Wifi antennae, a replacement overview

In general, for desktop and laptop use, I prefer to use Wired Ethernet wherever possible. Wired Ethernet, especially with a modern CAT 7 cable with a GG45 connector (the latest standard in general use circa 2016) can offer 10 Gbps, a speed that no wireless solution for residential use can match. Even with a typical 1 Gbps connection though, Wired Ethernet has the advantage of much lower latency and not being as prone to interference. In general, where you can plug in, you probably should. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it is more secure because wired connections are far more difficult to hack.

However, this is not always practical or possible, so I recognize the need for wireless. Plus it is more convenient, especially for mobile notebooks and mobile devices, which often do not have Ethernet ports. Wireless technology continues to evolve and improve, closing the gap considerably since it was first introduced. This has led to new generations of routers, wireless cards and other equipment that allow for ever-faster speeds.

I have noticed that there are multiple different connectors for wireless antennae, so beware of what your connector is if you have to replace yours. Why would someone even need to replace a WiFi antenna? They are easy to lose and very vulnerable to getting damaged. If you damage one, then your WiFi connection becomes impaired.

The four most common standards seem to be:

  • N Connector
  • RP TNC
  • RP SMA
  • MC Lucent connector

Here are is a website with a breakdown of them and further details.

msi-z87-wireless

The MSI Z87 Wireless solution. Inside is an Intel Centrino Wireless-N 2230 card, an outdated solution even for 2013. It uses MMCX connectors. Source: MSI

There was a small connector that I found on my old motherboard that I did not see on that list. For the motherboard in question, the MSI Z87 XPower, the WiFi consists of MMCX connectors, Apparently, this is the same cables as used on my headphones, the Shure SRH1540. MSI’s Z87 motherboards all come with an Intel Centrino Wireless-N 2230 solution, which is not capable of Wireless AC, nor 5GHz operation. It is a disappointing solution to be honest, for such a high end motherboard and I believe that MSI should have used the latest WiFi card at the time (Z87 motherboards were released around 2013), which would have been a variant of the Intel Wireless 7260. I believe that currently, all of the wireless cards of that generation can be upgraded to the Intel 7260HMWG.R, with the .R standing for revised. Reportedly the revised version is for better compatibility, but it may have better signal as well, a flaw of the Intel 7260.

MSI Z97 Wireless

The wireless solution for the MSI Z97 and X99 wireless (shown here with a Qualcomm Killer 1525 wireless card. Intel versions come with an Intel 7260.
Source: Steven Bassiri, Tweaktown

By contrast, on most WiFi systems, the connectors Reverse Polarity SubMiniature version A (RP SMA) connectors are used. These connectors are not compatible with MMCX connectors, which are considerably smaller. In my case, on my current motherboard, the MSI X99A XPower, a variant of the Intel 7260 is used with RP SMA connectors. MSI used this wireless solution for its Z97 and X99 boards, released around 2013 and 2014. I believe that the 2015 boards released with Skylake (Z170) were based on the later Intel 8260 wireless card.

Both the Intel and Qualcomm wireless solutions can be upgraded to the Intel Wireless 8265, a 2×2 wireless solution that also introduces MU MIMO support that was introduced in early 2016. (By the way, in case you are confused by what I mean by 2×2, it refers to the number of wireless streams and the amount of antennas). We are fortunate that wireless cards seem to be converging around a common standard, the M.2 standard, which is also shared with Solid State Drives. This means that wireless cards should be more easy to upgrade in the future than they have historically been.

I am hoping to see future wireless cards continue to advance. In the case of motherboard and laptop manufacturers such as MSI, I would like to see them ship with flagship 3×3 or even 4×4 solutions. I believe that for flagships, if a feature is to be offered at all, it should be implemented well to reflect the quality of the product being offered. Otherwise, it is little more than ticking a check box saying that the manufacturer has that feature, while offering a less than optimal experience.

Concluding thoughts

For desktop and laptop usage, I have always viewed the use of WiFi as a necessary evil, to be avoided where possible for maximum speed, lowest latency, best security, and to minimize interference. Nonetheless, I recognize the need for wireless solutions and continue to advocate for their advancement. Perhaps the greatest advantage of modern desktops and to a lesser extent, laptops, is their modularity. The wireless card on most desktops and many laptops can be upgraded, just like any other component. Upgrading has the potential to extend the life of your device and greatly improve network performance. This is especially important as we near the end of Moore’s Law.

Happy networking and hopefully you do not experience too many difficulties with your WiFi!

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