Laptops tend to last for years: technology has reached a point where the hardware is reliable enough and also fast enough that there’s no need to buy a new one. Virtually everyone uses their laptop’s Wi-Fi to connect to their router, but Wi-Fi is one area where tech has moved on in the last few years.
If you have an 802.11ac router, it makes sense to upgrade your laptop’s Wi-Fi to this standard, especially if it has older 802.11n hardware or even 802.11g.
Whatever your reason for wanting to upgrade, there are two main options. First is the easy route: you buy a USB Wi-Fi dongle and use that instead of your laptop’s built-in wireless.
The neater, but tricker, way is to replace the Wi-Fi card in your laptop with a newer one.
Before you order one, it’s worth reading our guide to improving Wi-Fi as you may find you can get a better signal, better reliability or faster speeds without spending any money.
Which USB Wi-Fi dongle should I buy?
It can be a bit inconvenient to have a Wi-Fi dongle sticking out of the side of your laptop all the time. They takes up a USB port and has to be removed when transporting it in a case or bag (unless you buy one of the really tiny ones).
But if you’re happy with this, then USB Wi-Fi adapters aren’t expensive. TP-Link’s 802.11n ‘nano’ adapter costs less than £8 from Amazon, and is $9.99 from Amazon US.
That’s only good if your laptop had 802.11g Wi-Fi, or the internal Wi-Fi wasn’t working, though.
It’s best to buy one that supports the latest 802.11ac standard if your router is up to date and also has an 802.11ac radio.
Many have large aerials, which you probably don’t want, but TP-Link’s T2U adapter doesn’t. It costs £14.99 from Amazon and $24.95 from Amazon US.
How do I upgrade my laptop Wi-Fi?
If you want to replace the internal Wi-Fi card, this is possible with some laptops and not others.
Many laptops have a plug-in mini PCI-e Wi-Fi card such as the one below. If you can access this then replacing your existing one with a new one is actually very simple.
You can buy the Intel AC7265 Wi-Fi card for £22.98 from Ebuyer,
Check underneath your laptop for removable panels: they’re typically secured with a couple of screws. You might find that you can only access your laptop’s RAM, but some laptops have an access panel for Wi-Fi as well.
If you can get to it, measure the card and make sure any replacement you buy matches those dimensions.
To fit a new card, use a plastic tool – such as those which come with replacement phone screens – or even your fingernail to prise off the antenna wire(s). Then remove any screws and the card should pop up. Now you can slide it out.
When the new one is installed, double-check the antenna wires are pressed on firmly, then replace the cover, battery and power up your laptop. Windows should detect the card and ask for drivers, or install them automatically.
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