Saturday, June 9, 2012

Installing a Laptop Wireless Network Card

How To: Installing a Laptop Network MINI Card.  Instructions on how to upgrade a laptop's older network card with a newer, faster card.  This article demonstrates an Intel 4965AGN Laptop Mini Card, being installed in an Dell XPS M1530.

After upgrading my home router from a Linksys WRT110 to a newer Linksys EA2700 Wireless N, I decided to upgrade my main laptop from an older Intel wireless 3945ABG to a 4965AGN.

Intel 4965AGN

The new card can run on either the older (802.11 a/b/g) at 2.4Ghz, or on the new N network, at 5Ghz.  On the faster side, data throughput improves from 54Mbs to 300Mbps.  The N standard also has up to 2x greater range.



Real-life Speed Test:

Why upgrade?  With computers, it is always the same reason.  I ran these speed tests. An "N" card on an "N" router is truly twice as fast as the older setup.

Copying 2,700 files, 500MB
802.11g (2.4Ghz old card) - Time 3:30 min
802.11n (5Ghz, new card) - Time 1:41 min


The card can be found on the net with prices ranging from $10 to $60.  Being cheap, I mail-ordered the $10 card from AMZNeTek and laughed with it arrived in an envelope with no disk or instructions.  What would I expect?  It was a great price with no complaints about the service.  Although I am installing in a Dell, the card was branded for Toshiba, but this is not a problem because Intel cards are Intel cards regardless of how they are labeled.


Router Setup Steps

Before installing the card, you need to spend a few minutes at the router.

For instructions on how to setup a home network, see this detailed Keyliner article: Link: EA2700 - First Time Setup - Home Networks

then follow these important, non-default steps to configure the 2.4G and 5G router channels so they run at their most optimal speed.  A fully-detailed article can be found here, or read below for a summary:  Link: Router Setup Steps - 5Ghz

Split | Personalities:

Newer routers can simultaneously transmit over two different frequency ranges -- the older 2.4Ghz and the newer 5Ghz.  Naturally, 5Ghz is better because it has more throughput and less interference with other household devices, such as desk phones and microwaves.

But, if you are not careful, your brand-spanky-new router might find itself running at 2.4Ghz on both sides.  Follow these steps to dedicate the 5Ghz side to only newer network cards.  If an older card is allowed to connect on the 5Ghz channel, that side will step-down and run at the slower speed, defeating the new hardware.



Using a Linksys Ea2700 as an example, manually configure the 5Ghz and 2.4Ghz in this manner:

Summary:
A.  Type the router's IP Address in a browser
B.  Login as Admin / (your admin password); see Setting up a Home Network Router
C.  In the Wireless tab, click "Wireless Settings"

Click for larger view
Recommended 5Ghz Setup:

Once in the Wireless setup screen, change from "Wi-Fi Protected Setup" to 'Manual".  (This disables the one-step setup-button on the router, but that was not a particularly good feature.  With the setup recommended here, you can type the password and connect and this is easier than getting up and finding the button on the router.)

Then make these setting changes on the 5Ghz side:

Related Keyliner link with similar content: Router Setup - 5Ghz

Network Mode:  "Wireless N Only"
(change from Mixed Mode).  This forces this side to only service newer network cards.
Older cards will be forced to the 2.4Ghz side.

Network SSID:
Invent a name for your 5G network, such as "wolfhouse5G".
Do not use spaces in the name and this name must be different than the 2.4G side.

Security Mode: Set to "WPA Personal".
Forcing to a newer encryption protocol.

PassPhrase:
This is the password/login workstations use to gain access to the network.  Invent any password or phrase.  Use this same phrase on the 2.4G side.  Write this down and tape to the bottom of the router, along with the Admin password.

Channel Width:  Leave at default (Auto 20 Mhz or 40 Mhz)

Channel:  Auto

SSID Broadcast:  Enabled (recommended)

Note: Why Broadcast SSID?  Some new Windows 7 / 8 features will not work without a broadcast SSID -- and hiding the SSID won't help keep the bad guys off your network.  This can be sniffed in a heartbeat.  If they are good enough to break the encryption, they have the SSID and your Mac addresses already.  Quit wasting your time.


Recommended 2.4Ghz Setup:

Network Mode:  "Mixed"  (default).
This allows all 802.11 a/b/g traffic to connect. 

Network SSID:
Invent a name for your 5G network, such as "wolfhouse24G".
Do not use spaces in the name and this name must be different than the 5G side.

Security Mode: Set to "WPA2/WPA Mixed Mode".
This is needed to accommodate older network cards.

PassPhrase:
This is the password workstations must provide in order to get access to this network.
I recommend using the same passphrase as the 5G side, but it can be different.

Channel Width:  Leave at default (Auto 20 Mhz or 40 Mhz)

Channel:  Auto

SSID Broadcast:  Enabled (recommended; see above)


Save the Settings.

Now, return to the laptop's new Network card's installation.


Laptop Network Card (NIC) Upgrade


On most machines, the laptop's network card is easy to get to and easy to replace.  Expect to spend about 15 minutes installing.  Follow these steps.  You will need a small flat head screwdriver and a small jeweler's Phillips screw driver plus a crowbar and sledgehammer.

Notice I am recommending Intel cards rather than other other brands because the drivers are better maintained with new operating systems. 

1.  Although Windows 7 and 8 will detect and install new drivers automatically, it is prudent and safe to have the network card's installation files on the local hard disk in case there is a problem in this area.

Download, but do not install, the Intel 4965AGN drivers from Intel. These drivers will be newer than those first installed by Windows.  On Intel's site, search for "4965AGN" and select your operating system.  Note: As of 2012.11, Intel does not have Windows 8 drivers for this card; use the Windows 7 version or the default, as installed by Microsoft. 

Download Link: Intel's site.


You will find two versions: I recommended the Drivers-Only "D" version vs the additional Software "S" version.  The Software version isn't needed as Windows 7 and 8 are doing a good job managing the wireless natively. 

2.  Place a towel on a desk, protecting the laptop and for catching small screws.

3.  Turn the laptop over and remove the back access panels.  Each laptop varies on how to do this, but this isn't rocket science.

Some cautions are in order:
  • Most laptops use tiny screws.  Do not use a small Phillips screwdriver; instead, use a small eye-glass or jeweler's screwdriver so the heads are not stripped from the access panel screws.  Trust me on this.
     
  • For most laptops, loosen the screw but do not not completely remove because they have tiny lock washers on the back side and completely removing the screw will loose the washer. Once loosened, gently pry the covers off as most have catch-tabs.



4.  Note how the card is marked with a "1" and "2"  (newer cards have 1,2,3 and some cards have black and white triangles.  These represent the antennae wires. 

Use a small flat-head screwdriver to gently pry off the original card's #1 and #2 antennae wires --  twisting the screwdriver head to pry upwards.  The connectors will pop off, straight up.  The connectors are fragile.  Of interest, these are the wires that lead to the antennae wrapped around the LCD panel.


5.  Remove the (one) screw that holds the card in place.  When loosening the screw, use a finger to press and hold the card in place.  The card is spring-loaded and when the screw is loosened it will catapult the tiny screw to places unknown.

6.  With the new card, re-connect the antennae wires.

Because the black and white wires are tiny and hard to manipulate, connect the wires before installing the card.  Center the wires on the post and press firmly until they click.  They are fragile and you must do this with care or the connectors can be damaged.   On a two-wire antennae,  #1 is white, #2 will be black.  Unless your laptop has three wires, ignore the center connector.


7.  Install the card into the slot and attach to the frame; snake cables back into their original positions and return the back covers.  You are ready to go.

Boot the computer.  Windows 7 and newer will detect the card and install base drivers.  Do not bother connecting to the network yet.


Drivers:

Install the Intel drivers downloaded earlier.  While installing, the Intel logo whirls but doesn't say much.  It will install and close without comment.  Because you can't tell when it is finished, give it about 3 minutes to complete.

Next, open your System Tray's network icon and connect to the 5G network.  You will see two or three networks broadcast from your home, "wolfhouse5G", "wolfhouse24G" and possibly "wolfhouse24G-Guest".   Choose the 5G and type the access code when prompted.
Do a big file copy and pat yourself on the back for quality, competent work. 


Related Articles:
Linksys EA2700 Router Review
Linksys EA2700 - First Time Setup - Home Network
Router Setup - 5Ghz
Setting up a Brother Printer on Wireless

2 comments:

  1. Hi Tim,

    First, thanks a lot for your posts! I've just recently revived my 1530 after it was unusable for many years due to the video card issue. (testing in progress)

    I also have this wireless card. May I know which intel driver version you are currently using for Windows 10?

    Currently, the default is 13.4.0.139 and my attempts to install the later v14 and v15 drivers are not successful. TIA.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I will have to fire up the laptop this weekend and I'll take a look.

      Delete

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