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Can You Connect a Desktop Computer to Wi-Fi?

Connecting to Wi-Fi on a desktop computer isn’t always as straightforward as it seems, contrary to what some may believe. While devices like laptops have integrated wireless, this is not necessarily the case for desktop computers. If you have ever run into a desktop without integrated wireless, you might wonder if you can even connect to Wi-Fi. 

You can connect a desktop computer to Wi-Fi. Most modern desktops will come equipped with a wireless adapter card. But if you don’t have one, you can easily add one. You can do this with either a PCIe slot or a USB dongle. A PCIe WiFi card will likely perform better than a USB dongle.

For most people nowadays, the last thing you want is to be stuck with a computer that has no access to the internet. With the integrated nature of electronics these days, reliable internet is almost necessary to your desktop’s function. Not only is it necessary for your computer, but it’s crucial for many other electronics in your home. If you are curious to find out if your desktop has a wireless card—or how to add one—read on.

How to Figure Out if You Have a Wireless Network Adapter Already

PCI Wireless Network Card Installed in a Desktop Computer

If your desktop was manufactured within the last ten years, it more than likely has a wireless adapter installed already. Finding out whether or not you have an adapter is an easy and straightforward process. While operating systems may be different, the instructions are generally the same. Keep your eyes peeled for an option in settings called “Device Manager.”

Device Manager will give you a read-out of all the devices connected to the motherboard. This can be incredibly helpful for diagnosing problems—like our wireless issue. Nevertheless, follow the steps here to determine if you have a wireless card installed:

  1. Locate the Start Menu
  2. Next, locate the search bar toward the bottom of the menu.
  3. Once located, type in “Device Manager.”
  4. You should now see the Device Manager in the results area; click it.
  5. When the new dialog box opens, find and click Network Adapters
  6. Look through the devices for anything with “wireless” or “Wi-Fi” in the name.
  7. If you found something, that means you have a wireless card installed.

If you didn’t, don’t worry. Some straightforward solutions will get you online easily, but more on that later. Let’s explore what to do if you have a wireless card and still have no Wi-Fi access. There are a few things that you can do.

How to Check if your Wireless Card is Enabled

If you know you have a wireless card but still can’t access the internet, it can be frustrating. Computers can be that way sometimes, moreover, parts wear and break from time to time. This could be the case for your card. If so, you can easily find and replace the device yourself.  But before you start searching online for a replacement, there are a couple of things you should check:

  • Updated drivers—If it has been a while since you last started up your machine, it could be the case the drivers for your wireless card are outdated. Once you know the make and model—You can find the information in Device Manager—you can easily find the current drivers online.
  • Disabled card—Sometimes, when there is a problem, and your computer reboots, it can disable the wireless card. To remedy this, find the card in Device Management to re-enable it. 

These two solutions may seem tech-savvy but are pretty simple once you start moving through them. If this is something you aren’t comfortable with, there are IT professionals that would be happy to come and help diagnose and solve your issues.

How To Add Wireless Connectivity to a Desktop Computer

If you’ve already searched in Device Manager and found no wireless card, you’ll need to add a new one. There are a few ways you can do this. Some will be plug-and-play, while others will mean you will need to get inside your computer. There are three primary ways of adding a new wireless card, and they are the following: 1) a USB adapter, 2) a PCle slot wireless card, and finally, 3) a New Motherboard. Each one is significantly less easy or difficult than the other, so read on.

Using a USB Adapter

Enlisting the help of a USB adapter is, by and large, your best bet. Devices, like the TP-Link AC600 Wireless Adapter (on Amazon), are simple to use and reasonably priced. They can easily fit into any open USB and provide access to 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands with little effort. USB adapters are great because they’re affordable, they have a low-profile design, and they come in many different form factors for different applications.

Additionally, installing one on your desktop shouldn’t be too much of a hassle. The hardest part may be finding the correct drivers and enabling the device in Device Manager. But the manufacturer should have provided instructions on what you need to do to get things operational!

PCIe Wireless Card

If you are comfortable opening up your desktop and working on electronics, then you always have the option of adding a PCIe wireless card. These cards utilize the open PCIe slots on your motherboard. There are many options to choose from, and some are more higher-end than others. Devices like the Ubit AX Wi-Fi 6 Card (see on Amazon) are reasonably priced and their users seem to love them.

Some higher-end cards can offer features like low-latency connections, but a mid-shelf card will do just fine for most users. Keep in mind that you are working with electronics, and safety should be a prime concern. Make sure everything is unplugged before you start working inside your desktop. Additionally, you will want to wear an Anti-Static Wristband (again, from Amazon) due to the sensitive parts.

Replacing Your Motherboard

Like I mentioned before, some solutions are easier than others, and this one is not for the faint of heart. This fix will require some more advanced computer maintenance knowledge. But if you have tried the above options to no avail, it may be your best bet. First, you will need to find a new motherboard. You can find reasonably priced parts, like this GIGABYTE B365M (on Amazon), easily. There are also higher-end components that cater to the gaming and computer design industries.

While you can repurpose some parts in this process, you may take the opportunity to replace other components like: RAM, a graphics card, and the CPU. To replace a motherboard is a rather involved process. Essentially you are re-building your PC. Fortunately, there is plenty of instructions online that can go into greater detail than this article. Here is a great video to help you get a handle on the process.

Consider Running Ethernet to your Desktop Computer

Computers connected to the network

Adding a wireless card is a great option to get online, but it’s not your only one. While it might seem a bit old-school, using an ethernet connection can provide you a more reliable connection. Not only does it provide you a direct line to your router, but it also can be much faster than Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi connections aren’t so reliable. They can suffer from a few different afflictions, including a weak connection signal, interference, and bandwidth issues.

This is why an ethernet connection still is your best option for reliable internet access, in fact, as we explained in our guide, some people try and use ethernet and wi-fi at the same time. CAT6 Cable (on Amazon) can be easy to install and run. Keep in mind that there are limits to how long you can run your cables, but this shouldn’t be an issue for most spaces. One thing that ethernet just can’t compete with is the clean look of wireless.

If cords and cables are an eyesore for you, consider cable concealing products. Cable concealers (see on Amazon) can easily hide ethernet cables out of view and are easy to install, moreover, if you’re concerned about getting shocked as we addressed in our guide, you can rest easy knowing that your cables are concealed and tucked away nicely.

Wrapping Up

When dealing with a desktop that can’t connect to your wireless network, there are a few things to check. First, you’ll want to make sure you have a wireless card installed. If you don’t, you’ll need to figure out how to add that function to your machine. There are some rather easy and painless options on this front. Consider ethernet as another great option. It can add the connectivity you need and be more reliable than Wi-Fi.