Dell Laptops to Offer Draft-N

By Eric Griffith

July 17, 2006

Dell's consumer notebook lines will provide Broadcom's Intensi-Fi chips as an optional upgrade from Centrino.

Despite controversy within the standards process, with early products supporting the draft version of 802.11n (dubbed Draft-N), the high-speed wireless tech has debuted in a number of routers and laptop PC Cards for the consumer market. Today marks the first time Draft-N will be available embedded in a laptop computer.

Dell_wireless_1500_sm.jpg Dell will let purchasers of XPS or Inspiron branded notebooks make the upgrade from Intel Centrino A/G chips to a Broadcom Intensi-FI Draft-N chip for $59 (less with some promotions). The internal card is called the Dell Wireless 1500 Draft 802.11n dual-band wireless card.

Dell's Clay Rayborn, senior product manger for wireless at the PC maker in Round Rock, Texas, says they will not offer Draft-N chips in the business-oriented Latitude line. "We'll wait for the ratified standard, due to the magnitude of the roll-out," he says. "We want relationship customers at that level to have a guaranteed upgrade."

Like most vendors supporting some form of Draft-N, Dell will not guarantee that these products will be upgradeable to the final 802.11n specification.

Rayborn says there were questions from customers about 11n support, but he points more toward generic questions about range and throughput needs that current 802.11g was not addressing. "We benchmarked [Intensi-Fi] and the value is real," says Rayborn. "For an internal solution that has legs for a year, we felt there was value in it." He expects there to be little change to the market for high-speed wireless over the next year as the 802.11n Task Group continues to hammer out the specification within the IEEE, thus there's no reason to wait if customers want the range/speed available from Draft-N.

For benchmarking, Rayborn admits that they tested notebooks — which will use the new form factor miniPCI Express cards inside — with routers from Netgear that also use the Intensi-Fi chip from Broadcom. Netgear happens to also be the provider of Dell's preferred WLAN equipment bundles. Other tests included using encryption, working alongside neighboring networks, streaming video, performing downloads, and even gaming. "The benchmarking wasn't in a lab," says Rayborn, but with real-world conditions. They did not test with Draft-N products from other vendors who may use other chipsets, many of which have been reported as not working at full speed — or much at all— when in proximity. Dell states its test showed a data rate of 270 Megabits per second (Mbps). Standard 802.11g is rated at 54Mbps.

In a statement, Broadcom calls the adoption of the chip by the notebook market a "significant step toward mainstream adoption of Intensi-Fi technology."

The Dell MiniPCI Express card is Wi-Fi Certified for use with 802.11a/b/g networks. Nothing in the world is Wi-Fi Certified for 11n, as the Wi-Fi Alliance won't test for that until the 11n specification is done.

Originally published on .

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