in the package.
The set up process is basically Plug and Play. Check that all your drivers are updated and you’re good to go. Just allow your OS to do all the heavy lifting. If, at any point, you are confused, you should follow the downloaded software that came with the CD.
The AC55BT performs very well on the 5GHz band, less crowded than the 2.4GHz band. We tested network speeds on an online Speed test, which revealed comparable speeds with Ethernet and the wireless card.
As our computers enabled the wireless network card and the in-built Ethernet to operate simultaneously, we could forward ports to wireless to avoid reconfiguring your wireless router.
The Bluetooth capability is a nice feature and it was working flawlessly with our wireless keyboard.
6. Gigabyte GC-WB867D-I WiFi Card
There is no fluff when it comes to the GC-WB867D-I. It is pure form follows function, with the bare bones of all the technology laid out. There is no heat sink design, but we don’t foresee the wireless card heating up any time soon.
It has one antenna, which can be detached and placed and adjusted on an external magnetic antenna base. This helps to amplify the wireless signal to your computer. The build quality of the antenna is sturdy and you can adjust the angle from 90 degrees to laying it absolutely flat.
The card itself is coloured in green and aluminum, there has clearly been no extra effort placed into making it look visually appealing, but when it is going to be hidden in your computer anyway, it makes sense to save on design costs to deliver a more affordably priced PCIe WiFi card.
This is a simple Plug and Play model, removing any surprises you may come across. The installation process doesn’t take much time and is pretty straightforward. In fact, as soon as it is plugged in, it works perfectly within minutes. It is easily recognized by Windows 10, so you should face no problems on your computer.
The range of the GC-WB867D-I is brilliant and goes above and beyond of what you may expect. You can easily stream 4k HD video or HD online gaming, without breaking a sweat. We faced no dropped signals, and honestly haven’t worried about wireless since we started using it.
7. EDUP EP-9607 PCI-E Wireless Adapter Card
We liked the simplicity in design of the EP-9607. Black with gold elements, there are no extra or unnecessary components. This also negates the need for a heat sink design, as having a simplified design avoids overheating.
It has two external adjustable antennas, which can be replaced with aftermarket options if you want to replace these High Gain WiFi antennas. They can be rotated around 360 degrees, allowing you to receive the best Wifi signal.
The installation process was simple and easy. All you have to do is insert the wireless network card into an empty PCIe slot in your computer. You do have to ensure that all drivers are fully updated before you start installing the wireless network card. As this is a PCIe card, it will only work on the PCIe slot, and will not work on a PCI slot.
You get an installation disk with the package so get all the drivers you need in one go. It didn’t feel as easy as a Plug and Play though.
Even though the router was placed 60 feet away from our computer, it managed to pick up the signal with 80% of max signal strength. It eliminated dead spots and we found no lagging or poor signals with the EP-9607. It definitely provides a stable connection that will enable anyone to stream HD videos or game online uninterrupted.
8. BrosTrend 1200Mbps PCIe WiFi Card
A relatively new entry into the wireless networking world, Bros products tend to have a solid fan following. We tested the BrosTrend PCIe card to find out why.
The PCIe WiFi card comes with two 5dBi external antennas and a magnetic base as well as the card itself. The card is 4 x 5 inches in size. It looks sturdy and well-built, with a softer red design. It also has an extra low profile metal bracket to install on a small form factor desktop PC. The card is power through the PCI Express slot that you will find on your motherboard, so there is no external power supply needed for this card.
As for the antennas, they can be connected to the card through a cable connected to a magnetic base. This is preferred to trying to attach them directly onto your computer, where they would not be able to pick up a solid signal. You also can screw any antenna upgrade into the card directly if you do not want to use the antenna base, but would like to try out an aftermarket antenna.
The antennas that come with it can be moved in any direction, vertically or horizontally, to help you direct them toward your router for the best signal possible.
To set up the PCI card, the included instructions are easy to follow. You just need to install if on your motherboard and load the driver that is included on the CD that comes with it. If you do not have a disc drive, you should be able to download the driver off of the manufacturer’s website. The correct driver is a Realtek one.
The performance on this PCIe is fantastic, giving you a stable and reliable signal for a long distance, even when there are structures in the way. We found the distance can reach about 100 feet comfortably and still deliver a stable signal.
We even tested it by seeing how far the signal could reach from our router and found that the signal stayed steady, even when separated by three walls and at a distance of 100 feet.
The card boasts that it can take advantage of the latest 802.11 AC WiFi and PCI Express network interface technology, and it is right. This will be able to utilize your WiFi to its maximum speed. It also will work well on either the 5GHz or 2.4GHz bands.
WiFi Card vs USB Adapter – Which One Is Better
Both wireless cards and USB adapters can get you online. Read on to know the differences between the two.
PCI adapters have been used from the beginning since wireless connections were a thing. You just have to plug the wireless card into the PCI slot in your computer to maximise your signal. The antennas on the PCI cards can be adjusted to capture the signal.
As PCI cards have antennae, they are more suited to gaining access to a stronger signal than USB adapters. Most PCI cards come with at least 2 to 3 antenna attached. A huge plus point to PCI cards is that their antenna can be easily detached from the card and replaced with a better antenna that can pick up the signal. This option may not be available for many USB adapters.
Using a PCI card keeps your USB slots free for other uses. USB adapters can heat up with a lot of internet usage, while PCI cards can handle the data transfers with ease.
These are newer as compared to PCI cards and were not as well received. Their popularity has grown over the years due to their ease of installation. Just plug in the adapter into your USB port and you’re good to go!
You need to open up your computer to add the PCI slot, which is more work, leaving with you a slight chance you could do something wrong if you don’t know what you’re doing.
There are various types of USB adapters, some of which come with a cradle – where you can extend your adapter with a USB cable that plugs into your computer, with the adapter being in a cradle. This can be placed at a distance away from your computer, where the strongest signal is available. This is similar to a PCI antenna extension.
Also, most laptops these days are equipped with a WiFi adapter in built into their hardware. If damaged, it is hard to fix without professional help. There are not many laptops that come equipped with a PCI slot, while USB ports are still very common.
Which Is Better?
If you don’t want to deal with the hassle of installing a PCI card and are looking for convenience– a USB adapter is a good choice. However, if you want better wireless speed, strength and coverage, you should go for a wireless card.
PCI-E Connection, Size and Pins
There are versions to PCI Express cards – Version 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0. Fortunately, the latest versions are all backwards compatible.
Different PCI-E sizes have different number of pins. If these numbers confuse you, don’t worry about it. The cards will easily fit in your PCIe slot. The 11th pin is always left unused. After this pin, ‘x’ amount of pins can be added by the manufacturer.
To briefly share info on PCIe card pins and sizes:
How To Install A PCI-E WiFi Card
It may not be as easy as installing a USB adapter, but trust us, it sounds more complicated than it actually is.
Step 1: Turn off your computer’s power
Step 2: Open up your computer’s removable back panel
Step 3: See where your PCIe slot is located
Step 4: Remove your PCIe default protective plating
Step 5: Push in your PCIe card into the slot
Step 6: Install the wireless card by screwing it in with the screws from the protective plating in Step 4.
Step 7: Screw in the antennas which came with your wireless network card
Step 8: Place the removable panel back and close it up. Turn on your computer and ensure that all drivers are installed.
PCI: (Peripheral Component Interconnect). These slots are found on your computer’s motherboard and used to get connected wirelessly when used with a PCI card. This was popular a decade or 2 back
PCI-E: (Peripheral Component Interconnect Express). This is the newer version of PCI and delivers faster speeds
USB Adapter: (Universal Serial Bus) – This is an alternate mode of getting connected wirelessly instead of using PCI cards
802.11ac: This is one of the newest IEEE wireless standards and it uses the 5GHz band. IT is backwards compatible with older wireless standards
802.11n: This is an older wireless standard and can use both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands
Dual Band: Device that can utilize both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands
AC3100/N300: The alphabets refer to the wireless standard explained above. The numbers refer to the combined theoretical data of all bands
5GHz: Faster frequency which faces less interference than the 2.4GHz frequency
2.4GHz: Most popular frequency and provides better range but faces more interference due to having only 3 overlapping channels
In conclusion, using a wireless network card is a great way to get your device connected to a wireless network. It offers speeds which are competitive with being wired.
Although the installation process takes a little more effort than a USB adapter, it offers far superior range and performance. Being able to position your antennas in any direction ensures you get better signal.
Out of the 7 cards reviewed in this guide, the ASUS PCE-AC88 ranked top in High Performance category as the best PCI-E WiFi card. It has all the top-notch features you would want, like 4 external detachable antennas, Beamforming technology and runs on the 802.11ac standard.
Of course, if you are confused on which is the best PCIe wireless card adapter for you, you should simply go for our Editor’s Choice – the ASUS PCE-AC68. It has nearly all the features the AC88 has to offer, but is available at a cheaper price.
If you are looking for basic wireless for your computer and you are not looking for a card for top performance, you should buy the Archer T6E. The 2.4GHz frequency on this card provides better coverage range and doesn’t break the bank.
You can also opt to go for a USB Adapter, but you will be compromising on performance and coverage just for the sake of convenience.