My media center has an excellent ASUS E45M1-I DELUXE motherboard, based on the dual-core AMD Fusion E-450 (aka “Zakate”) chip. This motherboard has a built-in AMD Radeon HD 6320 graphics chip which can render full HD content just fine.


Mini ITX Motherboard

The only problem is that the WiFi card that comes with the ASUS E45M1-I DELUXE motherboard lacks support for the 5GHz band.

The ASUS E45M1-I DELUXE is a Mini ITX  (6.7×6.7 inches / 17×17 cm) card, which I’ve stashed inside an old Silvestone Sugo SG05 case to make a decent media center PC for cheap. I’ve replaced the single 12cm case fan in the front with a silent Noctua fan and used an SSD instead of a regular harddisk, all in the name of silence.

Being the DELUXE edition, it comes with an onboard wireless card, which is connected by two wires to two antenna connectors sticking out at the back of the case (by the IO shield).

It all sounds great, but there’s a problem: the WiFi card that comes with the motherboard doesn’t support the 5GHz band on my wireless home router.

Read on to find out exactly why this is a problem and how I fixed it!

Newer wireless “802.11n” routers support two radio frequency bands: 2.4GHz and 5GHz.

According to IEEE 802.11 specifications, the 5GHz band is known for being used in the early 802.11a and newer 802.11n standards. Meanwhile, the 2.4GHz band is known to be used in 802.11b, 802.11g, and 802.11n also.

The newer 802.11n standard allows for more than double the maximum transfer rates by using 40MHz mode in addition to the standard 20MHz, for up to 450 or 600mbps maximum transfer rates.

However, manufacturers of WiFi cards with “n” support often omit the 5GHz support by only supporting 802.11b, 802.11g and 802.11n at 2.4GHz, for a maximum transfer rate of about 300mbps.

Thanks to MIMO (multiple-input multiple-output) architecture, together with wider-bandwidth channels, the physical transfer rate over 802.11a (5 GHz) and 802.11g (2.4 GHz) are increased significantly on newer WiFi cards.

The theoretical advantages of using the 5GHz band, are that this band is less crowded, with less chance of conflicting signals from neighbours and other wireless devices.

The disadvantage is that the maximum range is lower, but again, chances of local interference are much lower.

That’s why 5GHz is superior for streaming use, because signal quality is the most important factor when streaming media content, alongside sufficient bandwidth to keep up with the bitrate of the data being streamed.

AzureWave AW-NE785H 802.11 b/g/n PCI Express Half MiniCard (ATH-AR5B95)

AzureWave AR5B95
802.11 b/g/n Half MiniCard

The wireless card in the ASUS E45M1-I DELUXE is based on the PCI-Express MiniCard standard, just like those found in most laptops these days. These little PCI Express cards generally come in Half MiniCard and Full MiniCard formats.

To save space and cut costs with the ASUS E45M1-I DELUXE, they installed a cheap two-antenna PCI Express Half MiniCard from AzureWave (based on an Atheros chip). This card is only limited to b/g/n support, as can be seen on the stickers in the photo to the right. (Click to bring up the full sized photo).

So, in order to upgrade my system to support the 5GHz band, I figured out that an Intel 5100 Half MiniCard that I pryed out of a scrapped laptop at work should do the trick!

You can pick these cards up for cheap at about $5-10 on eBay, or go for even more advanced alternatives such as the Intel 6300 at about $20-25 – but if you do, remember to buy an extra antenna lead, as the Intel 6300 and similar higher end cards have 3 antenna ports. (They still work with only two antennas – the left and right-most usually, you just lose performance). There are also cards with BlueTooth 4.0 support built-in, such as the Intel Centrino 6235.

I’ll let the how-to photos below speak for themselves, but just a few words of advice first:

  • Though I don’t do this myself in this guide (’cause I’m so pro’), I recommend swapping the WiFi cards before installing the motherboard in your case, or taking it out first, if you already have it installed.
  • Connect the antennas to the replacement card before installing it.
  • To properly seat the new card in the PCI Express slot, I slotted a small flat-head screwdriver between the card and the blue PCI Express x16 slot on the motherboard, pushed the card down and twisted the screwdriver slightly, effectively pushing the card in place. Then I fastened the screws and made sure the antenna cables were still fastened securely.

ASUS E45M1-I DELUXE AzureWave bgn Card

ASUS E45M1-I DELUXE WiFi card ready for extraction

WiFi card ready for extraction!

ASUS E45M1-I DELUXE WiFi card antennas disconnected

Antennas disconnected from the old WiFi card

Old WiFi card extracted!

The two small black screws (not in this pic) needed some unscrewing, and then …
Old WiFi card extracted!

Empty PCI Express MiniCard port

An empty PCI Express MiniCard port…

Intel WiFi Link 5100 512AN_HMW Intel vPro WLAN

Let’s inject this Intel WiFi Link 5100 PCI Express Half MiniCard!

First, connect the antenna cables

First, connect the antenna cables.
Be careful, as the connectors can be bent out of shape fairly easily if you apply force and they’re not properly aligned.
If you have trouble with making them snap on properly, you may have to bend the connectors back into shape using a screwdriver.

Intel 5100 card in place!

Intel 5100 card in place!

Operation WiFi Switch completed

Operation WiFi Switch™ completed

Network check is OK! 162 mbps on 5GHz network

Windows 7 installed the drivers automagically on bootup. Now it’s network check time:
All OK! Getting about 150-200mbps on the 5GHz band now. All is well!