USB 2.0 vs USB 3.0 Wireless Adapters – What’s the Difference?

USB 2.0 vs USB 3.0 Wireless Adapters

USB 2.0 vs USB 3.0 Wireless Adapters

There is one key difference between USB 2.0 and USB 3.0: (and it's pretty obvious)... USB 3.0 is much faster than USB 2.0.

USB 3.0 was released in 2008, around 8 years after USB 2.0. If you think about how much other technology grew in that time span; CD to MP3, dialup to broadband etc, you will have a good idea about the kind of difference we are looking at.

The question is, how much of this speed increase will pass over to you, the user? And is it really worth upgrading if you already have a USB 2.0 adapter?

What Are USB 3.0 Wireless Adapters?

Unless your computer has built-in wireless connectivity, the chances are that you are using a wired Ethernet cable to connect to the internet. If this is the case you will be missing out on many of the advantages of having a wifi network.

One way to take advantage of your wifi network with a non connected computer is to use a USB wireless adapter. These adapters come two forms. These are the older form, USB 2.0 and the newer form, which is USB 3.0.

As such, a USB 3.0 wireless adapter is an adapter that uses USB 3.0 technology to allow a non wifi connected computer or laptop to connect to a wireless network.

This, in turn, allows you to connect your computer to all the features of the network, which could include the internet, printers, scanners and more. It will also give you the freedom to use these network features from anywhere within range of your wireless router.

The fact that these adapters connect via the USB port on your computer means that they are incredibly easy to set up, cheap to buy, and can be used on pretty much any computer out there.

USB 3.0 is the latest version of USB software.

It improved upon USB 2.0 in a number of ways. These include a new transfer type called SuperSpeed and unidirectional data paths to receive and transmit data. This, in turn, means that USB 3.0 is able to transfer data much faster than USB 2.0.

When this technology is used in a wireless adapter, it means that the computer is able to transfer data with the network at higher speeds. This means that you will be able to transfer files faster and potentially get a faster internet connection (we're talking at least 100Mbps Internet connections here).

Is USB 3.0 Better Than USB 2.0?

The short answer here is yes.

USB 3.0 allows a much faster transfer of data than USB 2.0. While USB 2.0 can generally deliver around 480Mbps of data, USB 3.0 can transfer data up to ten times faster than that. It should be noted that these speeds are theoretical and the speeds you actually get may well be slower than mentioned here.

The longer answer, however, is it depends. And it depends on a whole number of different factors including:

The USB ports on your computer

First, what USB ports to you have on your computer? You can buy the fastest, most expensive USB 3.0 wireless adapter in the world, but if your computer only has USB 2.0 ports, then that is how fast you will be going.

While USB ports are backward compatible, USB 3.0 ports work with USB 2.0 adapters and vice versa, if both your port and your adapter aren’t USB 3.0 you will be stuck at with the slower speeds of USB 2.0.

Therefore it is only really worth upgrading to USB 3.0 if you know the ports on your computer are USB 3.0 compatible.

Your router speed

Secondly, how fast is your router? There are many different wireless router standards out there which all run at different speeds and this will affect the speeds your USB wireless adapter will be able to receive.

While USB 3.0 is compatible with 802.11ac standard wireless routers, if your wireless router runs an older standard then despite having a USB 3.0 adapter, you will not see as much of an improvement as you would otherwise.

The speed of your internet

Finally, how fast is your internet itself? If your internet service provider is providing you with a slow connection speed, despite having USB 3.0 ports and adapters, and an 802.11ac wireless router, unfortunately, your internet speeds will still be limited somewhat.

Having said that, if you are using your network connection for other things as well as the internet, such as transferring files, you will still see benefits from having a USB 3.0 port, adapter, and an 802.11ac wireless router.

Basically, it is worth checking your whole network and the types of speeds and connections you already have before splashing out on a USB 3.0 adapter.

What Are PCI Wireless Cards?

Like a USB wireless adapter, a PCI wireless card allows a computer to connect to a wireless network.

Where a PCI wireless card differs from a USB wireless adapter, however, is that a PCI card is built into the computer itself, connecting directly to the computer's PCI bus.

Usually, the only sign that a PCI wireless card is connected is that there are often a couple of antennas sticking out the back of the computer.

Wireless USB vs PCI: Which Is Better?

Wireless USB adapters and PCI wireless cards both have their own advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, deciding which is better for you will again come down to a variety of different factors:

The computer you want to connect to your network

The first and easiest thing to consider when choosing a USB or PCI adapter is the type of computer you have. If it is a laptop that you want to connect to the network, then the chances are that a PCI wireless card quite simply won’t work with your computer.

Even if it does, you will end up with some unsightly antennas sticking out of your laptop, which when considering that laptops are usually built for portability, isn’t exactly ideal.

It is best really if you have a laptop to just stick with buying a USB wireless adapter.


The second thing to think about is whether you want to go through the trouble of installing a PCI card. While there are people out there with the correct tech know-how that will have no problem fixing a PCI wireless card to a computer, for the average person this can be a bit of a hassle.

On the other hand, installing a USB wireless adapter is as simple as plugging the adapter into your USB port and waiting the few seconds that it takes for your system to automatically install the adapter.

How strong a connection you need

You may be wondering then what the point in installing a PCI adapter is? Well, it does of course have its uses. While in terms of speed a USB 3.0 adapter and PCI wireless card will be fairly similar, due to their huge antennas PCI wireless cards are usually able to deliver this speed over a much longer distance.

This means that even if your computer and wireless router are far away, you should still be able to get a high-speed connection (or at least higher than you would with a USB adapter).

What does a wireless router do?

So, USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 on my Wi-Fi?

In conclusion, whether you choose a USB 2.0, 3.0 or a PCI wireless network card when looking to connect your computer to your wireless network will ultimately come down to a number of different factors.

Your other equipment, convenience, and technical know-how will all factor into your choice.

The simplest and cheapest option may well just be to buy a USB 2.0 adapter which will allow you to connect to your network by simply plugging in into your computer.

Netgear AC1200 A6200 USB Adapter
USB 3.0 vs USB 2.0 - Netgear AC1200 A6200 USB Adapter
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If you have all the correct equipment a USB 3.0 adapter will allow you to easily connect to your network while giving you the added benefit of higher speeds.

USB 3.0 Wi-Fi Adapter: Netgear AC1200 A6210
USB 3.0 vs USB 2.0 - Netgear AC1200 A6210 USB 3.0
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If you have a PC and need high speeds mixed with performance over a greater distance, and you don’t mind a bit of setup time, a PCI wireless card could offer the best overall performance.

PCI Wireless Card: Asus AC1900 PCE-AC68 Adapter
USB 3.0 vs USB 2.0 - Asus Dual-Band Wireless AC1900 PCE-AC68 Card
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If you've got a PC, and you want to avoid USB to get your wireless fix, then check out our guide to the best PCI wireless cards.

Hopefully, you have found our guide to the different types of wireless adapters useful. If you have any questions please comment below and if you know someone who may find this info useful please share it on your favorite social media service.

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