But what if you don’t have a LAN cable OR an available PCI slot?  What if you want to locate your workstation away from the cable and still need the internet? For laptops this is easy, almost all come with build in WIFI capabilities.  But desktop/workstation computers do not. This is where a quality USB connected WIFI device or a cleaner option, a PCI card WIFI device. I say ‘cleaner’ because I’m not crazy about having yet another device to plug into my workstation and carry it around. I want everything built in as much as possible.  A PCI WIFI card is such a device and so is a PCI-Express WIFI card.

 

Introduction

Weeks back we posted a detailed review of our Mini-Tower i7 Workstation Build.  Immediately there were inquiries asking about internet connectivity.  The Asus Rampage III Gene, Micro-ATX Motherboard Review mentioned the build in LAN gigaport, so if you have a LAN cable you can just plug in.  Later I reviewed the Air Live WN-5000PCI Wireless-N adapter as an alternative.

But what if you don’t have a LAN cable OR an available PCI slot?  What if you want to locate your workstation away from the cable and still need the internet? For laptops this is easy, almost all come with build in WIFI capabilities.  But desktop/workstation computers do not. This is where a quality USB connected WIFI device or a cleaner option, a PCI card WIFI device. I say ‘cleaner’ because I’m not crazy about having yet another device to plug into my workstation and carry it around. I want everything built in as much as possible.  A PCI WIFI card is such a device and so is a PCI-Express WIFI card. 

It shouldn’t have, but it surprised me to learn how many readers either don’t have an available PCI slot, or no available USB port, or no way to run a LAN cable from their router.  The next available option is a PCI-Express WIFI card.

A walk through Pantip Plaza reveals there are many such PCI-Express WIFI cards.  My specifications were Windows 7 x32 and x64 support and Wireless N support for the fastest possible connection.  I also wanted the newest WPA2-PSK security protocol. What all this means, is once again, while there are a lot of products out there that seem like they’ll work, in reality there are very few.  Before shopping for a WIFI card, know your operating system, wireless protocol, and security protocol.

 

Asus PCE-N13 PCI-Express Adapter

After a fair bit of research into PCI-Express WIFI adapters the Asus PCE-N13 appeared time and again as the best choice.  I picked one up and brought it home.

 

Immediately you notice this is a very small card.  The box it comes in includes the card, an extra half-height backplane for the HTPC cases that cannot accept the full height, two antennas, a setup disk, and a manual.  This card supports 802.11b/g/n, all the latest security protocols, and speeds of up to 300mbps which is currently the fastest available.

 

Immediately you notice this is a very small card.  The box it comes in includes the card, an extra half-height backplane for the HTPC cases that cannot accept the full height, two antennas, a setup disk, and a manual.  This card supports 802.11b/g/n, all the latest security protocols, and speeds of up to 300mbps which is currently the fastest available. 

They also claim full Windows 7 support and Xlink Kai support which will be important if you’re a gamer.  It includes software which allows the card to be configured as a virtual access point.  Really, you can’t ask for much more in the way of features.

 

Installation

You’ve probably noticed the 2-3 PCI-express x1 slots on your motherboard and wondered what the heck fit in those?  There are many different types of PCI-Express x1 devices from video cards, sound cards, modems, security access, and WIFI cards.  There are several on most motherboards because the priority in most builds goes to the video cards themselves.  Depending on the make and model of your video card you could easily end up covering 1 or more PCI-Express x1 slots.  So they make 2-3 available.  Nice.  They’re all electronically the same, so choose the one left in the clear with the most access.

 

You’ve probably noticed the 2-3 PCI-express x1 slots on your motherboard and wondered what the heck fit in those?  There are many different types of PCI-Express x1 devices from video cards, sound cards, modems, security access, and WIFI cards.  There are several on most motherboards because the priority in most builds goes to the video cards themselves.  Depending on the make and model of your video card you could easily end up covering 1 or more PCI-Express x1 slots.  So they make 2-3 available.  Nice.  They’re all electronically the same, so choose the one left in the clear with the most access.

 

The backplane is bare except for two connector points where you screw on the antennas.  Install the antennas after mounting the card in your case.  This is one small, clean and simple card!

 

The backplane is bare except for two connector points where you screw on the antennas.  Install the antennas after mounting the card in your case.  This is one small, clean and simple card!

 

Driver Installation and Software Setup

Asus claims full compatibility with Windows 7 and I was determined to put it to the test.  The test was easy.  After physically installing the Asus PCE-N13 in my case I simply turned on the power switch and observed what Windows 7 would do with it.

Immediately I noticed the drivers self-installed and it was added to the Network Sharing control panel, a signal strength meter appeared, and a right click revealed a list of available networks.  I noticed the available networks and signal strengths closely matched those on my notebook sitting on the same desk.  I selected my local network, entered the security key, and was instantly connected and was able to access the internet.

What more could you want?  There must be more if Asus provided the disk, so instead of using the disk I went to the Asus site and downloaded the latest driver and utility software.  As I suspected they were newer versions than came on the included driver disk.  I was surprised and delighted to see Windows had already automatically installed this latest driver.  I went ahead and installed the utility software and noticed the signal strength meter in the icon toolbar changed to Asus’s own design and the Asus utility was available with a right click.

Basically the utility allows you to ‘more easily’ do what the Windows 7 WIFI panel already allows.  This might be useful for first timers creating their own virtual network or trying to optimize certain games, but for the average user who just wants to connect to the internet it’s an unnecessary piece of software.  After verifying the features worked I uninstalled it.

 

Performance

I performed the standard tests with my 16mbps line.  Using Speedtest.com I verified the PCE-N13 could handle the full rate.  I then streamed some 1080p Blue-Ray movies which is the heaviest test I know of when you’re talking maximum bandwidth.  A 1080p Blue-Ray movie won’t stream without stuttering on anything but the latest and very best WIFI cards and this card presented a flawless picture or the entire movie.

 

I performed the standard tests with my 16mbps line.  Using Speedtest.com I verified the PCE-N13 could handle the full rate.  I then streamed some 1080p Blue-Ray movies which is the heaviest test I know of when you’re talking maximum bandwidth.  A 1080p Blue-Ray movie won’t stream without stuttering on anything but the latest and very best WIFI cards and this card presented a flawless picture or the entire movie.

 

Range is on par with the Air Live PCI card I reviewed previously and my laptops. 

It’s important that ‘range’ of the signal and the resulting signal strength is highly dependent on the height of the antennas.  The higher the better.  Most signal strength and range issues can be solved by simply mounting your wireless router on the wall as high as possible vs. sitting on a desk.  It really makes a difference.  If you still need more range, they make auxiliary antennas that connect directly to the backplane.

 

Summary

 

This card is highly recommended.  It’s very small and fits in your case where other cards won’t, it’s not expensive at less than 1000 baht, it performs on par with other top WIFI cards, and most of all it’s highly compatible.  You can just screw it in and it will self-install the necessary drivers and start working with little hassle, and if you need the special features on the utility disk they’re available.

 

This card is highly recommended.  It’s very small and fits in your case where other cards won’t, it’s not expensive at less than 1000 baht, it performs on par with other top WIFI cards, and most of all it’s highly compatible.  You can just screw it in and it will self-install the necessary drivers and start working with little hassle, and if you need the special features on the utility disk they’re available.

I think many will find this card will work where others won’t.  The small size and that it fits in one of your PCI-Express x1 slots makes it almost certain to work for you.  The latest security protocols are supported, it’s priced right, and it comes with a 3 year warranty.  It’s hard to find fault with this card.  I couldn’t.