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Do I need 802.11n wireless adapters for laptops and PCs to install 802.11n?

You don't need 802.11n wireless adapters for your laptops or PCs in order to install 802.11n and make use of 802.11n MIMO since most 802.11n APs are backward compatible, but you may need new client hardware.

With the use of 802.11n MIMO do you need new 802.11n wireless adapters for all your laptops and PCs to install 802.11n or is there a driver update? I'm not sure whether MacOS Leopard makes the MacBook Pro adapters 802.11n enabled.

Transitioning to 802.11n

To learn more about transitioning to 802.11n technology, check out this interview with Lisa Phifer about 802.11n upgrade considerations in a nutshell.

All 802.11n MIMO APs are backwards compatible with 11bg clients, so you don't need new 802.11n wireless adapters for your Mac,PC, Blackberry or whatever kind of device you currently use toconnect via Wi-Fi. Those older clients still work with your new AP pretty much like they did before, except that they may sustain slightly better throughput in locations where they previously communicated very poorly or slowly.

If you want to take advantage of 802.11n MIMO high-throughput data rates (anything above 54 Mbps) or other benefits of 802.11n MIMO, you need new client hardware, not software. In most cases, that means buying a new 802.11n wireless adapter. In some cases, the internal wireless adapter can be upgraded in the field, but for most laptops, the new adapter will use an available USB port or card slot. The new adapter will ship with a CD/DVD on which you will find the requisite drivers. When doing so, beware that some 11n adapters are single band(2.4 GHz only) and some are dual band (2.4 & 5 GHz). Don't buy a single band client and expect it to talk to a dual band AP that's configured to run on 5 GHz.

Occasionally vendors ship new devices containing 802.11n chipsets that have been set to disable 802.11n operation and use only 802.11b/g data rates. Apple did this on several older versions of their desktops and laptops, as well as newer generations of their mobile devices so that they could start shipping 11n-capable hardware before client software was ready to deal with consequences (battery drain, interoperability). In that exceptional case, loading new firmware can enable 11n operation.A while back, Apple shipped an "11n client enabler" with their APs to do just that. However, if you have a newer machine, you probably don't need that "enabler" because 11n is already enabled. Here's where you can find instructions on how to determine this:

This was last published in June 2010

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