There are a number of ways to connect your desktop computer to your local network.
These include via Ethernet cables, via wireless adapters and via PCI Wireless cards. Each of these methods has its own distinct advantages and disadvantages but today we will take a look at PCI & PCI-E Wireless cards.
Top Picks: Best PCI Wireless Cards
You can read more about these wireless cards below, or click the links above to take you straight to the product on Amazon.
PCI Wireless Cards
PCI Wireless cards are devices that are installed on your computer and they allow you to connect to a wireless network.
Nowadays as Wi-Fi is pretty much the most common way to connect to the internet and other networks, it is generally quite important that your computer has Wi-Fi capability. A PCI Wireless card is, therefore, one way to connect a PC that doesn’t already have wireless capability to the internet wirelessly.
Why Use A Wireless Network Card?
The most obvious reason to use a wireless network card is to allow a PC that doesn’t already have wireless connectivity to connect to wireless networks.
While an Ethernet cable is a solid way to connect to a local network and in some cases, such as for high intensity gaming, the best case, it is often not practicable to have wires running throughout your house.
A wireless network card however will allow you to connect to your network, wirelessly from anywhere within range of your wireless router.
There are some occasions where using a wireless card is not the best option however. For example, if your PC is a laptop computer.
This is because most laptops either don’t allow you to connect a wireless card or even if they do the size and antennas found in a wireless card would ruin a laptop’s portability.
Wireless Card vs USB Adapter - Is a PCI Wi-Fi Card Better Than a USB Adapter
Both wireless cards and USB adapters have their plus points and negative points.
First let’s take a look at USB adapters. If you want the simplest way possible to connect a computer without wireless capabilities to a wireless network then a wireless adapter is certainly the way to go.
The only setup generally involved is plugging the adapter into the computer. The computer should then install all the correct files and you will generally be able to connect to a wireless network within seconds of plugging the device in.
USB wireless adapters are also good for laptop computers. These smaller portable computers often don’t have the space or features required to allow a PCI card to be installed so a wireless adapter is often the way to go.
Recommended USB Adapter: Netgear AC1200 A6210
There are certain occasions however when wireless cards are the best choice to make. If for example your computer is a bit further away from your router and you struggle to get a consistent signal, the extra antennas on a PCI card mean that you will often get a much stronger signal which can boost coverage distance.
Of course you also get the benefits of having an extra USB slot if you use a wireless card.
It is also worth noting the difference between USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 adapters. If you are using a USB 2.0 adapter a wireless card will likely give you a much higher throughput and as such you should get a faster connection.
The difference between the latest USB 3.0 adapters and a wireless card is, however, less likely to be as pronounced.
PCI or PCI-E, Does It Matter?
If you do choose to use a wireless card to connect to your wireless network you will still have to choose between a PCI and a PCI-E (PCI Express) card.
Let’s take a look to see if there is likely to be any difference between the two formats.
PCI-E is the newer standard and if you have a recently bought computer you will likely have space for a PCI-E slot.
PCI-E cards offer more bandwidth than PCI cards and because of this it may seem like a great idea to buy one of these cards.
However, before you do, it should be noted that both PCI cards and PCI-E cards offer more than enough bandwidth to be optimised for wireless internet, as the speed on offer generally isn’t as fast as the speeds they can handle.
It could perhaps be worth buying a PCI-E card if you're doing a lot of local network file transfers but for general internet use it won’t matter which type you use.
How to Install A Wireless PCI Card
Despite being harder than installing a USB adapter, installing a wireless card isn’t as hard as you may think.
However, it does involve opening up your computer so you should check out how that will affect your warranty before doing it. If you are unsure what to do, it is probably worth getting an expert to do it for you.
Here is the simple process required to install a wireless network card.
1. Turn off your computer
While it may seem obvious, this step is always mentioning as you can do your computer and yourself some real damage if you mess about with a computer without turning off the power.
2. Open your computer case
Most computers have a removable panel you can remove to get into your computer. It is worth checking your computer’s manual before doing this to make sure you don’t damage your computer.
3. Identify your PCI/PCI E slot
This is where you will have to install your wireless card. If you are unsure of its whereabouts again check the manual.
4. Remove the protective plate
Usually there will be a protective plate over the PCI slot. This can usually be removed by simply unscrewing the plate.
5. Align your wireless network card and the PCI slot and push in the card
Make sure all the important bits are aligned and that the chips are facing the bottom of the case. After this simply push the card into the slot.
6. Screw the wireless card back in
Using the screws from the protective plate in step four, fix the wireless card in place.
7. Attach the antennas
Your wireless card should have come with some antennas. Now is the time to screw these in place.
Here's a handy video demonstrating how to install a PCI wifi card...
8. Close the computer and finish!
Now your card is successfully installed, simply close your computer and turn the PC back on. The final step is to install the drivers which will be an automatic process if you use Windows 8 or above. You may require a CD to install the drivers if you use Windows 7, although we'd be surprised if Windows 7 couldn't find the drivers for you!
5 Best PCI-E Wireless Cards For Your PC
Asus Dual-Band Wireless AC1900 PCE-AC68 Card
This is a superfast adapter capable of delivering transfer speeds of up to 1.3Gbps. It is dual band and includes fully flexible external antennas so you are more likely to be able to keep a consistent connection.
If your computer is further away this card also comes with an extendable external antenna which can be perfect if you have struggled to get good connections with other cards.
TP-Link Archer T9E AC1900 Card
The TP-Link Archer also uses the 802.11ac wireless standard which means you can theoretically get speeds of up to 1300Mbps using this adapter.
It has beamforming technology which can improve the strength of your connection over longer distances as well as three external antennas.
Basically this is a great PCI card and for gamers who need to use a wireless connection, this is one of the best options.
TP-Link N900 TL-WDN4800 Dual Band Card
This Dual Band adapter uses the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands to give you speeds of up to 450Mbps. While not as fast as the above two wireless cards it should still be fast enough to allow you to stream video and play online games (just don't expect the best experience - other cards are better!).
It is easy to install, comes with WPA/WPA2 for advanced security and also has three external antennas to give you a solid connection all around the house.
It is certainly not a top of the range model but nonetheless a good way to get your computer connected to wireless networks.
Rosewill RNX-AC1900PCE Dual Band AC1900 Card
This wireless card from Rosewill is another high end product that uses the 800.11ac Wi-Fi standard. It therefore offers theoretical speeds of up to 1300Mbps on the 5Ghz band and 600Mbps on the 2.4Ghz band.
As with other high-end products on the list it offers beamforming technology and three external antennas for a consistent connection and some solid security features like WPA/WPA2 to keep your network safe.
It also is built with a heatsink to dissipate heat and stop the product from overheating when under intense use.
Trendnet Wireless N150 TEW-703PIL Low Profile Card
This card is less powerful than many on the list but nonetheless offers some good features that could make this a solid buy if you are on a budget or don’t need superfast internet.
It has theoretical top speed of 150Mbps which is much less than all of the other cards on this list but will nonetheless get your computer connected to a wireless network.
It has a detachable antenna, wireless encryption and is compatible with all versions of Windows since Windows XP.
PCI-E Wifi Cards In Short
To conclude, a wireless card can be a great way to connect a desktop computer to a wireless network. They offer quick speeds, good range and are relatively easy to assemble if you don’t mind doing a bit of work.
Of the cards we have looked at today, each one has positive features and reasons for you to buy that specific card.
If you are after the best possible performance for your card, then the Asus AC1900 PCE-AC68 could well be the way to go. It has all the top of the range features you could need such as 802.11ac, beamforming technology and three external antennas.
Of the cheaper options for people who just want to get their computer connected to a network, the TP-Link N900 offers a solid set of features at a reasonable price.
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