Upgrading the Wireless Adapter of a Dell XPS 8900

Because it was kind of difficult to find information about this, I figured I would post some details about a tiny little upgrade that I did to a Dell XPS 8900. It originally came with a Dell DW-1801 wireless adapter, which only supports 802.11 b/g/n, and not ac. Also, it doesn’t support the 5 GHz frequency, which is really unfortunate.

All of this means that wireless performance is kind of shaky upstairs in our house. I had started researching Wi-Fi extenders, and then went to check to see exactly what 802.11 ac profiles our router and wireless adapters supported, and was shocked when I realized what the problem was. I remembered that our XPS 8900s came with integrated wireless, and I seemed to remember that it was an M.2 device, so I looked to see if I could just swap out the wireless card with something better.

Amazingly, in spite of all of the exhaustive specification information you can find on the Internet, it was actually pretty hard to figure out what M.2 physical connector the existing DW-1801 card used. I tried looking through my system and service manuals, and wasn’t able to find that information anywhere. This thread on Dell’s support forums was the best source of information I found, and indicated that it is size 2230 with key A E.

I looked around to find a replacement adapter, and ultimately opted for this Intel 8260 NGWMG that I found on Newegg. Before installing, I went ahead and downloaded and installed the drivers from Intel. The physical installation was pretty straightforward, once I found the correct screwdriver to take off the old adapter and antenna wires. On bootup in Windows 10, the adapter was recognized and it started working perfectly once I rejoined the network.

So, yeah, for curious people on the Internet – you can, in fact, upgrade the wireless adapter in a Dell XPS 8900 with a third party M.2 card.

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  1. I have had such trouble upgrading mine! I also have the XPS 8900. So, I ordered this one, the Intel 2nd Generation Dual Band (7265): https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00RCZ4I6S/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o03_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
    I waited a week to get it, was excited as all get-out. But when I went to take the antenna connectors off of the stock card (the Broadcom) that came with the computer… the little, tint round connectors on the card itself came off inside the antenna connectors! I tried to gently dig them out for almost an hour, finally damaging them pretty badly. So… my next move was to look for another antenna wire assembly for my new 7265. Like a bonehead, I ordered an assembly for an XPS 8500, thinking I’d save a little money because it was available from Amazon for 8 bucks. Waited another week for it. Needless to say, they’re NOT all the same, and the thing didn’t fit (the connectors are bigger, making the little plastic piece that holds the wires in place unable to be screwed in with the card! Finally, I got on the Internet via chat with Dell Sales and ordered the CORRECT part (Part# T81WX Assembly,Cable,Antenna,Wireles s,8900), like I should have done to begin with. It arrived a few days later. And now I’ve decided to buy a different wifi card, the Intel 8265 NGFF Dual Band 802.11ac here: http://www.ebay.com/itm/191953046897 for $16.62 (as of this posting).

    The new 8265 ought to be here soon… wish me luck, Erik!

  2. For the more novice:

    My Dell XPS8900 wireless card is near the back (card) side of the P.C. case, 22mm by 30mm (0.9 inches by 1.2) (like its specification 2230). It has 2 wires from it. It is indeed M.2 2230 with A and E keys; see XPS8900 wireless specs at the link below.

    Technical (but understandable) explanations of M.2 are at
    but you don’t need to read those to swap the card.

    Even if you’re not worried that you have the wrong card, go
    anyway from a DOS prompt (and it’s a nice idea to redirect output to a file for possible future reference). In its output for Wireless Network Connection 3 mine shows, among other things,
    Description: Dell Wireless 1801 802.11bgn
    Physical Address: 1A-AA-11-A1-AA-11 (some combination of letters and numbers)
    That address will be printed on the paper label on the wireless card.
    I know that card to be top speed n (not ac) and frequency is 2.4 only. (Note, 5 vs. 2.4 has some possible caveats, so it’s not a 100% slam dunk.)

    Dell Wireless card specs (from your link):
    (which happens to note that Bluetooth is on the same card). (There you can see with your own eyes that the operating frequency is 2.4 GHz only on the 1801 card, not 2.4 and 5) (Also there, you can see that the Dell recommended way to get 5 GHz would be to get a 1820A card; that would also get “ac” wireless spec, and Bluetooth 4.1)

    Specs also mention “2x Ultra-Miniature coaxial RF connectors” (UMCC) which I assume means that you can swap the two antenna leads with a simple push (if you have tiny mouse fingers). Note, the following suggests only 30 reconnects before the wire-side of the connection wears out. I suppose that means that if you want to keep the existing antennas in the case (rather than replacing, rethreading through the case, reattaching to the side), then you should not casually attach and reattach.

    Remember which of the 2 leads is which. Consider taking a clear flash photo before disassembling.

    Mine is secured with one Phillips screw. Use a precision screwdriver because it has a very shallow slot; moreover it would be mondo nasty if you stripped it by using one that doesn’t thoroughly fit and grip the Phillips screw (including trying to get by with a flathead).

    If you want to spend 5 or 10 instead of 20 or 30 buy a used one on Ebay.

    To my understanding these should work:
    Dell DW 1820A (ebay $13 new)
    Dell DW 1560 (Broadcom) (ebay $28 new)
    However for both it’s VERY unclear if each are 2230 A-E; everywhere only says M.2

    Intel AC 3165 (ebay 4.99 used)
    Intel AC 8260 or 8265 (ebay 8260 9.99 used, 8265 15.29 new)
    3165 vs. 8260: https://www.cnet.com/forums/discussions/intel-ac-3165-vs-intel-8260-for-laptops-whats-the-diff/

    Tip, download the drivers if not supplied with a new (or used) cards before removing old card (i.e. while the old card is functioning).


    This may give you confidence in how simple the process is. (pertinent video length of second link is 4:58)

    If you’re still squeamish, here’s another installation you can watch. Yes, a laptop, but should give you the idea.

    If you must remove or replace the existing antenna,

    Finally (really firstly): as I type this it is winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Take static electricity grounding seriously 🙂

    Note, some say that *USB* wireless adapters, with external antennas, can do better, if they work with the wireless source. Some say that PCI cards are even better (which go on the big motherboard slots and extend to the PC case rear when a silver slot cover plate is removed; they have external antenna(s) on that exposed side). Beware PCI 1, PCI 2, PCI-X, Mini PCI, and PCIe; whereas M.2 2230 A/E is pretty definitive 🙂

    Test results with http://beta.speedtest.net/

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