Simply put, desktop motherboards do not ALL come with with built-in WiFi. Most often than not in the budget and mid range category, the motherboards do not offer built-in WiFi by default. Fortunately though, most manufacturer do offer WiFi variant of certain motherboards at an extra cost.
Laptop motherboards, on the hand hand, do come with a WiFi card built in. It makes more sense to have a WiFi Card built into the laptop by default since it is a mobile device. With desktops, however, most users still prefer to have the much faster and the stable Ethernet connection.
Desktop motherboards will always come with at least one built-in Ethernet port for connecting to your network or modem. Some high end motherboard may also come with a 10G Ethernet card for cutting edge network speeds.
For comparison, the latest WiFi 6 Wireless cards have a max transfer speeds of 2.4 Gbps, a 10G card can achieve 10 Gbps transfer speeds. Hence Ethernet is often the go to choice for the stationary desktop users.
WiFi does have its own merits though and hence in certain occasions it may become necessary to find a motherboard with WiFi.
In the following text we comprehensively into whether motherboards come with WiFi or not.
What is Motherboard with Onboard Wi-Fi
A motherboard with onboard WiFi is one that comes ready to connect to a wireless network without having to install any additional components.
These often have the WiFi modem hard wired into the motherboard.
The WiFi on these motherboards is located close to the back I/O panel with antennas sticking out from the case.
So Do Motherboards Come with WiFi?
Yes and No. An average desktop motherboard, particularly a budget one, does not come with a built in WiFi by default. However, there are myriad of models out there that you can specifically choose that have built in WiFi.
A Motherboard With WiFi is More Expensive than Its Non-WiFi Counterpart
This is a rule of thumb. Many motherboard manufacturers have WiFi enabled models for different chipsets, including for budget chipsets.
However, it is worth nothing that a WiFi enabled motherboard will cost you more. If you are lucky, sometimes you can find the difference to be very small.
For instance, at the time of writing this article, the ASRock A520M-HDV (Non WiFi) was only a few dollars apart from the ASRock A520M/AC (WiFi).
Also Read: Onboard Wi-Fi vs Wi-Fi Card vs Wi-Fi USB
Limited Chipset Lanes Means You May Sacrifice Something
Everything on a motherboard utilizes PCIe lanes. There are only a limited amount of PCIe lanes that a motherboard can have.
A WiFi card built-into the motherboard also occupies these precious lanes. Hence, a motherboard with WiFi built in may see certain features missing in comparison to the non-WiFi version.
For instance, the ASRock A520M/AC (WiFi) does not feature the VGA port whereas the ASRock A520M-HDV (Non WiFi) does.
Hence there is a small trade-off here. You have to trade a VGA port for your WiFi in this instance. Usually the tradeoff is often minimal and should not distract anyone who has a need for a WiFi.
- What Are PCIe Lanes? – Beginners Guide
- What are PCIe Slots and Their Uses? – Beginners Guide
- How to Check How Many PCIe Lanes Do I Have
Form Factor Matters
Certain motherboard form factors are more likely to feature on-board WiFi than others.
Mini ITX Almost Always Comes with a WiFi
You’re more likely to find WiFi module on small form-factor motherboards like the Mini ITX. Mini ITX, for instance, only has a single PCIe X16 slot which is generally occupied by a graphics card.
Hence, since you have very limited expansion capability here, a WiFi Modem is generally built-in.
On top of that since Mini ITX motherboards are the smallest mainstream motherboards, they are opted for portable desktops. Whenever there is an element of portability, WiFi is often needed. Hence, Mini ITX motherboard often feature this component.
Micro ATX and ATX Have Optional Expansion Slots for WiFi
Larger motherboards, such as the Micro ATX and ATX, do not make use of built-in Wi-Fi by default (especially in the budget and mid price categories) because they usually have enough expansion slots for extra peripherals.
Hence, the option to get a PCIe-based Wi-Fi card is placed on the table for users who prefer to save up on cost and use regular Ethernet, or purchase WiFi card separately.
WiFi cards do not require large expansion slots. The smallest x1 slots are more than sufficient for even the fastest WiFi 6 cards.
As far as the performance goes, the built-in WiFi card would not perform any better than the PCIe WiFi that you can buy off the shelf yourself.
Again, Ethernet is still usually preferred in desktops because it is usually more stable, faster and secure than WIFI when done correctly.
Also Read: Why is a Motherboard Important?
Premium Motherboards do Offer Built-in WiFi by Default
With budget and lower mid range range motherboards, you have to actively look for a motherboard with a built-in WiFi. With premium motherboards, on the other than, the WiFi comes by default.
Also Read: Do Motherboards Come with Cables?
Advantages of Motherboards with Built-in Wi-Fi
Not all motherboards have an onboard WiFi. But, for those that do, users usually get some advantages to make them worthwhile.
1. Speed is More than Sufficient for an Commercial User
WIFI is fast for commercial users. This may seem contradictory, especially when considering that Ethernet was seen to be the better candidate.
However, with speed in question, for the normal day to day tasks like internet browsing, streaming and even for casual gaming, it would be difficult to notice the difference between WIFI and Ethernet.
Stark differences usually come to light with more demanding tasks like when running a comprehensive and a busy NAS storage setup.
You cannot deny the element of portability that comes intrinsic with WiFi.
You can take your portable or tower desktop anywhere you like and not have to worry about finding an Ethernet slot.
3. Great for Office Use
Built-in Wi-Fi can be beneficial in situations where many computers need to communicate via a single router.
Local Area Network routers often only have a handful of ethernet ports. If you have a large number of desktops that need to connect to a Network, WiFi is the better option. A typical Linksys router, for instance, can support 50 connections/desktops by default.
Having to connect a large number of desktops via Ethernet would mean investing in expensive network switches.
In this situation a motherboard with WiFi would certainly come in handy.
4. Tidier and Declutter Your Work/Play Space
Of course, there is also the element of decluttering your workspace giving you a generally cleaner look.
Why Most Motherboards DO NOT Have WiFi?
There are three main reasons here
1. Adds to the Cost
Firstly, it can add to the cost of your motherboard. If in the end, you will settle down to using the Ethernet, then you will have wasted your money procuring a motherboard with WiFi.
Often, a typical PCIe WiFi Expansion card would cost you much cheaper, then getting a motherboard with onboard WiFi.
2. Cannot be Upgraded
Secondly, if the Wi-Fi adapter is built into the motherboard, you won’t be able to change or upgrade it.
So for instance, if you have motherboard with WiFi 5, you won’t be able to upgrade it to the newer WiFi 6 modem.
3. Not On Par with Ethernet
In terms of sheer performance reliability, WiFi is NOT on par with WiFi. Hence most professional users who have a network demand such as pro-gamers, often rely on Ethernet connection.
Options for Users without Onboard Wi-Fi
If your motherboard doesn’t come with integrated Wi-Fi then there are a couple of ways to get Wi-Fi access on a motherboard.
Using a USB Wi-Fi adapter is perhaps the easiest and the cheapest way to enable WiFi access to your PC. These are plug and play and does not require any kind of technical expertise.
You do not need to open your PC case, fiddle around with the board or anything with this.
The best option, however, is a PCIe Wi-Fi adapter in terms of performance and stability. These devices plug into one of the high-speed PCIe ports on your motherboard and can provide high-speed Wi-Fi access depending on their quality and specifications.
Some have antennas that stick out and provide better and more stable connectivity than the USB Wi-Fi adapters do.
They are, however, slighly more expensive than the USB WiFi. In addition that you’ll have to open up your computer to install them which requires SOME technical skills.
Also, you need to make sure that you do have an empty PCIe slot available.
So do motherboards come with WiFi? Assuming we are talking about desktop motherboards here, then an average budget and mid-range does not come with WiFi by default.
There ARE however, variants and models that most certainly feature built in WiFi but you have to actively look for them.
For Micro ATX and ATX motherboards, however, whether or not you’ll need Wi-Fi comes down to your preference of whether you want to save up on the extra cost of WiFi or not.
You can add WiFi on your board with very easy to acquire some additional components should you wish such as WiFi USB dongle or a PCIe x1 expansion card.
While WiFi does have its merits in certain situations, the reason why most motherboards do not come with WiFi by default is because desktops are stationary PCs. Hence Ethernet is often the standard of choice here.