Upgrading your Laptop’s WiFi Card

wifiI recently purchased a Belkin Wireless Router that uses the “n”-draft protocol for data transmission. This newer protocol (still in draft) offers greater speed and range than the older “g” protocol. Of course, you need a wireless adapter on your connecting machine or laptop that can also talk the “n” protocol, otherwise the router will default back down to the “g” protocol when communicating with your machine.

Most older laptops and Netbook computers use the “g” WiFi protocol, while some of the newer ones use “n” (and often it’s an upgrade to get the hardware for this protocol). I recently order a new Dell laptop and I paid the extra $25 for a “n” wireless enabled card so I can use it most efficiently with my home Router system. Well worth the $25 to ensure my new laptop’s WiFi  doesn’t become obsolete so soon.

So, what if you have a laptop that doesn’t have a WiFi card, or if your laptop has a WiFi card with the older “b” or “g” protocol? Luckily, these WiFi cards are somewhat standard and are easy to replace/upgrade for most laptops. If you can upgrade the memory in your laptop, you can certainly upgrade the WiFi card as well.

For example, I have an older Dell Latitude D610 laptop that uses a Mini-PCI WiFi-g card. It works ok, but I always seemed to have a rather low connection speed and signal strength when connecting to my home router (although conditions have improved since I upgraded the Router from “g” to “n” recently). So what are my options? As it turns out, there is a YouTube video that explains exactly how to change out the WiFi card in my Dell D610 laptop (imagine that?). You simply open the small cover on the bottom of the laptop, disconnect two small wires, pop out the old card, and do the reverse to install the new WiFi card. Very simple.

What’s nice, is that these WiFi cards are really cheap. You can get one on ebay.com for $15 to $25 US. You just need to be sure you buy a card that uses the same connector as what you have on your existing laptop. If you’re laptop is two or more years old, it probably uses a miniPCI slot. The newer laptop and netbooks use the miniPCI-e (for express) connector. Below are what both of these look like:

wifi_cards

I suggest you first open up your laptop or netbook and check out what the existing WiFi card looks like. If you have a relatively new machine, it’s probably the MiniPCI-e card. You might find something that appears smaller than the images above, which is called a “half-height” card. For example, I opened up an Acer 751h Netbook recently and found the MiniPCI-e WiFi card which was half the size of the card pictured above. So it’s good to check ahead of time to see what the existing WiFi card looks like so you know the type and space limitation.

If you’re in the market for a MiniPCI type, I recommend this model available on Amazon.com. It has some good reviews on the Amazon web site, and can handle the “n” protocol. This model also appears to be universally compatible with many different systems, which is a good thing. Note, that if you are wanting the “n” protocol make sure it says so in the part description, as many of the MiniPCI type cards don’t support “n”.

For the MiniPC-e type, the Intel WiFi 5100 seems to be a popular card among the Dell user forums. There are several available on eBay.com for $14 US and I’m sure you can find one on the Amazon.com store.

With either type, you may need to download appropriate drivers to get them to work on your system, especially if you’re running an older OS like Windows XP. A simple Google search can probably reveal the necessary drivers for your system.

So, upgrading the WiFi card in your laptop or netbook isn’t a big deal. If you didn’t order the WiFi option or are using an external USB WiFi adapter and want to add one internally, you can buy a WiFi card for less than $25 and do the upgrade yourself. I’d suggest you do a search on YouTube for possible DIY videos, as it seems you can find a video for just about any subject!

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