Help Me Choose: Wireless

An internal wireless card is a small piece of hardware about the size of a credit card that plugs into your computer’s motherboard. It enables your computer to find wireless connections in your coverage area — such as internet hotspots and home or office local networks as well as wireless devices — and connect to them without a cable.

The speed and range at which your computer can transmit and receive data is based on the wireless standard of your wireless card and the router your computer connects to.

To choose a wireless card for your system, determine the wireless frequency that best matches your data-transfer needs:

  • 802.11ac (also called 5-G WiFi or Gigabit WiFi) is the next-generation wireless standard. With improved range and up to 3x the speed of existing 802.11n networks supporting dual-band operation, this card is great for streaming HD media and fast data transfer.
  • 802.11.n (also called Wireless-N) is the current wireless standard. It uses multiple wireless signals and antennas instead of one, making it much faster than the single-stream capabilities of 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g. This card is today’s basic connection and has either dual-band or single-band capabilities.
    • Dual-band. A dual-band wireless card uses 2.4GHz or 5GHz wireless signals. This card allows you to check email and browse the internet using the 2.4GHz band or stream HD movies and other media on the 5GHz band.
    • Single-band. A single-band wireless card runs at a slower speed than dual-band, is less expensive, and uses the 2.4GHz band.

To learn more about the technical specifications of each wireless standard, see the Wireless Standards tab.

Note: Wireless access is subject to wireless provider’s broadband subscription and coverage area. Additional charges may apply.

802.11ac (Gigabit WiFi)

  • Next-generation wireless standard (The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) label it as a draft state, so there will likely be improvements to it in the future.)
  • (see previous comment) Improves speed (up to 3x), reliability, quality and range over the current 802.11n wireless standard 
  • Only uses the 5GHz band, which is less prone to interference
  • Peak data rates from 433 Mbps to 1.3 Gbps* when used with 802.11ac routers
  • Compatible with 802.11b, 802.11a, 802.11g and 802.11n wireless networks
  • The following wireless cards support 802.11ac
    • Dell Wireless 1550 802.11ac + Bluetooth 4.0 Dual-Band 2x2 WiFi Half Mini Card
    • Intel 7260AC 802.11ac + Bluetooth 4.0 Dual-Band 2x2 Half Mini Card

802.11n (Wireless-N)

  • Current wireless standard.
  • Transmits and receives multiple simultaneous data streams (MIMO technology) to go far beyond the single-stream capabilities of 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g
  • Peak data rates from 150 Mbps to 450 Mbps* when used with Wireless-N routers
  • Compatible with 802.11b, 802.11a and 802.11g wireless networks.
  • The following wireless cards are WiFi Alliance 802.11n certified:
    • Dell Wireless 1506 802.11n Single-Band (2.4GHz) WiFi Half Mini Card
    • Intel® Centrino® Advanced-N 6235 802.11n + Bluetooth® 4.0 Dual-Band (2.4GHz/5GHz) 2x2 Half Mini Card
    • Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 802.11n + Bluetooth 4.0 Dual-Band (2.4GHz/5GHz) 3x3 Half Mini Card