No matter the brand or model, we all buy laptops for the same reason — mobility. So it can get pretty frustrating when your Laptop WiFi Card conks out, and you’re left tied to the Ethernet. Luckily, tons of M.2 WiFi modules are available online, including 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 & 6E, which can easily solve your problem.
If you are looking for the best Wi-Fi card to upgrade your laptop with, then you have come to the right place. In this guide, we’ll provide you an overview of today’s best wireless modules offering different features and capabilities for your laptop. Featuring some of the best 802.11ax WiFi cards for laptops, including the next-gen WiFi 6 and the newest 6E from Intel.
Whether you’re an expert or a novice, you are sure to find something here that will benefit you and improve your internet speed.
Finding and installing a new Wi-Fi card isn’t as hard as it seems. In fact, the hardest part is choosing the best one out of hundreds of laptop WiFi cards online. It varies vary in many ways, from their frequency bands and QAM levels to their compatibility with certain systems. While comparison tools exist online, you’ll still have to sift through dozens of reviews to find a good one.
What is Wi-Fi Card?
The WiFi Card is a wireless module for laptops. It is specially designed for portable devices. You can use it to access the Internet, connect to a wireless router, or network in access. It features a built-in antenna for maximum range and can be installed on an M.2 slot.
However, for an older laptop, you might need a mini PCIe WiFi card. It all depends on your notebook motherboard, so be sure to check your device hardware before you shop for one.
Why you need a Laptop Wi-Fi Card?
The WiFi card is a critical component of any laptop, as it takes the signal transmitted from your router and transfers it to your computer. If your wireless module is broken or malfunctioning, you will not be able to get online. Some people attempt to use a USB WiFi adapter instead, but this is not advisable, as USB WiFi adapters are not designed to be permanent replacements. They are prone to frequent dropouts and other issues.
Why do you need to upgrade your Laptop to Wi-Fi 6?
Buying a laptop computer now seems like a straightforward affair: you go to a store, pick a system that comes with a wireless network card, and pay. But if you’re going to make the most of your notebook, you need to maximize the way it uses the Internet. So make sure to find a network card for a laptop that gives you a stronger, more reliable connection.
With that said, the latest 802.11ax or 802.11axe standards offer maximum download and upload stream and overall better performance.
Since there are very few Wi-Fi 6E routers available in the market, we suggest you better off with the Wi-Fi 6 card.
Why must you need Wi-Fi for your Laptop?
Wi-Fi cards are used to connect the computer with an available wireless network. The main advantage of having a wireless module is to connect your computer to a wireless network anywhere in the world. It can be very useful for someone who travels a lot or uses their mobile hotspot as an internet source.
The Best Laptop Wi-Fi Cards including WiFi 6 and 6E
- Killer Wi-Fi 6 AX1650
- NETELY’s Intel AX200
- OKN WiFi 6 AX200
- ZEXMTE Wi-Fi 6 Module AX200
- Intel Wireless-AC 9560
- Intel Wireless-AC 9260 NGW
- Dual-band Wireless-AC 8265
- OKN Intel WiFi 6E AX210
Killer Wi-Fi 6 AX1650 – Best WiFi 6 Card for Gaming Laptop
- M.2 Slot A/E Key
- Intel-based system
- Bluetooth 5.1
- Windows 10 (64-bit)
Gamers, here’s one for you. This AX Wi-Fi card is built for gaming with its Advanced Stream Detect 2.0 technology. This allows the adapter to identify, sort, and prioritize gaming traffic. Meanwhile, its GameFast technology halts processes that are not related to gaming. This gives you 10 percent more CPU cycles and 20 percent of memory.
The Killer AX1650 also provides great connectivity. With a Wi-Fi 6 router, this module can get three times more throughput than earlier 80MHz 2×2 AC devices. It’s also got up to 4 times more network capacity in dense environments. This adapter also comes with Bluetooth 5.1.
Note: Killer Networking is a brand of Rivet Networks that Intel acquired in May 2020. After the acquisition, Intel only sells the Killer AX1650 module with a PCIe expansion card that comes with M.2 slot.
NETELY’s Intel AX200 – Best WiFi 6 Adapter with 2.4 and 5GHz band
- M.2 Slot A/E Key
- Works on Intel & AMD Ryzen
- Bluetooth 5.1
- 64-bit OS – Windows, Chrome, Linux
Intel AX200 is the first WiFi 6 WLAN module released in the first quarter of 2019. It runs on Windows 10 64-bit, Google Chrome OS, and Linux and has a built-in Bluetooth 5.1. Moreover, it supports both AMD Ryzen and Intel-based laptops. It’s backward-compatible with 802.11ac and b/g/n as well. For heavy gaming, large file transfers, and ultra-fast streaming, this module works perfectly.
Not to mention, it’s one of the most affordable WLAN modules that comes with a reasonable price tag. If you need the best wireless card for gaming and streaming, give it a try.
Note: It requires a laptop with AMD or Intel CPU running on Windows 10 64-bit, Google Chrome OS, and Linux.
OKN WiFi 6 AX200 – Best M.2 WiFi Card for most Laptops
- M.2 2230 Slot A/E Key
- Intel & AMD CPU
- Bluetooth 5.1
- 64-bit OS – Windows & Linux
Reliability and consistency are two qualities you’ll be happy to find in OKN’s AX200 Wi-Fi 6 adapter. According to the manufacturer, this card has “low latency” with reliable and powerful performance. It’s compatible with your existing router and offers a stable connection for online gaming, video streaming, and downloading files. Installation is also fairly easy with this card, which takes less than 15 minutes.
Overall, it is faster and much more efficient than previous versions and has a 40% power saving capacity.
Note: Bear in mind this WiFi card works on a laptop with Intel or the latest AMD processor with Windows 10 64-bit.
ZEXMTE Wi-Fi 6 Module AX200 – Best M.2 Wireless Card for Gaming
- M.2 Socket with A/E Key
- Intel CPU only
- Bluetooth 5.0
- 64-bit Windows 10
Here’s another wireless network card with powerful performance and enhanced experience. This WLAN module offers faster performance with compatible devices with zero Wi-Fi signal dropouts and disconnections. On top of that, you can enjoy an ultra-fast wireless speed of 574Mbps (dual-band) using a 160 MHz channel. Thus it’s a reliable choice for online gamers and HD video streaming.
The only drawback of this wireless module is it comes with Bluetooth 5.0 instead of 5.1 or 5.2, which seems to have some issues. However, we believe with the correct drivers installed; it will work without any issues.
Note: It is only compatible with 8th Gen or later Intel-based laptop running on Windows 10 64-bit.
Intel Wireless-AC 9560 – Best M.2 WiFi Card with Dual-Band Support
- M.2 CNVio Socket Key E
- Intel CPU Only
- Bluetooth 5.0
- Windows 10 (64-bit)
This AC Wireless Card is cheaper than the Wi-Fi 6 cards on this list. Performance-wise, though, there isn’t that big a difference other than the OFDMA and internet connectivity range. However, compared to other 802.11ac cards, this one allows faster downloads speed and optimal performance. Moreover, it also has the support for Bluetooth 5, which sometimes has issues but works well with compatible devices.
Thus, this dual-band WLAN module is a bang-for-your-buck buy. It’s perfect for those who aren’t quite ready to make the switch to Next-Gen WiFi 6.
Note: This module is compatible with all the popular operating systems and needs M.2 wireless card slot. Make sure you have a Key-E socket on the motherboard before you buy this adapter.
Intel Wireless-AC 9260 NGW – Cheapest Dual-Band Laptop WiFi Card
- M.2 2230 Socket Key A/E
- Intel CPU 8th-Gen or later
- Bluetooth 5.0
- Windows 10 (64-bit)
Intel Wireless-AC 9260 has a low power consumption feature (a.k.a Smart Power Optimizer) that lets you stay online for longer periods. Although this isn’t as efficient as the Wi-Fi 6, but it does offer slightly better performance. It also has minimal to no dropouts or DNS errors, even if you are several rooms away from the router. You can expect a sustained and uninterrupted wireless internet connection all the time.
Overall, Intel AC 9260 is a good option if you have a 2013 or later laptop from HP, Dell, Asus, Acer, or MSI.
Note: This WiFi module is compatible with Intel PC running on Windows 10. As for other popular operating systems, it might not work at all.
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8265 – Best M.2 WiFi Module for Older Laptops
- M.2 2230 Slot Key A/E
- Intel Processor Only
- Bluetooth 4.2
- 64-bit Windows 7 or later
Intel Wireless-AC 8265 is a 5th Generation 802.11ac or WiFi 5 card. With its dual-band wireless connection, It delivers a maximum speed of 867Mbps. That’s three times faster speeds than Wi-Fi 4. However, this is just a theoretical speed; in a real-life test, you’ll get max 150Mbps.
Other than that, it enables smoother video streaming, a decrease in dropouts, and fast speeds despite being far from your router. This Intel-based adapter works on Microsoft Windows only and great for folks with older laptop units.
Note: This WLAN card is compatible with Intel laptops running on 64-bit Windows 7, 8, and 10.
OKN Intel AX210 – Best Tri-Band Wi-Fi 6E Card for Laptop
- M.2 2230 Slot Key E/A
- Support Intel & AMD CPU
- Bluetooth 5.2
- Compatible with Windows 10 64-bit only
It is too early for a WiFi 6E card upgrade. However, if you are into the latest technology and want to future-proof your laptop with the Wi-Fi 6E adapter, this might be the right choice. It uses the newest AXE wireless standard, which allows you to utilize a 6GHz band for gaming and streaming within the short range. Enjoy up to 574Mbps to 2400Mbps of speed on 2.4Ghz, 5Ghz, and 6GHz bands with 160MHz wireless channels.
The only downside is right now; there is only one Wi-Fi 6E router available. However, this tri-band WiFi card comes with backward compatibility, which allows you to use it with 802.11ax/ac/b/g/n devices but will be limited to 2.4 and 5GHz bands. You can find the detailed specs of AX210 on the Intel product page for AX210.
Moreover, this module comes with the latest Bluetooth 5.2 version, which has a larger capacity with a high-speed transfer rate in extremely low latency.
Note: This Wi-Fi 6E card is only compatible with the latest Intel or AMD Laptops running on Windows 10 64-bit version. Make sure you have an M.2 Key E or A slot on your motherboard to install this wireless adapter.
Buying Guide for Laptop WiFi Card
Once you have decided to buy a wireless card adapter for your laptop, you might be confused by the wide variety of hardware. It’s not easy to tell the good ones from the bad; in other words, compatible and non-compatible. Even if you know what to look for, there are quite a few things to check before you buy.
Choosing a Right Wireless Card
Before you buy any of the listed wireless adapters for your laptop, make sure it is compatible with your computer and its Operating System. To be clear, non of these Wi-Fi modules will work with MacBooks. Apple uses its proprietary AirPort card, which is the same Wi-Fi card as intel provides but only works with macOS. Now for Windows 10 based systems, most of the PC’s come with M.2 Key-E or Key-B and Mini PCIe. Depending on your hardware specification, you’ll either have to buy a Half-size PCI Express or M.2 Wi-Fi card.
Most of the Wi-Fi modules also come with Bluetooth. So, make sure you buy the latest hardware or the newest version of the 802.11ax card with BT 5.1. The older laptops might not be compatible with 802.11ax or 802.11axe wireless cards. In that case, you should go for the dual-band 802.11ac module (a.k.a Wi-Fi 5).
Before even considering replacing your Wi-Fi card, ensure that your laptop is upgradeable in the first place. Some laptops are harder to open up and modify than others. Make sure your laptop doesn’t have a BIOS “whitelist,” either. The whitelist restricts you from replacing your WLAN card that the manufacturer doesn’t authorize. Usually, these laptops only accept the same brand of Wi-Fi adapter as your old one.
Check if your laptop is compatible with the kind of card you want to get. It can be tempting to go for the newest laptop wireless adapter — the WiFi 6 card. But if you’re using an old unit, it may not accept the latest module. Usually, laptops running on 64-bit Intel processors are safe. Meanwhile, AMD systems are a little more unpredictable.
The card slot on a motherboard comes in different sizes. Make sure you have the correct measurements before making the purchase. Most network card for laptops comes in a size of 33mm long and 22mm wide. Most laptops released in recent years have that M.2 WiFi card slot. So if your laptop is fairly new, you’re most likely in the clear.
Don’t make the mistake of getting a laptop WiFi adapter that doesn’t come with Bluetooth. Though most M.2 Wi-Fi cards on the market usually come with Bluetooth, it doesn’t hurt to check. Bluetooth is important because it lets you connect devices like your phone or speaker without a physical connector. It’s also important to check on the version of Bluetooth found on your potential Wi-Fi card. Keep in mind that Bluetooth 5.2 is the latest version, enhancing Attribute Protocol, LE Power Control, and LE Isochronous Channels.
Software or Drivers
Make sure the driver is available for the hardware you are buying. If you are using Windows OS, it will automatically install the driver for you. However, you might need to use a disc or flash drive to install the system software in some cases.
Similarly, brands like Killer offers their custom solution to unlock extra functionalities. With Killer Control Center, you can optimize and prioritize your internet bandwidth for gaming, streaming, or web browsing. And the GameFast Technology allows you to free up your CPU and RAM by pausing background activities so that you can enjoy faster and lag-free gameplay.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the difference between a WiFi 6 and a WiFi 5 card?
The Wi-Fi 6 name corresponds to the 802.11ax, and the Wi-Fi 5 corresponds to the 802.11ac. There are some key differences between the two, particularly in their frequency bands, max data rate, and QAM level.
Unlike AC, the AX Wi-Fi offers 4x more connected clients, 1024-QAM, and a speed of up to 9.6 Gbps. That’s more than double the rate of AC WiFi.
Can I use my Desktop PC Card for my Laptop?
No, because you won’t find a compatible slot. The PCI slots differ in size and shape in desktop computers and laptops. If you want to use a laptop WiFi adapter with a desktop PC, you’ll need a mini PCI or M.2 to PCI-e card. Make sure these come with antennae too.
How do I identify my laptop’s current Wi-Fi card?
- Open up Device Manager and go to Network adapters.
- Expand the Network adapters list to view all networking devices.
- Here, you can look for your Wi-Fi card.
- Go to your Control Panel and click Network and Sharing Center.
- Go to Manage Network Connections and locate your WiFi connection on the list.
- Right-click on your connection and choose status and the details.
How do I know when I need to replace my Wi-Fi Card?
There are two surefire signs that your wireless card is on the fritz and in need of replacing. First, an unstable network connection could be an indicator that there’s something wrong with your Wi-Fi card.
This is especially true if you can connect to your router easily with other devices. Next, you can look for your wireless adapter in your Device Manager. If it’s not there, it means your laptop is not reading your wireless module. This could be the result of having the wrong or corrupted driver or a defective adapter.
How to replace or upgrade Laptop WiFi card?
Upgrading a laptop Wi-Fi card is pretty easy. You can hire a professional but if you want to do-it-yourself then follow the steps below:
- Remove the bottom cover and the battery: Make sure your charger isn’t plugged in before you disassemble the laptop and its battery.
- Disconnect Antennas: Disconnect the antennas from your old adapter. Usually, there are black and white antenna cables. You’ll need to remember which one goes where; otherwise, your new wireless card won’t work.
- Remove Older WLAN Card: Remove the old Wi-Fi module from its dock by using a screwdriver. Once the screws are removed, the adapter will then pop out.
- Install new WiFi Module: Place the new module onto the slot by carefully aligning the contacts.
- Screw it and connect Antennas Cables: Screw it in place and reconnect the antennas. Once done, put your battery and laptop cover back.
- Install or Update Driver: If you are using Windows 10, it will automatically install or update the driver. Alternatively, you will need to download and install the driver manually.
I’ve installed a new WiFi card and made sure everything is up to date. Why is my connection still so slow?
If you’re certain you’ve purchased the latest WiFi card and have gone through the correct installation procedure, perhaps the problem is with your WiFi router! If you’re using an old router, you’ll need to try a few easy hacks.
First, place your router in the center of your home, ensuring there aren’t many walls and doors obstructing it. Next, make sure your Wi-Fi router isn’t on the floor because routers broadcast waves slightly downwards. This helps you utilize the signal as much as possible. Third, keep the router away from other electronics that could interfere with the signal. Lastly, if your modem/router has two antennas, place one in a vertical position and another in a horizontal position. It’s easier to secure a stable connection when your device’s internal antenna is parallel to your router’s external one.
If you’ve done all these router hacks, you can also try to declutter your laptop. Delete unnecessary files and unused software that could be slowing your computer down.
Speed, reliability, and consistency — these are three qualities to look out for when buying a new Wi-Fi card for a laptop. And if that means shelling out a bit of extra cash, we’d say go for it anyway.
The Laptop WiFi Cards are built to last, so it’s best to get one that will provide you stable and consistent connection for your gaming and streaming. It’ll save you time and money in the long run!
From the above-mentioned wireless modules, I would recommend the Killer AX1650 for the best wireless gaming experience. If you like to future-proof your laptop, go for the new Intel AX210 Wi-Fi 6E card.