Having a PC and wanting to connect to a wireless network will often require some sort of hardware. Not many PCs can access a wireless network, most of them have a simple network port only. In this article, you will find the best PCI-E WiFi card that will give you wireless access as well as maybe save you some money.
The Best PCI-E WiFi Card is the Asus PCE-AC56/68/88
There are a lot of brands when it comes to networks and finding the best one is not easy. However, I’ve been using Asus for many years and that is why I recommend them when I can. This is the case for PCI-E WIFI cards as well.
Asus has a series of PCI-E WiFi cards, and I would say that these are the only, and best options, to get if you want a WIFI card. They can all be found on Amazon:
There is not much that’s different between those, except for how many antennas they come with, as well as the speed. However, these two points are the most important ones, that will give you the signal strength and the speed of the network. Down below, I will discuss the differences more but let’s first, let’s go over the features these three PCI-E WIFI cards have in common.
External Antenna with Magnet. All these cards can have the antenna mounted directly on the card. But they also come with an external antenna-mount, that lets you get the antennas closer to the router. The mount is also magnetized, so it’s possible to mount it on the side of the computer, which will give better signals than if the antennas are mounted on the back of your pc.
Full AC-Standard Support. Whatever of these cards that you buy, they all support the ac standard or WIFI 5 as it’s also called. It is no longer the latest technology as of 2018, but you most likely do not have a router that supports that standard, which is named ax, or WIFI 6. The ac standard is still very fast and will be more than enough for years to come.
Plug & Play with Windows 10. Today, most people are running Windows 10 on their computers. This is good because when any of these cards have been installed, Windows 10 will automatically find drivers for them and get them up and running. If you have Windows 7, you will have to download drivers from Asus website.
- Click here for drivers for PCE-AC56
- Click here for drivers for PCE-AC68
- Click here for drivers for PCE-AC88
Low Profile Bracket. Not all computers are equal and there are two sizes for a PCI card. The standard size is what most graphics cards have and “normal-sized” computer cases. But then there are other PCs, often office computers, that are much smaller. For these types of computers, Asus is providing a smaller bracket, called low profile bracket. It’s nice not being limited.
LED on the Back for Network Activity. On the back of each PCI-E WIFI card, you will find a small led that will notify you if there is network traffic between the computer and the router. This is great, especially for troubleshooting if something would go wrong.
The looks of the PCI cards. These network cards stick out with their red PCB and heatsink. At first glance, they look great, until you remember that the nice-looking heatsink will be downwards in your computer and you will only see the red PCB. It would have been better if it was black, as that would fit into more computers, especially gaming computers.
The Best Asus PCE-AC for You
WIFI is very hard to predict because there are so many factors that can change the outcome. Like how many walls is it between the computer and the router, and what type of walls is it? How many other WIFI networks is it around your home? Is there anything interfering with the wifi?
To help you out, here are some unique features and good use-cases for each specific card, and thus, you can make your own decision to which card you need for your computer.
Asus PCE-AC56 – Great for Web Browsing When Close to Router
The smallest card of the three is the Asus PCE-AC56. It comes with two antennas that are mounted on the back of your computer, or on the external mount that comes with the card. The speed of the AC56 is a total of 1 267mbit/s with 400mbit/s on the 2.4GHz band and 867mbit/s on the 5GHz band.
The speed is not amazing but will most likely work for most people that this card is good for. IF you are mainly browsing the web on your computer, watching some YouTube-videos and do some gaming that doesn’t require the best connection to the internet, this is a good card to get. I would say that you should sit no further than 5 meters (16.5 ft) from the router to get the best experience.
If you have an internet speed that is less than 100mbit/s from your ISP (Internet Service Provider), this is also a good purchase. As the speed isn’t that high, you will not pay extra for speed that you will not be able to use, saving you some money instead.
Click here to find the Asus PCE-AC56 on Amazon
Asus PCE-AC68 – Stable 100mbit at 10-meter Range
In the middle, we have one of the most popular PCI WIFI cards. This is the Asus PCE-AC68 and it comes with three antennas, that will provide you with a stronger signal to the WIFI. This card also provides better speeds than the AC56 with a total of 1900Mbit/s where 600Mbit/s is for the 2.4GHz while 1300Mbit/s over 5GHz.
This card is good if you are playing games on your computer where you need internet access all the time. This card doesn’t drop out and with the above speeds, you are sure to have a good connection to the router, especially if you use the external antenna mount that comes with the card.
This card is good if your computer is around 10 meters (33 ft) away and the card can also handle a wall or two. It’s great if you live in an apartment where it can often be concrete walls, which are very good at blocking WIFI signals. It’s also a good card to get if you have an internet speed above 100Mbit/s as this card can make sure of it.
Click here to find the Asus PCE-AC68 on Amazon
Asus PCE-AC88 – Stream & Game with High Speeds
If only the best is good enough for you, the Asus PCE-AC88 is the PCI-E WIFI card to get. It comes with four antennas and speeds that are way above the other cards. It has a total speed of 3167Mbit/s where 1000Mbit/s is over 2.4GHz and 2167Mbit/s is over 5GHz.
This card can handle whatever you are throwing at it, no matter what it is. Playing an online game with your friends while watching a stream on the side? Sure, go ahead, as long as your internet speed allows it, you are good to go. This card will not limit you in any way.
The AC88 WIFI card also supports 4×4 MU-MIMO which means that if your router supports the same, you might reach the above speeds between your computer and the router (depending on your setup of course). The connection will also be more stable, and this would be as close as you can get to be using a cable.
Click here to find the Asus PCE-AC88 on Amazon
What is PCI-E & Why is it Better than USB?
Most of the time, when someone wants to get a wireless adapter, they think about a simple USB stick that you connect to your computer and you’re set. The big disadvantage with that is that you are not getting fast speeds, the stability is questionable and on top of that, USB ports don’t grow on trees. The solution to all of it is a PCI WIFI card instead.
PCI is an interface inside the computer. It stands for Peripheral Component Interconnect and has been used as far back as the 90s. At the beginning of the 2000s, a new version called PCI Express came and it has been the standard ever since.
PCI-E is a port on motherboards inside the computer that allows you to connect multiple expansion cards, thus expanding the features and functions of the pc. The most common card that computers have is a graphics card, that will provide better graphics than the onboard graphics gives. Other types of common cards are USB extension cards, LAN network cards and of course, WIFI cards.
The big advantage of using a PCI-E network card instead of USB is power and signal strength. Looking at USB WIFI adapters, they are often small with a built-in antenna or maybe one external antenna. The power of a USB port can’t handle anymore and the power is usually not enough to give a stable connection when streaming or gaming.
A PCI-E WIFI card is much better than that. PCI-E can give much more power, making it no problem for a WIFI card to have two, three or even four antennas. These cards can often take advantage of MU-MIMO (if supported by the router) which will provide a much more stable and faster connection. It’s more like built-in WIFI than external when connected with PCI-E. Yes, it does cost a little more, but it will save you a lot of time and trouble.
What MU-MIMO is & Why Your Router Should Have it
When talking about wireless technology, something that comes up quite often is MU-MIMO. It’s short for Multi-User, Multiple-Input & Multiple-Output (short and catchy). It’s most common when talking about routers, and if your router supports this technology, congratulations.
Older routers, that doesn’t support this technology, works by serving one device at the time. If you have four devices that need internet, say a tv streaming Netflix, a PC playing an online game and two smartphones watching YouTube or just surfing the web, they will have to share on one router. This router will work as much as it can to serve all these devices, but it can only serve one at the time.
This is what happens when a game is lagging or a stream is buffering, the router can’t keep up with all the requests from devices and it has to prioritize which device that should get internet access. This is not working in 2019 when most homes have 5-10 devices that need internet at the same time.
Time for MU-MIMO to step in. If the router supports this technology, it will be able to keep up with multiple devices at the same time. MU-MIMO can be found with three different setups, 2×2, 3×3 or 4×4. What this means is that a router that supports MU-MIMO 2×2 can handle two outgoing connections and two incoming connections at the same time, basically doubling how much the router can handle.
Of course, the best option is to get a router with 4×4 MU-MIMO support. It is then possible for the router to serve four devices at the same time, meaning that Netflix will not buffer just because the kids are playing online games on their computers. The problem is that 4×4 can be quite expensive and if you are not going to use the full features, maybe getting a cheaper router with 3×3 is a better choice.
For example, in my household, we are two people (I live with my brother). Both are heavily into gaming and streaming and never have any problems with our 3×3 Asus RT-AC68u router (link to Amazon). Unless 4×4 Mu-MIMO is needed, the AC68u will be a good router for most homes, at a good price.
How to Install a PCI-E WiFi Card in Your Computer
Installing a PCI-E card is very easy and not something that requires much tech-knowledge. The only thing you need to know is how to handle a screwdriver. Before you open your PC, make sure that you have disconnected the power cable from it, NEVER open a computer while it’s still running unless you know what you are doing.
In most cases, you open the computer by unscrewing two screws on the back of the computer. It’s the right side panel that comes off (standing from the back). Once it’s off, you will have access to the motherboard. Here, you locate a free PCI-E slot and then remove the bracket, that lines up to the PCI-E slot, on the back of the computer.
Insert the card into the slot. You might have to use some force to push the card in. Once inserted, you can put back the screw to the bracket mount (or whatever solution your case has) to secure the card. Now, you put the side panel back and you are done.