To have a complete Wi-Fi 6 upgrade, you need a router and at least one client of the new Wi-Fi standard. It’s easy on the router front — there are a lot of options, such as one of these. On the client-side, only new devices will have Wi-Fi 6 built-in, and not all of them do.
That said, if you have a Windows laptop or desktop computer, chances are you can upgrade it to Wi-Fi 6 for less than $50 each. This post will walk you through this process. Before continuing, though, make sure you’re comfortable with opening up your machine to install/replace a component.
Wi-Fi 6 upgrade: What you need
First and foremost, you need a Wi-Fi 6 adapter card to add it to your computer. The card you can get right now is the Killer Wi-Fi 6 AX1650x Module from Rivet Networks or the Intel AX200 chip. The two are mostly the same. The former, based on the latter, has some gaming features as extras. Apart from Wi-Fi, both cards also have built-in Bluetooth 5.
Note: Soon, there will be USB Wi-Fi 6 adapter cards. In this case, make sure you use it with a USB 3.2 Gen 1 (formerly USB 3.0) or faster port. USB 2.0 caps at just 480 Mbps, which is too slow to handle Wi-Fi 6.
Wi-Fi 6 upgrade: Find out if your computer qualifies
The Killer Wi-Fi 6 AX1650x and Intel AX200 module, as well as likely all future Wi-Fi 6 adapters, use the next generation form factor (NGFF). Specifically, this is a 2230 M.2 card — it’s 22m wide and 33mm long — that uses A key or E key to connect to a host. That said, to qualify for the upgrade, your computer must be able to host this card design.
Wi-Fi 6 upgrade on a laptop: Highly possible
Clearly, you can’t do this on all existing laptops. But the good news is most laptops released in the past five or so years use an NGFF Wi-Fi card — they have a 2230 M.2 slot and are ready for the upgrade.
To be sure, though, here’s how to check:
If your laptop currently uses an Intel Wi-Fi 5 adapter model AC-72xx, AC-82xx, AC-3160, or AC-92xx, it will likely support the new AX200-based module. Those that use the following Wi-Fi 5 models from Rivet Networks will, for sure, work, too: Killer 1435 and Killer 15xx.
Again, even if your machine doesn’t use any of the Wi-Fi card models above, it still likely supports an Intel AX200-based card. My take is if it’s using a 2×2 or faster Wi-Fi 5 card, it will probably accommodate a Wi-Fi 6 module. The bottom line is the computer needs have a 2230 M.2 slot.
How to identify a laptop’s existing Wi-Fi card (on a Windows 10 machine)
- Right-click on the Start button (lower-left corner) and choose Device Manager to open the Device Manager window.
- On the list of devices, click on the right arrow (>) button before Network adapters to extend the list.
- Look for the wireless adapter and note down its name. If it’s one of the card model mentioned above, your laptop is for sure ready for the upgrade. You can also Google its model number to find out if it’s a 2230 NGFF card.
Wi-Fi 6 upgrade on a desktop: It’s all about PCIe
The chance is much higher on the desktop front. For one, some desktops have a built-in 2230 M.2 slot. Most importantly, all standard desktops released in the past decade have peripheral component interconnect express (PCIe or PCI-E) slots. As a result, with an NGFF-to-PCIe converter card, you can, for sure, upgrade the machine to Wi-Fi 6.
PCIe slots come in different lengths to represent performance grades — the longer the slot, the faster an add-on device it can host. You’ll only need an x1 PCIe slot (the shortest one) for the Wi-Fi 6 upgrade, but a slot of any length will work.
How to identify PCIe slots on a desktop
On a motherboard, PCIe slots tend to come in a few colors, including black, blue, yellow, or green, but they are rarely white, which is the color of older PCI slots. Also, no matter how long a PCIe slot is, its only key notch — a divider within the slot itself — is always at the same spot, about less than an inch from the left end.
If you buy a separate PCIe converter card, attach the Wi-Fi 6 module onto it, and you have yourself a Wi-Fi 6 PCIe add-on adapter.
Note: You might need an internal USB connector for the Bluetooth feature of the AX200-based Wi-Fi card. Most motherboards have some of these at the bottom of the motherboard, below the PCIe slot area. If you only care about the Wi-Fi function, you can ignore this.
Steps to perform a Wi-Fi 6 upgrade via adapter card installation
Now that you have done all the steps needed to make sure your computer supports the new card, here are the general steps to do the Wi-Fi 6 upgrade, using the Killer AX1650x or any other Wi-Fi 6 module.
- Buy the Wi-Fi laptop module and the converter PCIe adapter card (if necessary).
- On your computer, download the Wi-Fi 6 module’s driver software. (Here’s the link if you’re using the Killer AX1650x. If you use any other Intel AX200-based cards, use this the link.)
- Open up the computer, and install the module: On a desktop, use any available PCIe slot. (Make sure you plug in the card’s USB cable if you want to use the card’s Bluetooth feature). On a laptop, swap the existing Wi-Fi card with the new Wi-Fi 6 module — the two should look very similar. (Make sure you reattach the antenna wires correctly onto the replacement card’s connectors, marked as 2 and 1 on the module — replicate their positions as seen on the old card.)
- Close the computer back up.
- Start the computer up and, if necessary, install the software you downloaded in step #2 — the latest revisions of Windows 10 have a built-in driver and your card might work right away. (By the way, technically, you can download the driver for Intel AX200-based cards using Windows Update. However, for that, the computer needs to connect to the Internet, which is not possible if the Wi-Fi card is its only network adapter. So, getting the driver software beforehand is a smart move.)
And that’s it. If you’re using a Wi-Fi 6 router, your computer can now connect to it using a Wi-Fi 6 connection. You might have to tweak the router’s setting a bit — make sure it works in the 160Mhz channel — for the card to connect at top speeds.
Faster future cards
All Intel AX200-based Wi-Fi 6 modules feature the mid-range 2×2 specification. As a result, they have the ceiling speed of 2.4Gbps with real-world sustained speeds likely lower. Keep in mind, that’s not the top speed of the Wi-Fi 6 standard. For that, you’ll need to wait till add-on cards of higher tiers are available. And then, the upgrade process will likely be the same.