M.2/NGFF wireless cards in Precision M4X00, M6X00 (my experience with M6700)

Discussion in 'Dell Latitude, Vostro, and Precision' started by Aaron44126, Aug 6, 2018.

  1. Aaron44126

    Aaron44126 Notebook Prophet

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    I've never been satisfied with the wireless card selection for my M6700. Looking at 802.11ac cards in particular... The Dell Wireless / Broadcom card is unstable (BSOD) with any drivers newer than 2013 and the speed and range are "OK" but not great. The driver for the Intel 7260 had DPC latency issues back when I tried it (causing audio pops). I tried a Realtek 802.11ac card and it had dreadful performance under load. I've been trying some Qualcomm cards and I'm also experiencing DPC latency issues with them.

    So, I'd love to be able to use a newer M.2 card instead of an older mini-PCIe card. I have an Intel 9260 in my Precision 7530 and it is brilliant. Speed seems good, no DPC latency problems at all (ndis.sys using less than 0.5ms at a time when the card is under load — with the Qualcomm Atheros card in my M6700, I was seeing spikes on ndis.sys up to 18ms).

    I discovered this doohicky over at Amazon.
    https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B0779727FY
    It is a miniPCIe-to-M.2 adapter. Since M.2 cards are just PCIe cards after all, just the form factor and physical connector have been changed, it could be possible to mount one in older systems with the proper adapter... Anyway, this adapter allows you to punch out various pieces to fit various size M.2 cards into various size mini-PCIe slots. You can even change a jumper position to put it in SATA mode, which will allow you to mount a SATA M.2 card into an mSATA slot. But there is no way you are using anything other than the combination of M.2 2230 in full-size mini-PCIe in one of these Precision systems, given the physical constraints. So, the M.2 card must be mounted in the WWAN slot.

    I purchased an Intel 9260 card on Amazon as well.
    https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B079QH5KW1
    I also picked up a Killer Wireless 1535 which I may or may not get around to testing at some point...

    M.2 Wi-Fi cards also have different antenna connectors. I purchased a few U.FL to MHF4 connectors from eBay. They seem to work fine, although it is a bit more tedious I find to connect them to the actual Wi-Fi card than the old ones were. They're so tiny...
    https://www.ebay.com/itm/181804089959

    Precision M6700 with an M.2/NGFF slot for Wi-Fi:
    [​IMG]

    I tried to mount the Intel 9260 in there and it did not fit. I realized that I had ordered a B-key adapter and that the Intel Wi-Fi card needs A or E key. I didn't really know about the different M.2 connector keys until now. I knew there were different types, but figured that since the Intel Wi-Fi card connector had two notches, then it would work with any type. Wrong. Also, there is a review on Amazon for this card specifically mentioning connecting it to a Wi-Fi card. It looks like this was for a separate variant of the adapter that is no longer available for purchase.

    So, I found this one on Amazon and ordered it.
    https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B07D4FCD1K

    I mounted it when it arrived, an E-key M.2 slot is now available in the system.
    [​IMG]

    With the antenna adapters, then Intel 9260 is mounted:
    [​IMG]

    I was worried that the additional "height" would cause a problem but the system lid closed without any trouble. I turned the system on, installed the drivers for the card, and everything was up and running with no hassle. Perfect.

    After running the system with this card for a few days to make sure that I was satisfied that I was going to keep it, I turned my attention to "tightening up" the installation. As it was installed in the picture above, the Intel card was a little bit wobbly in the slot because I could not get the screws tight enough. I decided to borrow the screw assembly from the B-key M.2 adapter because it seemed more solid. It was a little bit thicker, though. The Intel card stuck out slightly more after everything was mounted, but everything was really tight. I put the system back together and powered it up, figuring that I was done.

    Immediately, the BIOS complained about the system having been shut down because it was running to hot. Also, the GPU fan was running at max speed. Err. What did I do?

    I know the card and adapter are good because they were working stable for a couple of days. Nonetheless, I took the Intel card and adapter back out and powered the system up again. Same thing. BIOS complaining about the CPU being too hot and causing a system shutdown, and the GPU fan going nuts.

    I inspected things more closely and found that the screw in the bottom of the adapter seemed to have made a mark of some sort below. Here, you see the bottom side of the M.2 adapter.
    [​IMG]

    That doesn't look good. I peeled back some of the black stuff by the "WWAN" label to get a better look. It seems that there has been some damage to the motherboard.
    [​IMG]

    I cleaned it, no real change. The system still is going crazy. Also, it seems to be stuck in a heavily throttled state, it takes forever for Windows to boot and go to the desktop.
    [​IMG]

    So, something has shorted out and the machine is now flipping, thinking that something is running too hot. *Sigh*... So, I ordered a new motherboard and will swap it out when it arrives on Wednesday, being more careful with the M.2 card installation, and until then, I am down.

    I plan to switch back to the smaller screw assembly that came with the E-key card and also put a couple layers of electrical tape or something under the adapter to hopefully add a buffer just in case it is pressed down into the motherboard.


    Anyway, I know that it works because the system was stable for a few days before I installed the larger screw assembly to hold the M.2 card in. Here are some screengrabs from that time.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    WLAN and Bluetooth LED indicators on the system no longer light up... Whatever.

    Bottom line --- It works, be very careful with the install, pressure from the bottom cover can cause the whole thing to ding against the motherboard.


    I suspect this would also work in Precision M6600 and Precision M6800. The M4600, M4700, and M4800 would be fine as well, but you would have to mount this in the combo mSATA/WWAN slot so you would not be able to have an mSATA drive. (Maybe older systems, and older Latitudes, too? Don't have any to experiment with.)

    Since the Intel 9260 has its own Bluetooth (5.0 at that), I disconnected the M6700 Bluetooth module that lives under the keyboard bezel on the right-hand side:
    [​IMG]

    With M.2 cards working, hopefully it is also trivial to upgrade to 802.11ax when the time comes.

    [EDIT]
    Some time later, I did install an Intel AX200 card (802.11ax / Wi-Fi 6) and it works fine.
     
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2020
  2. Aaron44126

    Aaron44126 Notebook Prophet

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    [Edit - 2020-01-13] Unnecessary? I realized that AX200 cards are selling on eBay in the mini-PCIe form factor so you do not need an adapter to install one if you can find one of these.
    Original text follows:

    Replaced motherboard yesterday, all is good again.

    To anyone else who might attempt, learn from my mistake :p

    Left screw assembly from B-key card, right screw assembly from E-key card.
    [​IMG]

    Mount the Wi-Fi card into the adapter before mounting the adapter in the system.

    Profile of the card installed in the adapter. It should be flat or sloping downwards from the slot. If it is sloping slightly upwards from the slot (as was the case when I installed it using the larger screw assembly), it could cause damage to the motherboard below.
    [​IMG]

    Bottom of the adapter. If mounted in the mini-PCIe slot, pressure from the top can cause the M.2 screw (center/left) to be pressed down into the motherboard. The part holding the screw assembly is not firmly connected to the rest of the PCB so it is somewhat flexible.
    [​IMG]

    Top view.
    [​IMG]

    Electric tape underneath the adapter... For good measure.
    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2020
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  3. 84Lion

    84Lion Notebook Enthusiast

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    I grieve for thee. That's one of my biggest fears when "modding," destroying something. IMO these "old" (I call them "classic") Precisions are worth their weight in gold, I would hate to mess something up and then have to fix it - especially a motherboard.
    I have a Dell M6800 and M4800 both with the Intel 6300 3x3 wireless card (and top-of-the-line Extreme processors, if I may be permitted to brag a bit). My wife uses my old Dell M6700 (also with Extreme processor) with the DW 1540 (Broadcom) wireless card and she's never complained to me about its performance (believe me, if it would be BSODing I'd have heard about it). My M6800 and her M6700 are on Windows 7 while the M4800 is on Windows 10. The DW card utility tells me that her M6700 is running at 300 Mbps which is nominal AFAIAC.
    I recently purchased a Dell Inspiron 3168 (11" convertible notebook/tablet) and upgraded it with a dual-band wireless card which looked an awful lot like the thing you installed. The single band wireless card it came with that I replaced was maxing out at about 70 Mbps which was unacceptable. With dual band I am getting speeds in the 300+ Mbps range (similar to the Precisions) which is good. Other than the built-in Bluetooth I see no advantage.
    As far as the M4X00s and M6X00s, I am fine without Bluetooth. I tried adding a Bluetooth USB adapter but it doesn't facilitate (easily) what I want to do...namely, move files wirelessly off Android or IPhones. By the time I get through negotiating the file transfer software, it's really just easier to get a wire and plug the phone into the computer. I looked into wireless cards with Bluetooth and I think one was available, but IIRC it was 2x2 which could have compromised the wi-fi reception. In the end I decided to let sleeping dogs lie.
    I agree with you that the little snap-on antenna connectors for the wireless cards are a bear to deal with. With the Inspiron I used a jewelers pliers to carefully remove the snap-on wires, praying all the time that I wouldn't destroy them. Snapping them back on is an adventure as well. I found that the best procedure seemed to be to orient the card with the connector vs. the other way round, then carefully squeeze with the pliers until the connector snaps into place.
    I certainly appreciate you posting stuff like this as it is IMO quite worthwhile for those contemplating making modifications/upgrades. And props to you for that awesome-looking Ripjaws RAM install! I think I have that in one of my computers - can't recall which one - and I have been quite pleased with the performance.
     
  4. Aaron44126

    Aaron44126 Notebook Prophet

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    The motherboard replacement was just $50, at least. More than I wanted to spend, but not bad as far as laptop motherboards go. Motherboards for the newer ones (7510/7710 and up) which have the CPU soldered on the board could probably easily go for $500.

    Mostly, it was just a hassle spending 2.5-3 hours taking everything apart and putting it back together again. I did take the opportunity to repaste the CPU/GPU (sort of required), went with Arctic MX-4, and I also blew a lot of dust off of the heatsinks and fans. Temperatures are lower and fans are kicking on much less. I suspect that is more because of the dust removal than the re-paste job. It was caked on the rear heat fins really good. Oh, and also I replaced the internal power connector (from AC jack to motherboard), the old one was getting loose or something and sometimes the system would not "realize" when I plugged the power in. That's a cheap part but requires taking most of the system apart to replace, I had purchased a new one weeks ago and I'm glad that I didn't bother replacing it before now.

    I guess I'm just picky about Wi-Fi. I am super pleased with the Intel 9260 in the M6700 after using it for a few days now. I do a lot of LAN transfers at home (backups and shuffling large video files around) so I want it to be as fast as possible. And if the driver causes any DPC latency that will also drive me nuts (with audio pop sounds coming in while I am gaming). Glad that I finally found one that I like on both counts. Maybe Killer 1550 would be a little bit better (it uses the same Intel chip and drivers, but it also has some 5 GHz amplifiers or something built in?). I might try it if I get adventurous. For now I don't need to be spending any more money on this system...
     
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  5. DynamiteZerg

    DynamiteZerg Notebook Evangelist

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    Kudos to you for trying it out @Aaron44126 gives us the ability to breathe new life into our own machines. Sad to see that the motherboard was damaged in the process but it gives the rest of us a chance to make sure the same mistake is not repeated.

    So to use such an adaptor means we either can have the latest M.2 WiFI (Key A/E) or WWAN (Key B) in the WWAN slot? Perhaps the WWAN can go on NGFF M.2 Key B to USB3.0 convertor?

    https://www.aliexpress.com/store/pr...32794435102.html?spm=2114.12010608.0.0.6SHGnS
     
  6. Aaron44126

    Aaron44126 Notebook Prophet

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    You can have the latest M.2 Wi-Fi card installed inside with a A or E key adapter. B key adapters exist (I got one by accident...) but I don't think that you'll be able to mount a WWAN card inside this system, as those cards are larger... There is no way you would be able to get that card mounted and be able to attach the system's bottom cover. I tried mounting the B-key adapter without breaking off the "2242" piece (shown in the very first picture above) and it could not be done, the card would hit the "plastic ridge" separating the card slot area from the antenna cable channel area. Even if you dremmeled that down or something, since the WWAN cards are also wider (3042 instead of 2242?), you'd run into trouble in that dimension as well.

    Maybe systems other than M6700 have the slot arranged in a position where it would be feasible. I haven't checked any other layouts.

    Sure, you could do it with a USB adapter like the one you linked, but at that point you might as well just use a regular straight USB WWAN device.
     
  7. DynamiteZerg

    DynamiteZerg Notebook Evangelist

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    Ok makes sense once you put it that way. So M.2 Wi-Fi here I come! I'm going to spam it across all my Precision Laptops! :)

    I have the M6400, M6500 and M6800 to test it out. I'll start off with one and see whether all of them likes it.
     
  8. Mastermind5200

    Mastermind5200 Notebook Virtuoso

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    I'm thinking of something like this but for an M.2 2242 SSD with a little bit of filing, and then dual WLAN cards (7260AC and 6300AGN)
    What do you think?
     
  9. Aaron44126

    Aaron44126 Notebook Prophet

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    An M.2 SSD would have to be mounted in the mSATA slot, it would not work in the WWAN slot. Also it would have to be SATA-based (not NVMe). These systems do not have an NVMe controller.

    I'm not sure why you would not just install an mSATA drive? Samsung 860 EVO mSATA is readily available and works fine.

    Dual Wi-Fi cards works fine, I did that for a while when I was trying out different ones...
     
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2018
  10. Mastermind5200

    Mastermind5200 Notebook Virtuoso

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    I meant installing a NVME SSD in the WWAN slot, I already have a MSATA SSD as well as a large 2.5 SSD.
    I'm guessing my plan wouldn't work, but thanks for the help
     
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