How to Upgrade Your PC or Laptop Wi-Fi

In the fast-paced world of technology, keeping up with the latest advancements can be both exciting and challenging. The evolution of Wi-Fi standards is no exception, with Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E promising higher speeds and improved performance. The good news is that you don’t necessarily need to invest in a brand-new computer to reap the benefits of these advancements. By upgrading your existing PC or laptop, you can enjoy the latest Wi-Fi speeds without breaking the bank.

Upgrading your computer’s Wi-Fi capabilities offers a dual advantage: it not only extends the lifespan of your device but also contributes to the reduction of electronic waste, a critical concern in our modern age. In this guide, we’ll explore two effective methods for upgrading your computer’s Wi-Fi: installing a new Wi-Fi card and using a USB Wi-Fi adapter.

Assessing Your Current Setup

Before delving into the upgrade process, it’s essential to assess your current Wi-Fi setup. Ensure that you have a mesh system or a router capable of delivering the desired Wi-Fi speeds. If you’re unsure about Wi-Fi standards, channels, and other technical details, referring to a comprehensive guide like “How to Buy a Router” can provide you with the necessary insights. To upgrade to Wi-Fi 6, a compatible Wi-Fi 6 router is a prerequisite.

The first step towards upgrading your computer’s Wi-Fi is to determine your current Wi-Fi card. This can be easily done through your computer’s operating system:

  • Windows Users: Click on the Windows logo in the taskbar, type “Device Manager” into the search bar, select “Network adapters,” and identify your Wi-Fi card, often labeled with IEEE 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) or IEEE 802.11n (Wi-Fi 4).
  • Mac Users: Click the Apple logo in the top-left corner, choose “About This Mac,” click “System Report,” and navigate to “Network” under the left pane. Your Wi-Fi card will likely be listed with its corresponding IEEE standard (e.g., 802.11ac).
  • Chromebook Users: Open the Chrome browser, type “chrome://system” in the address bar, click “Expand All,” and use the search function to locate “Wi-Fi” or “wireless” and find your card.

Choosing the Right Wi-Fi Version

As you embark on the journey of upgrading your Wi-Fi, it’s important to understand the available options. Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E, both categorized under the IEEE 802.11ax standard, promise enhanced performance. The primary distinction lies in Wi-Fi 6E’s inclusion of the 6-GHz band, in addition to the familiar 2.4-GHz and 5-GHz bands. While Wi-Fi 7 (IEEE 802.11be) routers are emerging, options for upgrading computers to Wi-Fi 7 remain limited. Notably, upgrading to Wi-Fi 6E necessitates a computer running Windows 11 or later, as Microsoft does not support 6-GHz functionality on Windows 10.

Installing a New Wi-Fi Card

For desktop computers, the most cost-effective and elegant solution is to install a new Wi-Fi card. This process is relatively straightforward and doesn’t require advanced technical skills. All you need is the confidence to open your computer, replace the existing Wi-Fi card with the new one, and attach the included adjustable antennas. Reputable brands such as Asus, TP-Link, and Netgear offer reliable options.

When upgrading to Wi-Fi 6E, consider the TP-Link Archer TXE75E, which provides excellent speed, range, and reliability. The package typically includes a PCI-e adapter, a bracket for secure installation, and adjustable antennas that can be positioned for optimal signal strength. Notably, the magnetic antenna attachment by TP-Link is particularly effective, allowing flexibility in antenna placement to capture the strongest signal.

Laptops, however, present unique challenges when it comes to upgrading Wi-Fi cards. In cases where the Wi-Fi adapter is soldered onto the motherboard or for older laptops with Wi-Fi 4 (or earlier) capabilities, upgrading might be unfeasible. To determine if your laptop is compatible, look for a Next-Generation Form Factor (NGFF) 2230 (22 mm wide, 33 mm long) M.2 slot that is either Key A or Key E. You’ll also need compatible antenna wires to attach to the new card. Online resources, including YouTube video guides, can assist you in determining compatibility and performing the upgrade. If you’re uncomfortable with the process, seeking assistance from tech-savvy friends, family members, or professional repair shops is a viable option.

For laptop upgrades or budget considerations, the Intel AX210 card is a solid choice for Wi-Fi 6E. It offers commendable performance and comes with antennas suitable for laptops. Alternatively, a kit such as the AX210 kit can be utilized for desktop installations. If you’re content with Wi-Fi 6 speeds, the Intel AX200 is a cost-effective option for laptops, while the Intel AX200 kit is suitable for desktop computers.

Using a Wi-Fi USB Adapter

If you’re wary of opening your computer or seek an easier alternative, a Wi-Fi USB adapter is a suitable option. These adapters plug directly into available USB ports on your desktop or laptop, eliminating the need for internal hardware changes. While some adapters are plug-and-play, others may require driver installation and the deactivation of your old network adapter to prevent conflicts.

It’s crucial to ensure that your USB adapter matches the USB port version for optimal performance. The latest adapters are best suited for USB 3.0 ports, denoted by labels such as “SS” for SuperSpeed. To ascertain your USB port version:

  • Windows Users: Click the Windows logo, search for “Device Manager,” click on “Universal Serial Bus controllers,” and obtain information about the USB version by right-clicking on the listed devices.
  • Mac Users: Click the Apple logo, choose “About This Mac,” navigate to “Hardware” on the left pane, and click on “USB” for details.
  • Chromebook Users: Open the Chrome browser, type “chrome://system” in the address bar, click “Expand All,” and search for “USB” to find information about your ports.

For Wi-Fi 6E, the Netgear Nighthawk A8000 is a recommended USB adapter. It offers versatility by connecting either directly to a laptop via USB-A or utilizing the provided cradle, complete with an extension cable for optimal positioning. The fold-out antenna design enhances signal reception, ensuring optimal performance across all bands. On the other hand, the Plugable WiFi 6 USB Adapter is an affordable option for Wi-Fi 6 upgrades. Its design closely resembles that of the Netgear adapter, featuring the choice of plug-in or extension cable usage, along with a fold-out antenna section. Additionally, it includes a convenient USB-A to USB-C adapter.

Optimizing Signal Strength and Placement

Regardless of the chosen method for Wi-Fi enhancement, signal strength heavily relies on positioning. Optimizing router or mesh node placement can significantly impact performance. Likewise, adjusting antenna positions on upgraded Wi-Fi cards or USB adapters is crucial for maximizing signal strength. Experiment with different setups to determine the most effective placement for a robust and stable connection.

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