Here we go again. My saga of getting a legit Wi-Fi 7 computer continues after the first attempt, in which I built a desktop using a Wi-Fi 7-ready motherboard.
That custom-built machine worked out in the end, but one can't lug a desktop around to experience the coverage at different spots of a home.
So, for real-world testing, practically, I need a Wi-Fi 7 on a laptop. This post is to confirm the fact that it's possible to have such a laptop today.
No, there's no Wi-Fi 7-enabled PC already available you can buy just yet. But you can add Wi-Fi 7 to a computer via a standard adapter. In other words, you give your existing computer a Wi-Fi 7 upgrade.
In a way, this piece is a supplement to my post on how to upgrade to Wi-Fi 6/6E. Let's get our hands dirty.
Wi-Fi 7 upgrade on a Windows computer: All you need to know
To fully upgrade a network to Wi-Fi 7, you need two things.
First, you must have a broadcaster that supports the standard, namely a Wi-Fi 7 router or access point. Here are all the options you can buy today. (Note that Wi-Fi 7 is still in draft, so take the "support" notion with a nuance.)
If you're new to Wi-Fi 7, the cabinet below will give you some highlights.
Wi-Fi 7's new features
1. The all-new 320MHz channel width
The first is the new and much wider channel width, up to 320MHz or double that of Wi-Fi 6/6E.
This new channel width is generally available on the 6GHz band, with up to three 320MHz channels. However, Wi-Fi 7 can also combine portions of the 6GHz and 5GHz bands to create this new bandwidth -- more in the Multi-Link Operation section below.
Details of Wi-Fi channels can be found here, but the new channel width generally means Wi-Fi 7 can double the base speed, from 1.2Gbps per stream (160MHz) to 2.4Gbps per stream (320MHz).
So, in theory, just from the width alone, a 4x4 broadcaster 6GHz Wi-Fi 7 can have up to 9.6 Gbps of bandwidth -- or 10Gbps when rounded up. But there's more to Wi-Fi 7's bandwidth below.
Depending on the configuration, Wi-Fi 7 routers and access points will be available in different speed grades, including those offering bandwidths higher or lower than 10Gbps on the 6GHz band.
Wi-Fi 7 also supports double the partial streams, up to 16. As a result, technically, a 16-stream (16x16) Wi-Fi 7 6GHz band can deliver up to over 40Gbps of bandwidth, especially when considering the new QAM support below.
Like Wi-Fi 6 and 6E, initially, Wi-Fi 7 will be available as dual-stream (2x2) and quad-stream (4x4) broadcasters and dual-stream clients. Going forward, the standard might have 8x8 broadcasters and single-stream or quad-stream clients.
Again, you need a compatible client to use the new 320MHz channel width. Existing clients will connect using 160MHz at best. In reality, the 160MHz will likely be the realistic sweet-spot bandwidth of Wi-Fi 7, just like the 80MHz in the case of Wi-Fi 6.
2. The 4K-QAM
QAM, short for quadrature amplitude modulation, is a way to manipulate the radio wave to pack more information in the Hertz.
Wi-Fi 6 supports 1024-QAM, which itself is already impressive. However, Wi-Fi 7 will have four times that, or 4096-QAM. Greater QAM means better performance for the same channel width.
As a result, Wi-Fi 7 will have a much higher speed and efficiency than previous standards when working with supported clients.
Wi-F 7 vs Wi-Fi 6/6E: The realistic real-world speeds
With the support for the wider channel width and higher QAM, Wi-Fi 7 is set to be much faster than previous standards.
The table below summarizes what you can expect from Wi-Fi 7's real-world organic performance compared to Wi-Fi 6E when working on the 6GHz.
|Wi-Fi 6E||Wi-Fi 7|
|Max Channel Bandwidth|
|Number of Available Channels||7x 160MHz or 14x 80MHz channels||3x 320MHz or 6x 160MHz channels|
|Max Number |
of Spatial Streams
(theoretical on paper / commercially implemented)
|8 / 4||16 / 8 (estimate)|
|1.2Gbps (at 160MHz)|
600Mbps (at 80MHz)
|≈ 2.9Gbps (at 320MHz)|
≈ 1.45Gbps (at 160MHz)
|Max Band Bandwidth|
(theoretical on paper)
|Commercial Max Band Bandwidth Per Band|
|Available Max Real-word Negotiated Speeds(*)||2.4Gbps (via a 2x2 160MHz client)|
1.2Gbps (via a 2x2 80MHzclient)
|≈ 11.5Gbps (via a 4x4 320MHz client)|
≈ 5.8Gbps (via a 2x2 320MHz client or a 4x4 160MHz client)
≈ 2.9Gbps (via a single stream 320MHz client or a 2x2 160MHz client)
≈ 1.45Gbps (via a single stream 160MHz client or a 2x2 80MHz client)
(*) The actual negotiated speed depends on the client, Wi-Fi 7 specs, and environment. Real-world sustained rates are generally much lower than negotiated speeds. Wi-Fi 6/6E has had only 2x2 clients. Wi-Fi 7 will also use 2x2 clients primarily, but it might have 4x4 and even single-stream (1x1) clients.
Considering the 2x2 implementation and the sweet-spot 160MHz channel width, generally, it's safe to conservatively expect real-world rates of the mainstream Wi-Fi 7 (160MHz) to be about 20% faster than top-tier Wi-Fi 6E (160MHz).
3. Multi-Link Operation
Multi-Link Operation, or MLO, is the most exciting and promising feature of Wi-Fi 7 that changes the norm of Wi-Fi: Up to Wi-Fi 6E, a Wi-Fi connection between two direct devices occurs in a single band, using a fixed channel at a time.
In a nutshell, MLO is Wi-Fi band aggregation. Like Link Aggregation (or bonding) in wired networking, MLO allows combining two Wi-Fi bands, mostly 5GHz and 6GHz, into a single Wi-Fi network (SSID) and connection. The bonded link delivers higher bandwidth and reliability.
Generally, MLO will help increase the efficiency of Wi-Fi 7's range, allowing a broadcaster to deliver faster speed over longer distances than previous standards.
It can be a game-changer in a wireless mesh network by fortifying the wireless link between broadcasters -- the backhaul -- both in terms of speed and reliability. While that doesn't apply to systems with wired backhauling, MLO can make seamless handoff (or roaming) truly seamless.
On top of that, MLO allows each band to intelligently pick the best channel and channel width in real-time -- it can channel-hop, just like Bluetooth, though likely less frequently.
For clients, in more ways than one, MLO is the best alternative to the existing so-called "Smart Connect" -- using the same SSID (network name) and password for all the bands of a broadcaster -- which doesn't always work as smartly as expected.
But MLO is not all perfect -- a few things to keep in mind:
- MLO only works with Wi-Fi 7 clients. Older clients, such as Wi-Fi 6 or 6E, will still use a single band at a time when connecting to a MLO SSID. (As mentioned, a computer needs to run at least Windows 11 version 24H2, set to release in late 2024, to support MLO.)
- MLO requires the WPA3 encryption method and generally won't work with Wi-Fi 5 or older clients.
- The reach of the combined link (of 5GHz and 6GHz) has a range as far as that of the shorter band.
By default, the 6GHz band has just about 75% of the range of the 5GHz when the same broadcasting power is applied. That said, MLO can only be truly meaningful with the help of Wi-Fi 7's next feature, Automated Frequency Coordination.
4. Automated Frequency Coordination
Automated Frequency Coordination (AFC) applies only to the 6GHz band, which is the fastest yet the shortest range compared to the 5GHz and 2.4GHz. AFC is an optional feature, it's not required for the general function of a Wi-Fi 7 broadcaster.
At any given time, there can be existing applications already using the spectrum. For example, fixed satellite services (FSS) or broadcast companies might have already had called dibs on certain parts of the 6GHz band. A new Wi-Fi broadcaster must not impact those existing services -- a concept similar to DFS channels in Wi-Fi 6 and 5.
That's when the AFC feature comes into play. The idea is that all new 6GHz broadcasters check with a registered database in real-time to confirm their operation will not negatively impact other registered members. Once that's established, the broadcaster creates a dynamically exclusive environment in which its 6GHz band can operate without the constraint of regulations like the case of Wi-Fi 6E and older standards.
Specifically, the support for AFC means each Wi-Fi 7 broadcaster can use more broadcasting power and better flexible antenna designs. How much more? That depends.
But it's estimated that AFC can bring the broadcasting power up to 36 dBm (from the current 30 dBm max) or 4 watts (from 1 wat). The goal of AFC, at least initially, is to bring the 6GHz band's range to be comparable with the 5GHz band -- about 25% more.
When that happens, the MLO feature above will be truly powerful. But even then, Wi-Fi 7's range will remain the same as that of Wi-Fi 6. Its improvement is that its 6GHz band now has a longer reach than in Wi-Fi 6E.
Before you get all excited, this feature requires certification, and its availability is expected to vary from one region to another. It likely won't be available in the US before late 2024.
All hardware released before that is said to be capable of handling AFC, which, when applicable, can be turned on via firmware updates.
A crude AFC analogy
Automated Frequency Coordination (AFC) is like checking with the local authorities for permission to close off sections of city streets for a drag race block party.
When approved, the usual traffic and parking laws no longer apply to the area, and the organizers can determine how fast traffic can flow, etc.
Wi-Fi 7’s other improvements
On top of that, Wi-Fi 7 will also have other improvements, including support for Flexible Channel Utilization (FCU) and Multi-RU.
With FCU, Wi-Fi 7 handles interference more gracefully by slicing off the portion of a channel with interference, 20MHz at a time, and keeps the clean part usable, as opposed to the case of Wi-Fi 6/6E, when there's interference, an entire channel can be taken out of commission. FCU is the behind-the-scene technology that increases the efficiency of Wi-Fi, similar to the case of MU-MIMO and OFDMA.
Similarly, with Wi-Fi 6/6E, each device can only send or receive frames on an assigned resource unit (RU), which signiﬁcantly limits the ﬂexibility of the spectrum resource scheduling. Wi-Fi 7 allows multiple RUs to be assigned to a single device and can combine RUs for increased transmission efficiency.
And secondly, you need a Wi-Fi 7-enabled client. And this is where you need to do some work. Specifically, you need to get a Wi-Fi 7 adapter and install it into a computer that can house it.
This post talks about the latter.
Wi-Fi 7 upgrade on a computer: Notes on hardware parts
Currently, there's only one adapter you can buy, the Intel BE200. This will likely be the mainstream adapter going forward, similar to the case of the Intel AX210 for Wi-Fi 6E and Intel AX200 for Wi-Fi 6.
There's also the Intel BE202 variant that only has half the bandwidth, which you should skip.
Here are the links to Amazon, where you can get this Intel BE200 adapter prepared:
- The Wi-Fi 7 adapter itself. This one works immediately on a desktop with an NGFF 2230 Wi-Fi M.2 slot. Note that its price will get lower as time goes by.
- A PCIe-to-NGFF adapter, such as this one. This adapter is applicable only if you use a desktop computer without a built-in Wi-Fi M.2 slot. (You can reuse that of a Wi-Fi 6/6E adapter.)
As for the computer, not all will work. Specifically, it must be a Windows machine -- desktop or laptop -- that meet the following condition:
- The machine must have an NGFF 2230 M.2 slot designed specifically for Wi-Fi adapter cards. Or
- It has an available PCIe slot.
If the conditions above seem intimidating, you only need to remember that if your computer is currently running Wi-Fi 6 (or 6E), chances are it can be upgraded to Wi-Fi 7. (Generally, the upgrade is only impossible on such a machine when its current Wi-Fi card is soldered to the motherboard and can't be replaced -- the case of certain ultra-compact laptops.)
That said, if you've upgraded your computer to Wi-Fi 6 or 6E, that computer will also support a Wi-Fi 7 adapter.
Upgrading Wi-Fi 7 on a computer: The steps
This is where you need to open the computer, install or swap out the cards, and close it. Afterward, install the software driver.
Here are the detailed steps:
1. Download the software drivers
Generally, Wi-Fi 7 only works well, to the extent currently available, with Windows 11 -- so upgrade your computer today -- but the software can be installed on Windows 10. (Windows 10 does NOT support the 6GHz band -- the BE200 will work like a Wi-Fi 6 adapter).
Here are the download options:
- From Intel
- Direct link:
It's generally a good idea to download the driver beforehand. You can even run the downloaded file -- double-click on it -- and install the drive immediately without the new Wi-Fi card.
After that, turn your computer off before continuing.
2. Install the new Wi-Fi 7 adapter into your computer
This is the most important part: installing the actual Wi-Fi 7 adapter into your computer. It's quite straightforward. There are two possibilities -- make sure your computer is turned off before continuing.
A. If your computer has a built-in NGNN M.2 slot
This is the case with most laptops and some desktops.
Open the case and locate the slot. It's likely already occupied by an existing Wi-Fi 5/6 or 6E adapter. If so, remove this adapter. Then, install the Intel BE200 into the slot and connect the antenna wires accordingly.
B. On a desktop computer wihtout a Wi-Fi M.2 slot
Older desktop computers tend not to have a Wi-Fi M.2 slot. But all will have a PCIe slot on its motherboard -- if yours doesn't, it's way too old.
For a machine like this, you must first attach the Intel BE200 adapter to the PCIe-to-NGFF adapter you've purchased to form a Wi-Fi 7 PCIe card. Now install this card into the machine's PCIe slot. Any slot will do, though you only need the shortest one.
And that's it, now close the computer backup.
3. Install the software driver
Turn the computer backup and, if you haven't done so, install the software driver you downloaded in step #1.
You can download the driver of the Intel BE200 via Windows Update, but that's only possible when the computer has another network card.
Connect your new Wi-Fi card to your Wi-Fi 7 network, and mission accomplished! You've got yourself the first true Wi-Fi 7 connection. Well, sort of.
Intel BE200 Wi-Fi 7 Chip's Rating
Adds Wi-Fi 7 to a computer with up to 320MHz channel width; affordable
Flexible application via NGFF form factor (2230 M.2 slot) or PCIe adapter
Backward compatible with Wi-Fi 6E and older broadcasters
Real Wi-FI 7 needs Windows 11 24H2 or later (unavailable in 2023)
No 6GHz band for Windows 10
No USB option
Wi-Fi 7 upgrade: The takeaway
As noted, Wi-Fi 7 is still in draft and will not be fully available until mid or late 2024 when Windows 11 24H2 (or Windows 12) is available. That's the Windows release that supposedly fully supports the new Wi-Fi standard, similar to how Windows 11 was the first that officially supported the 6GHz band of the Intel AX210 Wi-Fi 6E adapter.
Until then, many features of the standard are not yet available. Consequently, depending on the broadcaster, a Wi-Fi 7 connection is not that much better than a Wi-Fi 6E one, if not exactly the same in most cases.
In my case -- like what I experienced with the Intel BE202 -- my laptops' newly minted Intel BE200 chips connected to all of my Wi-Fi 7 broadcasters at 2402Mbps negotiated speeds at best -- when connected to the Linksys Velop Pro 7 or the ARRIS SURFboard G54 -- and delivered the same performance as 2x2 160MHz Wi-Fi 6E counterparts.
Things might be different with other Wi-Fi 7 routers, and we'll find out via my reviews. But the discrepancy in performance, if any, is to be expected. As Wi-Fi 7 is still in draft, its bandwidth-enhancing features, AFC and MLO, are unavailable. Additionally, different chipsets from different hardware vendors might not have the agreement to operate interchangeably at their optimal speeds.
So, for now, Wi-Fi 7 is basically Wi-Fi 6E at the core. That said, there's no rush to do a Wi-Fi 7 upgrade today. You can wait until the Intel BE200's price goes down, as it will.
But it doesn't hurt to upgrade your computer to this standard today, either. The new adapter will work with all existing Wi-Fi broadcasters regardless of their standards. And the full support for Wi-Fi 7, with all of its bells and whistles, is just a matter of firmware/driver updates.