A laptop's wireless performance, including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, depends on the model of its built-in wireless card. So, what are the categories of laptop wireless cards? And how to distinguish the superior from the inferior? Is there any chance of upgrading?
In the notebook field, the brands with built-in wireless network cards are mainly Intel, Broadcom and Atheros (which has been acquired by Qualcomm), among which Intel and Broadcom have a higher positioning and market share.
Generally, the wireless network card in the notebook can be disassembled. However, with the rise of the concept of thinness, some laptops or two-in-one devices that pursue extreme thinness will adopt onboard wireless network card design, which cannot be replaced or upgraded by itself, and can only use the new external wireless network card with USB interface to speed up.
Classification of wireless nics
While earlier wireless cards used a mini PCI-E interface (slot), recent models have been upgraded to an M.2 interface (formerly known as NGFF). Among them, the wireless network adapter of Mini PCI-E version is about 30mm wide, while the wireless network adapter of M.2 version is about 22mm wide. Due to the different goldfingers and widths of the two network adapters, they are not compatible with each other.
It should be noted that those built-in mini PCI-E slot of the old notebook, you can use M.2 (NGFF) to Mini PCI-E expansion card, to install the latest wireless card, but M.2 is not downward compatible with Mini PCI-E.
In addition, the Mini PCI-E wireless card uses a Generation 1 antenna interface (with a larger aperture), while the M.2 wireless card uses a Generation 4 antenna interface with a smaller aperture. So when older laptops are upgraded with new wireless cards, they also need a jumper to connect to the pre-laid antenna in the laptop body.
Look for the port inside the laptop
The style of early mini PCI-E interface is easy to recognize, but the Key of M.2 interface can be derived from B, M, B+M, A, E and A+E standards. For example, ThinkPad and some of HP's business modules are equipped with three M.2 slots for SSD, WWAN (3G/4G/5G NIC module), and wireless NIC. The main difference between the three M.2 slots is the number of PCIe channels allocated. However, slots for WWAN and wireless cards need only PCIe x 2 or PCIe x 1. Therefore, even if the spare WWAN slot on some laptops can be installed with an M.2 SSD, the speed will be greatly reduced.
Discuss the upgrade of wireless network card
As one of the important parts in the notebook, wireless network card naturally also has the demand of iterative upgrade. Especially when we have the new Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) wireless router at home, if the laptop's wireless card is stuck at Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) or even Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n), we obviously can't enjoy the faster network bandwidth and special features.
For now, Intel AX200, AX201 and AX210 are the main wireless cards worth upgrading. Among them, the former is the first generation Wi-Fi 6 wireless card, which supports Bluetooth 5.1 with a theoretical rate of up to 2974Mbps, and the AX210 supports the latest Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.2 standards.
Note that although the AX201/AX210 network card still uses the M.2 interface, the internal channel is changed to CNVio2, which integrates some of the wireless network card's work into the CPU, so the network card only supports the 10th generation or later core processor platform. For laptops with the 9th generation or earlier core processor platform, The maximum value can be AX200.
By the way, in addition to making its own wireless cards such as the AX200, Intel will also sell the chips directly to the outside world. Therefore, there are many third-party brands of Intel wireless cards on the market. They have the same theoretical performance and function, and whoever buys them cheaply can do so.
Note the upgrade
Some early laptops from Lenovo and HP had a "whitelist" of wireless cards in the BIOS. If you replaced a model that was not in the whitelist, it would be unrecognizable or unable to install drivers and thus not work properly. In addition, there are 001, 002, 003 versions of Intel AX200, 001 and 002 versions of AMD Ryzen platform compatibility is very poor, Ryzen notebook users if they want to experience Wi-Fi 6, try to choose the 003 version of AX200, or communicate with the merchant in advance, confirm 100% compatibility before placing an order.
Full-height and half-height wireless cards
Note that some laptops of different models support full-height or only half-height wireless nics due to internal space design problems. You need to select a network adapter of the corresponding height according to the actual situation. The last is the installation of the antenna. The wireless card is usually equipped with two antennas, namely Main (Main antenna) and Aux (auxiliary antenna). Before removing and installing the wireless card, it is necessary to remember the installation position of the corresponding color antenna.