MSI Wind U120 – Wireless Card Upgrade

So, my wife has an MSI Wind U120.  It’s a great little netbook — especially after I installed Ubuntu Netbook Remix 9.10.  She loves it and uses it constantly.  But there’s always been a problem with this netbook.  Not the keyboard, or even the track pad buttons that some complain about.  No… our problem has been the Wireless card.

Realtek RTL8187SE

Perhaps it was bad luck, or a bad card, but the Realtek RTL8187 that came with our Wind was awful.  Not simply slow, or a little bit of a pain.  Completely and totally abysmal.  It took close to  a minute to lock on to a WiFi access point that was across a small room.  It refused to stay connected to almost any wireless access point.  On a public access point with any sort of traffic, it would drop out every couple minutes.  Digging in to the problem, I found that it was dropping more packets than it was receiving!  Which means that less than 50% of the packets were ever getting to the computer.  Lets just say that watching YouTube videos was an exercise in patience.  Even going to a web page was painful.

Looking in to the problem, I found that I’m actually not alone in this dilemma.  Many people reported that they just lived with the issues.  Some talked about replacing the wireless card.  Hmm… Being a bit of a geek, any excuse to take apart a computer seems to be a good option.

So, I went to eBay and ordered an Intel 4965AGN MiniPCIe card.  Total cost, including shipping, came out to $12.18.   It came today and I installed it in a little under an hour.  Not only is this card have built-in support under Linux, but it adds Wireless N capabilities which the previous card didn’t have.  Not that I have a Wireless N router, but it never hurts to upgrade if you’re going to take the computer apart anyway.

Installing the Intel 4965AGN on an MSI Wind U120

I’ve taken this netbook apart already when I replaced the hard drive.  There was nothing wrong with the old hard drive, but I figured that I’d save the Windows install that came with it and install Linux on a new hard drive (that I had laying around).  This way, if my wife didn’t like the Linux experience, she could easily go back to the native Windows install by just swapping back.

Please be warned – I am not responsible for you breaking your computer.  These instructions worked for me.  Also note that by the end of this whole thing, we’ll have taken the screen apart too so if you aren’t comfortable continuing, don’t.

Step 1 – Remove the Back Cover

I won’t go in to too many details here since I believe that if you can’t remove the back cover, you probably shouldn’t undertake this project.  One word of wisdom is that there is a screw under the warranty sticker.  This means you will have to void your warranty to do this.  Another word of wisdom is that you should have removed the battery before you started.  After loosening all the screws, the back cover snaps off.  It’s a little stubborn, but if you go slow and use something plastic like a credit card to separate the cover, it shouldn’t be too bad.

Step 2 – Locate the Mini PCIe WiFi Card

A little background here.  The MSI Wind U120 has two derivatives – the normal U120, and the U120H which includes optional 3G Cellular compatibility.  It is my understanding that the instructions written here should work for either so long as you don’t use the 3G capability.  The consequence of this is that MSI moved the WiFi card from where it was on the U100 series (in the back corner) and placed it right in the middle of the netbook.  This is all well and good, but they also put a non-standard Mini PCIe card in that’s about half as long as is standard.  Not good since the Intel 4965AGW I purchased wouldn’t fit there (due to the screw hole being in the wrong place in the motherboard).  What to do.  First off, I removed the crappy RealTek card gently popping the antenna wires up using a small flat-head screwdriver and undoing the lone screw holding it in place.  It slid right out.  Tossing that in the garbage, I continued.

Since I don’t have the 3G capability, I had an empty Mini PCIe slot in the back right corner (as shown below).  (If you have a 120U, this will be filled with the 3G card)  So, I figured I’d just put the new card there.  Easy!

NIKON D200 @ 50mm — ¹/60 sec, ƒ/6.3, ISO 200 | zoom in

Not so fast.  While the card fits fine, the antenna wires don’t reach!  In fact, it looks like they just swapped the left and right wires from the U100 series.  These wires go through the hinge and up to the top of the screen portion of the netbook.  Time to swap them back!

Step 3 – Removing the Screen

To remove the screen, it’s necessary to remove three plugs.  These go to the screen itself, the microphone, and the webcam.  Once these wires are loose, the hinges need to be unscrewed.  There are two screws on one side, and one screw on the other.  Note the position of these screws as if you put them back in the wrong holes, you won’t be able to put the back cover on again (since its screws use the other holes).  With the hinge undone, open the netbook to about  90 degrees and it should come right off.  Easy, right?  Now look at those hinges.  The black plastic covers over the hinges are actually two pieces.  Remove the small piece on each side and keep them separate so you know which is which.

Step 4 – Opening the screen

Now comes the tricky part.  Removing the bezel (the black frame around the screen) from the screen.  There are four screws holding the bezel on located under the rubber pads at the four corners.  Remove these pads carefully as you’ll want to put them back over the screws when you are done.  Note: the top of the screen has two pads in the middle.  These don’t need to be removed.

With the screws removed, insert a plastic card (credit card or the like) into the groove and pop the two halves of the screen apart.  Scary popping noises may occur.  Proceed at your own comfort.  Once the bezel is removed, you should be able to see the two antenna wires going to the top of the screen and attaching to brass antenna pads.  These are the things you want to swap!  You’re getting close.  Remove the actual screen by unscrewing the four corners and gently lifting out (and setting someplace safe).  From here, I found that peeling back the sticky brass antenna (with the green piece of circuit board still attached) would peel back the foam at the same time.  Made it pretty simple to just swap the antenna.  Now the long cable is on the correct side of the screen like in the photo below!

NIKON D200 @ 50mm — ¹/60 sec, ƒ/6.3, ISO 200 | zoom in

Step 5 – Re-Assemble the Screen and Re-Attach

Again, I’m assuming that if you’ve come this far, you can safely re-assemble the computer.  Just reverse the following steps until you have the screen re-attached to the computer and the wires re-attached (except for the antenna wires).  No real words of warning here — just be careful and take it slow.  Everything went back together for me without a hitch.  At this point, you’re ready to install the new WiFi Card!

Step 6 – Install the Intel 4965AGN Card

This is super easy.  Just put it in the slot near the back right of the computer by sliding the front edge (with the brass connectors) into the connector and gently pressing down the back of the card.  The screw hole should line up with the stand off that is already there.  Just re-use the original screw from the old card.  At this point, you’ll notice that the two wires we swapped both reach a terminal of the card.  I attached one to the terminal labeled “1″ and the other to the terminal labeled “2″.  I really don’t think it matters which wire goes where as they both lead to the brass antenna pads.  See below.

NIKON D200 @ 50mm — ¹/60 sec, ƒ/6.3, ISO 200 | zoom in

Step 7 – Finish Reassembly, Insert Battery and Power On

Check for spare parts.  If you have anything left over other than the crappy Realtek card, figure out what it is and replace it.  So long as you didn’t break anything (and remember, I warned you it’s not my fault), Linux will simply recognize the new, improved, and fully functional card and connect to the network.  Easy as 1, 2, 3.  What’s more, if your experience is anything like my experience, the card will connect to the network in much less time than the old, crappy card.  Also, checking for dropped packets, I was thrilled to note that even after surfing for a long time, I had zero dropped packets.  Also, I seem to get much better signal strength.

2 thoughts on “MSI Wind U120 – Wireless Card Upgrade

  1. Hi, I have an MSI wind u120 non H version so no 3G. However they also removed all the components for the second pci e mini slot. I am trying to upgrade my netbook with a 2nd slot in order to take advantage of the 3g ericsson card i bought. Would it be possible for you to take some pictures of the 2nd slot( the new slot you mentioned) with out the card so that i can see what components they stuffed such as sim reader and aother capacitors and resistors. I can through standards determine the values.

    Thanks

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