Not all motherboards come with Wi-Fi. That is to say, almost all budget and mid-range motherboards often skip onboard Wi-Fi to keep the cost low and increase upgradability.
However, a few high-end models, as well as some mini-units, do come Wi-Fi enabled. In addition, you can find a Wi-Fi variant of many non-Wi-Fi motherboards that usually offer the upgrade in exchange for a few extra bucks.
Do Motherboards Have Built-in Wi-Fi?
Assuming we are talking about desktop computers, the answer is both yes and no. It all boils down to the amount you are willing to spend and the form factor your desktop chassis has room for. But let us provide some basic information about the Wi-Fi motherboard.
What Is a Wi-Fi Motherboard
Simply put, a Wi-Fi motherboard is just like a regular motherboard except for having a built-in wireless chip. Therefore, it is Wi-Fi capable and ready, meaning you no longer have to buy a separate wireless adapter to access Wi-Fi. Whether yours is a Wi-Fi motherboard or not depends on these two factors.
Wi-Fi-enabled motherboards are pricier than budget or mid-range units. However, there might be exceptions like the ASRock A520M, which has Wi-Fi and non- Wi-Fi variants at a marginal price gap. But in most cases, the difference is significant as built-in Wi-Fi is like a default feature of the high-end motherboards.
Nine out of ten times, motherboards with a smaller footprint come with a single PCIe slot, maybe two if you’re lucky. For this reason, such units like the Mini ITX often ship bundled with integrated wireless chips for Wi-Fi. In contrast, larger models like Micro ATX or ATX contain multiple expansion slots, and thereby, do not have Wi-Fi.
Comparison Between Built-in Wi-Fi Motherboard and Wi-Fi Card
When it comes to speed and reliability, users are better off choosing between built-in Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi cards. And naturally, both have their pros and cons, respectively.
Unless you perform heavy tasks, both built-in Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi cards offer comparable speeds. And regular day-to-day activities like web surfing, casual gaming, or some live streaming will run smoothly no matter the option you choose.
Although ethernet has the upper hand, you can rely on Wi-Fi speeds for the above use cases. But for intense tasks like professional gaming or running NAS setups, neither integrated Wi-Fi nor Wi-Fi cards stand a chance. Yet, if you want to nitpick, Wi-Fi cards will provide better stability and speed in difficult scenarios.
Upgradability is perhaps the biggest reason people opt for desktop PCs. And Wi-Fi falls under that radar as well, with evolving Wi-Fi technologies that bring upgraded range and speed. So, chances are you will have to keep your motherboard’s Wi-Fi connections up to date.
With Wi-Fi cards, upgradability is not an issue as you can swap your old Wi-Fi 5 cards with a newer Wi-Fi 6 one. But unfortunately, that is not the case with built-in Wi-Fi due to the wireless chip being hard-wired. Hence, you will either have to break the bank upgrading the entire motherboard, or settle with the bottleneck speed.
It is not all sunshine and rainbows with any of them. For example, built-in Wi-Fi will occupy precious limited PCIe lanes on a motherboard that could have hosted other components. As a result, Wi-Fi motherboards lack features to make room for hard-wired Wi-Fi.
Likewise, a Wi-Fi card makes use of a PCIe slot on the motherboard. And like PCIe lanes, PCIe slots are also limited in number. So, if you already have them occupied by storage or other devices, a Wi-Fi card can feel intimidating. Plus, it takes up space in the chassis, a dealbreaker for compact PC owners.
Ways of Connecting Motherboard to Wi-Fi
There are two options for connecting a motherboard without onboard Wi-Fi to a Wi-Fi network. Either way, you have to plug in the device and download the necessary drivers to have Wi-Fi up and running.
USB Wi-Fi Adapter
The easiest and more affordable option of the two is using a USB Wi-Fi adapter that doesn’t even require opening the PC case. To clarify, it is a simple plug-and-play thing, more like your everyday USB storage devices. So, you can instantly connect your desktop to Wi-Fi with no technical expertise whatsoever.
PCIe Wi-Fi Adapter
Although it is a bit pricier, a PCIe Wi-Fi adapter, on the other hand, performs better than its USB counterpart. But the added cost is worth it, considering the higher-tier performance that comes from using the high-speed PCIe port on a motherboard. However, you will need a bit of technical skill to install this kind of adapter.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Do you have to buy Wi-Fi for motherboards?
If you have the fine opportunity to use a wired connection, you should go for it. In this case, buying a Wi-Fi card or adapter will be a complete waste of money. But if you are out of the wired option then definitely you can buy a Wi-Fi card for you.
How do I know if my PC has built-in WiFi?
You can determine this by following some easy steps. First of all, press Win + X simultaneously and select Device Manager. Scroll down, locate, and expand the Network adapter section. If there is an in-built Wi-Fi adapter, you will find it here.
What motherboards have built-in Wi-Fi?
Here are the most common available motherboards that come with pre-installed Wi-Fi, check them thoroughly – Intel Z390 (LGA 1151), Intel Z490 (LGA 1155), Intel Z490 (LGA 1200), AMD B550 (AM4), etc.
Checking the rear IO panel can give an idea about whether a motherboard has built-in Wi-Fi or not. Look for antenna connectors where most USB, VGA, HDMI, and audio ports reside. If you can spot them, you’re in luck, or else there is no integrated Wi-Fi. But some motherboards may have built-in Wi-Fi without an antenna, which is better left unused.