questionsdoes your wireless adapter really matter ?

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I use a router in bridge mode to receive wireless. My HTPC has a built-in wireless adapter and I can't watch much more than a minute of HD shows without it needing to pause and buffer. I never experience that with the router. I don't think you specifically need to use a bridged router to play HD wirelessly but I can say for sure some adapters work better than others.

Also, I haven't had very good success using two wireless connections (video on a computer going to a router wirelessly then from the router to another wireless device). I recommend having one wired to the router.

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My real problem is that I am in a rental house now so I can't just run wires where I want them. Cable modem comes in downstairs main desktop is upstairs. The video is recorded on that machine so it shouldn't be an issue for the recording but when I stream it from my xbox that is what I want to make sure it wont get bottled up.

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Sounds like you already have the router in place? You will probably be best served buying a card of the same line as that router, since many companies offer proprietary enhancements to the standard protocol that will only work if both ends actually speak it.

All other things (chipsets, etc.) being equal, I'd expect that you'll get better performance out of the internal card simply because they don't have to shoehorn the antenna into a tiny dongle. You haven't said anything about the distances involved, building materials, or any other factors that might interfere with your wifi signal, so it's entirely possible that the antenna won't make a difference. But if the antenna is a factor, it is usually possible to upgrade the antenna on the internal cards. And since we're talking desktop, you might be able to point a directional antenna right at the wireless router.