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Upgrading Core Duo MacBooks with Apple 802.11n hardware

post #1 of 48
Thread Starter 
Owners of Apple's Core Duo Mac notebooks who are bummed over a lack of 802.11n wireless support within their systems may find some consolation in learning that they can overcome the limitation with some determined jury-rigging.

Although the majority of Apple's latest Core 2 Duo-based Macs (and Xeon-based Mac Pro) ship with wireless cards supporting a draft of the emerging wireless standard, the Core Duo models that preceded them did not.

For most users, condemnation of their Macs to the previous-generation 802.11g wireless specification isn't a big deal. That is, unless they're looking to adopt Apple's new AirPort Extreme 802.11n Wireless Base Station with its AirPort Disk feature.

While the new AirPort Extreme is backwards compatible with 802.11g, running it in hybrid 802.11g/802.11n mode immediately degrades performance of the wireless network for g-based devices. So the only logical solution, so say the clever gents over at MacBidouille, is to find a way to upgrade those Core Duo Macs with an 802.11n card. And that is exactly what they did.

In moving its Core Duo MacBook and MacBook Pro to Core 2 Duo models with support for 802.11n, Apple made a significant architectural change in that it shifted the internal wireless modules from a 2-antenna solution to a 3-antenna solution. Immediately that eliminates the possibility of dialing up an Apple repair specialist for an extra Core 2 Duo wireless module for the swap.

On the other hand, MacBidouille discovered that the 802.11n module in the Xeon-based Mac Pro was nearly identical -- in terms of both connectivity and its 2-antenna configuration -- to the modules that shipped with Core Duo MacBooks and MacBook Pros. A quick warranty-voiding disassembly later, the site's editors had swapped their MacBook's wireless card with one from a Mac Pro.

"After restarting the machine, the Airport module was recognized without any problems," the editors wrote in their explanation of the hack. "We put in the CD provided with the Airport [802.11n] base station, and it allowed us to install the new AirPort Utility as well as activate 802.11n without any difficulties."

Original Core Duo MacBook wireless module (left) and Mac Pro module (right)

Following the upgrade, which is also possible on the MacBook Pro, the 802.11n equipped Core Duo MacBook was reportedly able to sustained maximum transfer rates of 8.9 MB/s when interacting with another Mac which had been connected to the AirPort Extreme via Ethernet.

For those Core Duo Mac owners looking to follow suit in performing their own 802.11n surgery, one of the most challenging aspects may be obtaining a wireless module from the Mac Pro. But unlike the modules used in 802.11n MacBooks, which can only be obtained through exchange with Apple, those for the Mac Pro can be ordered through an Apple Authorized Repair Center.

Of course, an ensuing daunting task entails disassembling and then reassembling the MacBook without causing chaos. MacBidouille has posted step-by-step instructions for a 13-inch MacBook. However, users may find additional clarity in disassembly guides for the various MacBook and MacBook Pro models published by the upgrade specialists over at ifixit.
post #2 of 48
Come on! Let's hear the stories from those who have done/tried it. Anyone out there who has?
post #3 of 48
Jury-rigging? I don't see how that applies unless you are concerned that Apple might sue you for trying this out (which I very much doubt).

I definitely plan to do this though--after I get the extreme base station of course.

Also, did you mean Airport Express, or Airport Extreme? It seems like they could get a much better sustained throughput if they used a wireless n device.
post #4 of 48
Any way to do this with an iMac?
post #5 of 48
...or Mac Mini?
post #6 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by bdj21ya View Post

Jury-rigging?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jury_rig

Maybe you have only heard "jerry-rigging"
post #7 of 48
W0000t! The benefits of the PCI-e mini card thingy. Will check back on this later. After my "duct tape mod" on my MacBook Core[1]Duo fan/heatsink, well, we'll see... Still gotta go soon and buy a Cat5e gigabit ethernet crossover cable though. Back later.
post #8 of 48
Quote:
....another Mac which had been connected to the AirPort Express via Ethernet."

I think you mean AirPort Extreme since Express hasn't been updated to 802.11n yet.
post #9 of 48
I'm concerned with the warranty void. I really like the idea and want the technology, but I would like to retain my warranty. Does anyone think Apple will offer this as an upgrade?
post #10 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by brandonjamesphoto View Post

I'm concerned with the warranty void. I really like the idea and want the technology, but I would like to retain my warranty. Does anyone think Apple will offer this as an upgrade?

Apple should!
From Apple ][ - to new Mac Pro I've used them all.
Long on AAPL so biased
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From Apple ][ - to new Mac Pro I've used them all.
Long on AAPL so biased
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post #11 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post

Apple should!

Sign me up!
post #12 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by brandonjamesphoto View Post

I'm concerned with the warranty void. I really like the idea and want the technology, but I would like to retain my warranty. Does anyone think Apple will offer this as an upgrade?

Doubt it. Apple doesn't like upgrades. They want you to buy new stuff!
post #13 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by sunilraman View Post

W0000t! The benefits of the PCI-e mini card thingy. Will check back on this later. After my "duct tape mod" on my MacBook Core[1]Duo fan/heatsink, well, we'll see... Still gotta go soon and buy a Cat5e gigabit ethernet crossover cable though. Back later.

<off topic rambling>
Phew. Final-fracking-ly. 60-80 mbit/sec transfer from my MacBook GigabitEthernet Cat5e Crossover to
iBook 100Mbit/sec Ethernet. $6 local currency for da cable. Beats $22 for a FW400 and having to boot in Target Disk mode...
(well, cable is cheaper) Hooray...

Setting up permissions is PITA so I just use Public Drop Box Personal File Sharing thingymajig on target computer.
post #14 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

Owners of Apple's Core Duo Mac notebooks who are bummed over a lack of 802.11n wireless support within their systems may find some consolation in learning that they can overcome the limitation with some determined jury-rigging.

Although the majority of Apple's latest Core 2 Duo-based Macs (and Xeon-based Mac Pro) ship with wireless cards supporting a draft of the emerging wireless standard, the Core Duo models that preceded them did not.

For most users, condemnation of their Macs to the previous-generation 802.11g wireless specification isn't a big deal. That is, unless they're looking to adopt Apple's new AirPort Extreme 802.11n Wireless Base Station with its AirPort Disk feature.

While the new AirPort Extreme is backwards compatible with 802.11g, running it in hybrid 802.11g/802.11n mode immediately degrades performance of the wireless network for g-based devices. So the only logical solution, so say the clever gents over at MacBidouille, is to find a way to upgrade those Core Duo Macs with an 802.11n card. And that is exactly what they did.

In moving its Core Duo MacBook and MacBook Pro to Core 2 Duo models with support for 802.11n, Apple made a significant architectural change in that it shifted the internal wireless modules from a 2-antenna solution to a 3-antenna solution. Immediately that eliminates the possibility of dialing up an Apple repair specialist for an extra Core 2 Duo wireless module for the swap.

On the other hand, MacBidouille discovered that the 802.11n module in the Xeon-based Mac Pro was nearly identical -- in terms of both connectivity and its 2-antenna configuration -- to the modules that shipped with Core Duo MacBooks and MacBook Pros. A quick warranty-voiding disassembly later, the site's editors had swapped their MacBook's wireless card with one from a Mac Pro.

"After restarting the machine, the Airport module was recognized without any problems," the editors wrote in their explanation of the hack. "We put in the CD provided with the Airport [802.11n] base station, and it allowed us to install the new AirPort Utility as well as activate 802.11n without any difficulties."

Original Core Duo MacBook wireless module (left) and Mac Pro module (right)

Following the upgrade, which is also possible on the MacBook Pro, the 802.11n equipped Core Duo MacBook was reportedly able to sustained maximum transfer rates of 8.9 MB/s when interacting with another Mac which had been connected to the AirPort Extreme via Ethernet.

For those Core Duo Mac owners looking to follow suit in performing their own 802.11n surgery, one of the most challenging aspects may be obtaining a wireless module from the Mac Pro. But unlike the modules used in 802.11n MacBooks, which can only be obtained through exchange with Apple, those for the Mac Pro can be ordered through an Apple Authorized Repair Center.

Of course, an ensuing daunting task entails disassembling and then reassembling the MacBook without causing chaos. MacBidouille has posted step-by-step instructions for a 13-inch MacBook. However, users may find additional clarity in disassembly guides for the various MacBook and MacBook Pro models published by the upgrade specialists over at ifixit.

OK Cool. Don't be worried. This is a VERY EASY mod. Opening up the MacBook is VERY EASY compared to the iBook. Seriously. Just keep your cool, KEEP TRACK OF SCREWS and you'll be fine.

The only bit is the antenna disconnect and reconnect, be careful there.

Also look to ifixit.com Guide. You want to look at the steps up to "fan removal" (without removing the fan, of course).

Now... let's scour eBay for the MacPro 802.11n card...!! w000t!
post #15 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cubert View Post

Come on! Let's hear the stories from those who have done/tried it. Anyone out there who has?

Yeaaaaa...... We need some info from peoples regarding SPEED when running the Airport Extreme in the "802.11n-only 5ghz double wide channel bonding" mode. 8)
post #16 of 48
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post #17 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

.... A quick warranty-voiding disassembly later, the site's editors had swapped their MacBook's wireless card with one from a Mac Pro....

You can get away with it if you are able to put everything back in its place before sending your MacBook in for authorized repair under warranty. 8)
post #18 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by sunilraman View Post

<off topic rambling>
Phew. Final-fracking-ly. 60-80 mbit/sec transfer from my MacBook GigabitEthernet Cat5e Crossover to
iBook 100Mbit/sec Ethernet. $6 local currency for da cable. Beats $22 for a FW400 and having to boot in Target Disk mode...
(well, cable is cheaper) Hooray...

Setting up permissions is PITA so I just use Public Drop Box Personal File Sharing thingymajig on target computer.

I haven't used wired ethernet in a while, so do excuse me. 802.11g on average with a standard router, one would be looking at throughput of about 2-20 mbit/sec. On a good day.

On wired ethernet, My tests pulled 60-80 mbit/sec and 200+mbit/sec on 100mbit/sec and Gigabit Ethernet, respectively.

802.11N -- even if at around 100mbit/sec throughput, me wanna wanna wanna ..!!!!!
post #19 of 48
In fact I did this yesterday with my MacBook Core Duo. My thoughts:

1) Probably the biggest difficulty was getting hold of the MacPro module - not easy here in the UK

2) Disassembling the MacBook is pretty straightforward. Anyone that has taken apart an iBook in the past will find the MacBook easy.

3) After re-assembling and starting up, the new card was immediately recognised.

4) After applying the latest Airport Updates and the 802.11n Installer (via Pacifist), the details correct in the System profiler but in Network utility, still only showing 802.11n a/b/g

5) In the end I manually deleted the IO80211Family.kext from system/library/extensions and then reapplied the updates and enabler. After this everything was reporting correctly.

So what have I found:

a) Airport coverage range appears to have decreased slightly. Using iStumbler I'm seeing around a 69% signal strength where before I would see 100%. Signal noise is higher too (I think I may check that I managed to get the antenna cables on correctly)

b) Speed - on transferring files I see bursts of faster transfer (even to non N devices) but I thinks the problems detailed in a) above are negating the benefits

Potential Problems:

i) Will Apple Software Updates for this card automatically show up and install? Will Apple base the updates on machine or hardware installed

ii) My machines warranty is well and truly void!

iii Is it worth the effort - I think I will only be able to say this once I get the new Airport Extreme N

Good luck. M.
post #20 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by sunilraman View Post

Phew. Final-fracking-ly. 60-80 mbit/sec transfer from my MacBook GigabitEthernet Cat5e Crossover to iBook 100Mbit/sec Ethernet. $6 local currency for da cable.

You know you don't need crossover Ethernet cables any more? Since about 2002?

All new Gigabit and also a lot of the 10/100 network cards automatically switch to crossover whenever needed...
post #21 of 48
post #22 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by gwoodpecker View Post

You know you don't need crossover Ethernet cables any more? Since about 2002?

All new Gigabit and also a lot of the 10/100 network cards automatically switch to crossover whenever needed...

Yeah, I was reading that after I got the cable ...But, guaranteed to work! Coming from PC land, TRUST NO ONE, MR. MULDER.
post #23 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by wuf810 View Post

In fact I did this yesterday with my MacBook Core Duo. My thoughts:
......

ii) My machines warranty is well and truly void!

Can you confirm the two "nubs" where the airport antenna connections are, is it a simple "plug" like thing?
post #24 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by sunilraman View Post

Can you confirm the two "nubs" where the airport antenna connections are, is it a simple "plug" like thing?

Yes they are simple gold plugs. Quite fiddly thought as they are pretty small. Once you have got a good fit you will s=know as they sort of just snap on.

HTHs.

M.
post #25 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by wuf810 View Post

Potential Problems:

i) Will Apple Software Updates for this card automatically show up and install? Will Apple base the updates on machine or hardware installed

ii) My machines warranty is well and truly void!

iii Is it worth the effort - I think I will only be able to say this once I get the new Airport Extreme N

Good luck. M.

i) If they don't I'm sure you'll be able to install them using Pacifist anyways. Anybody hacking their MB/MBP in this way will easily get an update to install even if it's machine specific.

ii) As stated earlier, how on Earth is Apple ever going to tell if you reinstall the original parts prior to submitting your machine for repairs?

iii) The choice is yours.
post #26 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by wuf810 View Post

Yes they are simple gold plugs. Quite fiddly thought as they are pretty small. Once you have got a good fit you will s=know as they sort of just snap on.

HTHs.

M.

Cool, thanks. Now I can fiddle with it with confidence. For a while when I opened up my MacBook about a month ago (cleaned fan+vents at inside back, applied some duct tape*) I saw the antenna connectors, and thought they were soldered on or something.

My theory is that the Core[1]Duo MacBook and MacBookPros have 2 antennas because they support 802.11a which runs at 5ghz and 802.11b/g which runs at 2.4ghz.

I suspect the Mac Pro two antennas are similar, except the 5 ghz supports the 802.11a/n@5ghz and 2.4ghz antenna supports 802.11b/g/n@2.4ghz.

................
*long story
5degC overall CPU temp reduction!
................
post #27 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by BumGravy View Post

Accelerate Your Mac had info on this a week or so ago:

http://www.xlr8yourmac.com/archives/...07.html#S22380
http://www.xlr8yourmac.com/archives/...07.html#S22381

Appreciate the links. Also from xlr8 I found out - new Office Mac 2004 Update!! Wooooooo
Installed it (Office Update), seemed okay. 8)

Now, back to 802.11n hack for Core[1]Duo laptops.

Firstly, I think the xlr8 site while generally helpful, the verbose "user experience" stuff is too rambling sometimes.

Secondly, we need to look at some real tests with
1.AirportExtreme running at 802.11n-only@5ghz
2.AirportExtreme running 802.11b/g/n@2.4ghz
3.Non-Apple router running 802.11n-only@5ghz
4.Non-Apple router running 802.11b/g/n@2.4ghz

Thirdly, no way in HELL am I gonna buy a DELL card as one of the users in the site did, I'd try and swing a Mac Pro card.
post #28 of 48
I wish I could doo somethig wifout killin teh warrenteez.
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post #29 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by ecking View Post

I wish I could doo somethig wifout killin teh warrenteez.

Yeah, if you can't even write a proper sentence you shouldn't even go close to a screwdriver.
post #30 of 48
Now here is a good one for you guys. I have an older iMac. A G4 1 Ghz to be more specific. The first one without USB 2.0. Is there anyway to replace my existing airport card with one that supports 802.11N? I am very interested in the airport disk feature as I share many computers in the home and not everyone has a mac. Before everyone jumps on me telling me to get a new Mac simply cannot afford that. I'd really like to get another year or two out of this computer before I have to get a new one since I only bought it in 2003. If anyone can be of assistance I appreciate it.

Thanks.

Nick
post #31 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by ngrande View Post

Now here is a good one for you guys. I have an older iMac. A G4 1 Ghz to be more specific. The first one without USB 2.0. Is there anyway to replace my existing airport card with one that supports 802.11N? I am very interested in the airport disk feature as I share many computers in the home and not everyone has a mac. Before everyone jumps on me telling me to get a new Mac simply cannot afford that. I'd really like to get another year or two out of this computer before I have to get a new one since I only bought it in 2003. If anyone can be of assistance I appreciate it.

Thanks.

Nick

Hi, please list your other computers in the home and what (if any) sort or Airport/wireless cards they have. Also, what sort of hard disk would you like to use as the AirDisk ??
post #32 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by ngrande View Post

Now here is a good one for you guys. I have an older iMac. A G4 1 Ghz to be more specific. The first one without USB 2.0. Is there anyway to replace my existing airport card with one that supports 802.11N?

If it's a PowerMac, then you can probably ask the people at LowEndMac whether there are any PCI cards that will work. With only USB 1.1, you won't benefit from a USB dongle. There is a chance that a CardBus card would work but the people at that site would know best.
post #33 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by gwoodpecker View Post

You know you don't need crossover Ethernet cables any more? Since about 2002?

All new Gigabit and also a lot of the 10/100 network cards automatically switch to crossover whenever needed...

This is one of the coolest things I recall when I switched back to Macs back in 2002. I like to use it--and screen capoture--as an example when friends wonder what I mean by "it just works" in comparison to Windows.

I wonder if PCs have this capability yet?
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post #34 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

This is one of the coolest things I recall when I switched back to Macs back in 2002. I like to use it--and screen capoture--as an example when friends wonder what I mean by "it just works" in comparison to Windows.

I wonder if PCs have this capability yet?

I think all current Intel network chips can do this, and all previous Intel gigabit net chips too.
post #35 of 48
try provantage for the mac pro card. i got one on delivery, i hope it is what i need, 'cause i cannot return it. 50 bucks shipped.....hope it is the one! 8)
post #36 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by Matthew Yohe View Post

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jury_rig

Maybe you have only heard "jerry-rigging"

Funny.
post #37 of 48
For those trying to get the replacement card the part Number for the :Airport Extreme Wireless Kit for Mac pro" is MA688ZM/B. Cost here in the UK is £30. You can get them at Apple Stores but they won't sell them to you because it is not a user installable part....

PS I took my machine apart again and checked the connections to the new card. All fine - so I have to say in my experience so far the Network range with the MacPro card is not as good.
post #38 of 48
I think any of the newer n cards will work. I think it would probably be fine to leave the third antenna port open, the cards seem to choose what antenna or antennas work best at any given time. What makes the Mac Pro card useful is that it's the one that is easier to find.
post #39 of 48
i got the MA688ZM/A @ gravis mannheim, germany. 49,95. they had it in stock to my amazement...

installation was ok, a little difficult to fiddle with the antenna connectors...

immediately after the install the card was recognized and the 802.11 a/b/g/n capabilities were displayed.

i had the enabler installed before i installed, and @ first i seen a cap on downloads @ 4mbit. i reinstalled from the 21.5MB dmg with all the APX apps and the enabler, after that the speeds were ok.

in my APX(old white station) in 802.11g are around 3.6MB/sec. i have 16mbit(2MB/sec) DSL. so i have no way of getting to the limit of 802.11g. i maxed that connection out with the old/new wifi card. i had a friend over with this mbp C2D and we did wifi to wifi and ethernet to wifi tests, thruput on wifi to wifi was 3.6MB, ethernet to wifi was 3.6MB to. oddly enuff was that the C2D mbp haad slower upload speeds in the LAN than me, i uploaded to him @ 100% 802.11g speed, but he could only upload to me @ 75%., this test was done vice versa, ethernet and wifi combinations. it seems that there's a bug with the s/w/firmware on the atheros hardware, the broadcom in my mbp CD seems to work faster than his.... very odd...
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post #40 of 48
I got the MA688Z/A from the closest Apple dealer (3rd party dealer) here (I live in western Canada, no Apple stores out here yet). Cost was $60CDN. The service dept told me that if they installed the card it would not void any warranties and my AppleCare would stay intact on my MBP.

Got the card installed, but the service dept did not enable the N for me. Got the enabler installer and the Network Utility shows a/b/g/n capability and I am connected to my Linksys WRT300N router at 130Mb.

Speeds do not seem to be what others have reported online with near 100Mb wire speeds (ie 8-9MB/s). Transferring in a large 2+GB ISO file onto my MBP yields around 2.9-3.1MB/s sustained transfer with a peak of 3.4MB/s according to the ftp client on the other end (plugged into the router with ethernet cable). If I plug in my MBP into ethernet, I get 9MB/s no problem via ftp transfer.

I dual boot with Windows Vista so I fired up into there and transferred the same file by Windows transfer. Hard to know if the window was accurate, but it did seem to tranfer the file faster by a couple minutes so I tend to believe it. Tried setting the router to mixed and N only for both OS X and Windows. N only seemed to slow things down more than the mixed environment.


Not sure what I can do to try and increase speeds on the OS X side of things. As per the previous poster, I tried installing all the apps and enabler from the new APX CD dmg file but it didn't seem to help me. Any ideas?

MacBook Pro Core Duo 2.16Ghz w/ AirPort Extreme N card (MA688Z/A)
2GB RAM
Linksys WRT300N router
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