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The Intel 4965AGN is a mini PCI-E wireless card released in 2007 and used in a lot of laptops (and even netbooks) since then.
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Apart from a tendency to get quite hot when in use, this card is now a number of generations behind, so won’t be as efficient as newer products.
If you own a computer with this card and you’re having connection problems with your WiFi, upgrading to a newer model is probably worthwhile.
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Additionally, if your laptop is running too hot, replacing this card could help lower the temperature a bit (try to find where the card is located and see if it gets very warm during file downloads, streaming video from YouTube etc.)
The Intel WiFi Link 5100 and 5300 are 2008 era cards that are now two-generations behind, so worth considering replacement too.
How to choose a replacement card
Choosing which card to replace your 4965AGN with will depend on your hardware, and also whether drivers are available for your version of Windows etc. In theory, you should be able to use any appropriate-fitting wireless card, but in practice, there are some caveats.
Here’s what you’ll need to check (you’ll need to open the WiFi card compartment on your laptop):
Hardware Whitelist: If you have a laptop made by HP or Lenovo, they will only allow certain cards to be recognised by the laptop’s BIOS. You can check compatibility on their websites.
If you’re determined to use a non-whitelisted card, and feeling (a lot!) more adventurous, there are some possible workarounds.
Driver support for your OS: Many of the newest wireless cards available have dropped support for older operating systems such as Windows Vista. The newest Intel 7xxx series for example, seems to require a minimum of Windows 7.
If you are planning on using your new card with Windows Vista or XP, double check the “Supported operating system” specs on the manufacturer’s site.
Also, if for some reason you want to use an older card like the Intel 5100 or 5300 as a replacement, and upgrade Windows at the same time, take note that these older cards are not supported in Windows 8.
Physical fit: The old 4965 is a full size/height miniPCI express card. Newer cards are half-size/height cards. Fortunately, the newer cards will still work, it’s just that they might sit loose if you can’t screw them in properly. Amazon have some nifty bracket adapters that easily solve this problem.
An Intel 4965AGN (background) and Intel 6200 with full-size brackets attached (foreground)
Number of antenna connections: Most laptops will have at least two wireless connectors to improve the signal by using spatial separation of the antennas inside the laptop. Some laptops will have three. Similarly, some wireless cards will have two antenna connectors, and some have three.
Ideally, you’ll probably want to get a WiFi card with three connectors if you have three antennas, but if you are missing either a connector on the card, or a 3rd antenna wire on the laptop, you can still connect up what you have and it will work. The LED-screen version of the Dell XPS M1330 in the top picture actually shipped with only two antennas available for the installed three-connecter 4965 card.
Bluetooth/WiMax support: Some newer cards also come with Bluetooth and/or WiMax support. For the purposes of this article, we’re just interested in plain WiFi cards. If you don’t need Bluetooth or WiMax support, it’s probably better to get a card without these features, since there are some reports that the different modes can conflict with each other when a number of them are enabled simultaneously.
Buying a new card – some contenders
Here are some ideas for replacement cards, just sticking with the Intel range as an example:
- Intel 5100/5300 – Dual/Triple antenna successors to the 4965. Probably not really worth the effort. Comes in half-height and full-height versions.
- Intel 6200/6300 – A good compromise between performance and compatibility, these half-height cards from 2011 come in either the dual-stream, dual-antenna 6200 “Advanced-N” version, or the triple-stream, triple-antenna 6300 “Ultimate-N” version.
- Intel 6205 – Appears to be a newer revision of the 6200.
- Intel 6235 – Similar to the 6205, but with Bluetooth. A number of people report have difficulties with this card.
- Intel 7000series (e.g. 7260) – These are Intel’s newest series of cards that feature support for the newest .11ac wireless standard. They don’t have driver support for Windows Vista or XP.
Where to buy
It going to be easier in most cases to buy something like this online. eBay does have a large selection of WiFi card sellers, however, if you’re not certain about the source, it’s probably better to buy off Amazon or an independent online retailer.
Check that your seller has a good no-quibbles return policy, since there is a chance you might find that your new card is incompatible with your system for some reason.
Note that if you do decide to buy off eBay, there’s the usual risk of getting a fake –
Some sellers, in what can only be considered as a brazen attempt at avoiding a ban, actually include a declaration of fakeness somewhere in the ad, like in the listing above!
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Installing your card
Physically installing the card is usually straightforward – just be careful with the little antenna connectors.
The laptop should be fully powered off and unplugged. It’s not usually necessary to remove the battery, but you can if you feel more comfortable with it. You will probably need a small Philips-style screwdriver to open the WiFi compartment.
If you need to use a half-height to full height adapter, attach that to the new card.
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You can usually prise off the antenna leads on the old card with fingernails, and clip them on to the new card with fingers and thumbs. They minimally snap into place when correctly connected.
Don’t forget to download the drivers (but don’t install yet) for your new card before removing the old one!
After the new card is in place, restart your laptop, wait until it recognizes (or not.) the card, then install the new drivers regardless.
Note that when you install a new wireless card in Windows, it may forget the list of all saved networks, so you may have to put in the password again when connecting for the first time.
You can change the settings of your new wireless card from Control Panel->Manage Wireless Networks->Adapter Properties->Configure->Advanced.
It’s not really that necessary to change anything here, but some of the options are interesting:
For Intel cards, you have the option of changing the transmit power setting, on a 5-point logarithmic scale from 1mW on “Lowest” to typically 32mW on “Highest”.
If you’re really sensitive to power usage/battery life, it may help very slightly by lowering power from the highest setting.
Alternatively, while radio power levels involved in typical wireless cards are quite low even compared to mobile phones, if you feel that you may be sensitive to radio frequencies, you can choose a lower setting here. Be aware that you may encounter more connection problems if the transmit power is set too low.
Standard vs Double Channel Width
One other point in relation to Intel cards is that they don’t default to using the full capabilities of 802.11N mode.
Specifically, the setting “802.11n Channel Width for band 2.4” is set to 20Mhz instead of Auto. 20Mhz refers to the standard “size” (or width) of a wireless channel.
This means that if your router supports using a channel size larger than 20Mhz to increase throughput, then your adapter won’t take advantage of it. Change this setting to “Auto” to allow the fastest speeds, if your wireless router supports it.
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The downside of changing this setting is that there is more risk of interference from other wireless networks when you’re using a wider channel width, since it’s taking up more of the limited radio frequency spectrum that’s available.
Replacing the old wireless card in your laptop is a relatively cheap upgrade, but can save hours of hassle when you have to work with weak WiFi signals. This is especially true if you’re on the road, or work a lot in cafes or Starbucks, since there is likely to be more wireless interference in busy areas.
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If you find that an older laptop or netbook struggles where the same connection on a tablet or smartphone works fine, perhaps it’s time to change your card.