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How to Upgrade Your Laptop's Wi-Fi

So, you've got an old, trusty laptop and you'd like to keep it alive for another year or two. And why shouldn't you do that, when its CPU is fast enough, it's got plenty of RAM and you've just replaced that ancient drive with a modern SSD? Unfortunately, the laptop's Wi-Fi card is quite old, and this prevents you from enjoying what the Internet has to offer at its full potential. According to Data Alliance, 38% of the laptops that are available on the market include Wi-Fi modules which don't provide support for 5 GHz networks.

That's bad news, because 5GHz networks provide improved data transfer speeds and are less prone to signal interference – a huge plus for people who live in crowded areas. The good news is that there are two methods that can help improve wireless signal reception, and they don't require a lot of money. So, let's see what can be done to solve poor Wi-Fi reception problems.

The easiest method is to purchase a Wi-Fi dongle, and then plug it into one of your laptop's USB ports. You can find dongles like these for prices that range from $10 to $50; the most expensive ones are usually better, though that's not always the case.

Be sure to keep an eye on the Wi-Fi version; you want to purchase a dongle that supports 802.11ac or a newer version of the wireless standard. Also, don't forget to take a good look at the dongle's antenna; while some products have a small, built-in antenna, others provide larger antennas, and this will significantly improve signal strength.

It goes without saying that a larger dongle may make your traveling experience a bit more difficult. But if size isn't an issue, pick a dongle that's got one or two full-sized external antennas, and I guarantee that Wi-Fi signal strength will go through the roof.

Technology-savvy users may want to replace their laptops' internal Wi-Fi cards, though. It's the preferred method for people who aren't afraid of opening their laptops' cases, and then switching the wireless modules. Please note that some laptop manufacturers don't use separate Wi-Fi modules, and this makes it almost impossible to use a newer wireless card. You can still use a USB dongle, of course, provided that you disable the internal Wi-Fi chip from within Windows' Device Manager, before installing your new dongle.

But let's assume that your laptop uses a replaceable mini PCI-e card for its wireless module. Remove the laptop battery, open the case, and then find that tiny module that's got a "WLAN" label applied over it. Search the web or – even better – search YouTube to see how you can get to that Wi-Fi module. Measure its size; you want to ensure that the new module you plan to purchase will fit in properly.

I can't recommend Intel's Wi-Fi cards enough; signal strength is often double in comparison with what people are getting with their old wireless modules. Detach the internal antenna, remove any screws that may prevent the old Wi-Fi module from being slid out, and then replace it with the new one. Don't forget to connect the antenna to the new module; otherwise, signal reception will be very poor, and you may even damage the new Wi-Fi card!

Once that everything is in place, connect the battery to its plug, and then power on the laptop. If everything went okay, the computer will detect the new piece of hardware automatically, and then it will install its drivers. This is often done without the user's intervention, at least for Windows 10 laptops; however, if your Wi-Fi card includes a set of drivers, you should try to update the ones that were found by Windows. I said "try", because the online versions are often newer than what you've gotten on that Mini CD.

As you can see, it's not that difficult to upgrade the laptop's Wi-Fi card on your own. However, if you feel that the operation is too risky, you could take the laptop to the local repair shop and ask those guys to do it for you.