Roughly 700 million people participate in online gaming every year. It’s a huge network of gamers connected by the internet to play with and against each other. But how do you connect your desktop gaming PC to WiFi to get online?
You can connect your gaming PC to WiFi with an adapter or a cabled hotspot. Some PC motherboards are WiFi-enabled, or add-on PCIe cards and USB adapters provide connectivity through your wireless home network at a reasonably low cost.
If you’re using WiFi for gaming, you’ll need a strong network connection and equipment that’s compatible with your computer.
A wired internet connection with an ethernet cord is probably your first choice for getting online, but sometimes it’s good to have WiFi, too.
Keep reading. This guide will walk you through six ways to connect your gaming PC to a WiFi network.
How to Connect a Gaming PC to WiFi
1. Enable built-in or pre-existing WiFi
Before purchasing extra equipment and making computer modifications, check to see if your PC already has WiFi capabilities.
On the bottom of your screen, click the Notification area. You can also access this menu by pressing the Windows Key + A key. Then, click on Network.
If your computer can connect to WiFi, you will have the option to click Enable Network. Then, you can choose your WiFi network from the list, enter your password, and connect to the internet.
Many desktop systems already have WiFi capabilities on the motherboard, so if your computer is new, this might work for you immediately.
Whether or not this works will depend on your motherboard. This method might not work if you use an older computer or build from older parts.
Motherboards that are WiFi-enabled will have an antenna attached to them. That’s how the motherboard can make a wireless connection to the network.
This might be the easiest way to get online, but it isn’t the only one. Plenty of accessories can adapt your system for a wireless connection.
Depending on your computer system and your budget, you can pick any of the following methods to make your PC WiFi-compatible.
2. Try a USB WiFi adapter
There are quick and easy solutions if your computer lacks WiFi capabilities. The first is to try a USB WiFi adapter.
These adapters plug into a USB port on your computer and connect to your router via an antenna. They are relatively inexpensive, and there are a lot of them on the market.
The specifications of your PC and how close it is to your router will help you determine which USB WiFi adapter you need.
A strong antenna is important because it will determine the strength of your internet connection.
When considering a USB WiFi adapter, you should consider how many USB ports you have available and how often you’ll need them for other equipment.
This could be a good WiFi solution if you have plenty to spare. If you have a mouse and keyboard that plug in via USB or any USB gadget you use regularly, you might consider another option.
Headsets, fans, cameras, and lights might need that valuable USB real estate.
Another drawback to USB adapters is that they aren’t as strong as other methods. If your router is on a different floor of your house than your PC, then a USB WiFi adapter might trouble you.
Putting your adapter in the port closest to the router and aiming for the antenna can help, but the antenna range is critical.
3. Get a PCIe WiFi adapter
A slightly more advanced piece of equipment you could use to get online is a PCI-e adapter, also known as a WiFi card.
These cards plug into any open PCI slot on your motherboard, hence the name. They are more reliable and aren’t as easy to install as a USB adapter.
Installation of a WiFi card is straightforward. To install one of these cards, open up your CPU, insert your card into an open slot, screw it in, and close your CPU back up.
Make sure to turn your computer off first. When you reboot, you can go through the steps to install the drivers and get online.
If you’re comfortable working with computer hardware, installing a PCI-e adapter will be simple. You’ll only need the right-sized screwdrivers to open your CPU cabinet and screw in your WiFi card.
Important: Make sure you have the computer shut down and the power cord disconnected before working on your computer.
A WiFi card is an easy first installation project even if you’ve never updated your PC’s hardware.
Like the USB adapters, there are plenty of WiFi cards to choose from. You want to buy one compatible with your motherboard and proven to run well with your operating system.
This is my recommended first choice for adding WiFi connectivity when your motherboard excludes built-in WiFi.
A Wi-Fi card will take up a PCIe slot in the case slot and motherboard. That’s where the compatibility factor comes in for your motherboard.
Some models have a separate antenna attached to the PCIe card via a small cable. This lets you maneuver the components around to fit better inside the cabinet, and you can point the antenna toward your router.
4. Upgrade your motherboard
If an adapter isn’t the solution you’re looking for, you might want to upgrade to a motherboard with built-in WiFi capabilities.
It’s also a good idea to look for a WiFi-enabled motherboard when you’re building your own gaming PC from scratch.
Even if you think you’ll primarily use a wired connection for your internet, having a backup option is a good idea.
Using a WiFi-enabled motherboard leaves your PCI slots and USB ports open for other gaming accessories and necessities.
Graphics and sound cards frequently use PCI slots to improve your gaming experience. Headsets, mice, and ergonomic keyboards often fill up your USB ports.
The price difference between motherboards with WiFi capabilities and those without isn’t huge. Other motherboard features have a greater influence on the price.
If you’re buying your motherboard, you might as well choose one with WiFi capabilities. They’re very common, and finding one without the capability might be more work than with it.
When buying a used motherboard or taking the motherboard from another older machine, you might have difficulty finding one with WiFi connectivity.
If so, you can always pick one with plenty of PCI ports to add a WiFi card. Building your gaming PC gives you more flexibility for your hardware and accessories.
When choosing your new motherboard, there are things to consider other than the price. You’ll want to consider the antenna quality and positioning.
The antenna is important to any WiFi adapter, as it will determine your signal’s strength. The wider the antenna range, the further your gaming setup can be from your router.
Like a card, some WiFi-enabled motherboards have a connected antenna, and others have a separate one that you can position wherever you want, either inside or outside your CPU cabinet.
Look for an antenna that can point in any direction, with a wide range to cover the square footage between your PC and router.
5. Use your smartphone as an adapter
You can connect to a WiFi network without any adapter if you have a hotspot or a Wi-Fi-enabled device to connect to your desktop computer.
A smartphone, either iPhone or Android, is an obvious choice for a WiFi hotspot you probably already have handy. This method also works with tablets or portable hotspots.
To turn your phone into a WiFi adapter for your desktop, connect it to your computer with a USB cable. Your charging cable will work for this. You don’t need specialty equipment.
Once your phone is connected to the computer, ensure it is also connected to the WiFi, and your sharing settings allow other devices to see and access it.
Some phone models require you to turn on a special setting to use them as a hotspot. Others will show up automatically as a network option on your computer.
When your phone settings are adjusted properly to be a hotspot, you should be able to connect to the WiFi network the same way you connect to any other network.
While this method doesn’t need new equipment, it could still cost you money. Your cell phone plan and internet provider might charge you a fee to use your cell phone as a hotspot.
It might also use the data that’s on your cell phone plan. This method would work well in a pinch but isn’t a long-term solution for connecting your PC to WiFi.
6. Use your laptop as an adapter
Similar to using your phone as a hotspot, you can also use your laptop as a hotspot. However, unlike the phone or tablet method, you will need an ethernet cable to make this one work.
On your laptop, you’ll need to open up your network menu and adjust the network sharing settings to allow other devices to connect to the internet via the laptop.
Once your network sharing options are updated, you can connect your laptop to your PC and join the WiFi network via your computer.
It will be a fairly stable connection and won’t incur the same data fees as using your cell phone as a hotspot.
However, this method can easily become cumbersome. Both your laptop and your desktop will need to have ethernet ports. If your laptop doesn’t have an ethernet port, you’ll also need an adapter to plug the ethernet cable into.
If you already have an ethernet cable, connecting your PC directly to your modem for a stable internet connection makes more sense.
The laptop hotspot can be a short-term solution for setups where your gaming PC is too far from the modem to plug an ethernet cord directly into it.
However, a PCI-e card or USB adapter would be a better long-term solution, as you won’t have to charge it like a laptop, and they won’t take up as much space in your gaming setup.
If you have problems finding WiFi connections to connect to, read our article on why Windows does not show available networks and how to fix it.
Finding and installing drivers
Installing the drivers is one step when using a new adapter, whether a USB or a WiFi card.
Depending on your system and the type of hotspot you use, you may need to install drivers when you use a WiFi hotspot.
When you plug in a new piece of equipment, your computer automatically prompts you to install the drivers.
Most drivers come on a CD-ROM but are also available online for download. If you have a cabled internet connection, you can download the drivers that way, but you don’t need to if you have the disk.
Occasionally, your computer won’t prompt you to install the drivers. You can find the manufacturer’s information online and get the drivers that way.
This isn’t a convenient method if you don’t have a wired internet connection, so look for adapters with their drivers on a disk to make your installation experience more pleasant.
Without the drivers, your WiFi adapters won’t work. Ensure the drivers are compatible with your operating system when choosing your adapter.
The better your components work together, the better your connection will be. Poorly matched components or a buggy device driver will lead to unstable connections and more lag.
Why you want WiFi for your desktop PC
Now that you know how to connect your gaming PC to WiFi, you might wonder why you want to, given that cabled internet connections are usually more stable.
Having an uninterrupted internet connection is important for online gaming. A bad connection can interrupt the flow of your gameplay and cause problems for you.
However, wiring your PC directly into your router might be difficult or impossible.
While incredibly long ethernet cables are available, you might not want a thick wire running all over your house if you have to keep your router in a different room from your gaming setup.
Not everyone wants to run cables through their ceiling.
It may also be convenient for you to move your gaming setup around, either to different places in your home or to take it with you when you travel.
Another handy situation is when you own a mini PC and have some flexibility regarding the location of your work area.
Having the option to connect your PC to a wireless network will expand your choices. Luckily, the modifications to make it possible are affordable and simple.
For your home setup, your router is more critical than your adapter. It won’t matter how good your equipment is if your network is weak.
No matter why you want to connect your gaming PC to a WiFi network, making it happen doesn’t have to be a headache.
There are many ways to get a stable connection with just a few minutes and inexpensive technology.
There are different options if you need WiFi in a pinch or want a more permanent way to get online. You can even use a combination of these methods to connect to find the one you like best.
You can customize your WiFi adapter to your gaming setup easily.
Whether updating your motherboard or adding a simple accessory, your WiFi connection can be as customized to your machine as any other component.
In no time, you can get online and back in the game with a stable WiFi connection.