How to Add a Wireless Card in a Dell PC
By Jeff Grundy
Most modern Dell laptops and tablets include a built-in wireless adapter that you can use to connect to Wi-Fi hot spots and surf the Web. With a desktop PC, however, unless you specifically request that Dell install a wireless adapter when you order, it will not include one. In fact, very few desktops include wireless network adapters; instead, these computers connect to networks and routers through a standard RJ-45 Ethernet cable. You can add a USB wireless adapter to a Dell desktop computer easily enough; just plug into a USB port and go in most cases. However, if you want an adapter with better range, and one that does not take up a valuable USB slot or clutter your desk, install an internal PCI wireless card.
Purchase a PCI wireless card for your Dell desktop computer. You can buy a wireless network adapter directly from the Dell website, another online merchant or a local computer store. Virtually any PCI wireless card will work in your Dell desktop computer as long as it has a driver that is compatible with your version of Windows.
Power off the Dell desktop computer, and then disconnect the power cord and all cables. Move the computer to a sturdy, flat work surface.
Loosen and remove the two retaining screws securing the right-side access panel with a Phillips #2 screwdriver. Slide the access panel back to remove it from the computer case.
Attach the metal clip on your anti-static wristband to a bare metal surface inside the computer case, and then slide the looped-end over your wrist.
Locate an empty PCI slot on the Dell motherboard. Depending on the model of Dell computer you own, the motherboard may only have one PCI slot, or it may have as many as three slots. PCI slots are white in color, whereas PCI-X slots are usually brown, blue or black; also, PCI slots are slightly shorter in length than PCI-X slots. After you select an empty PCI slot, use the Phillips screwdriver to remove the screw fastening the metal slot-cover bracket located directly behind the PCI slot. After you remove the retaining screw, remove the slot-cover bracket and set it aside.
Remove the antenna from the wireless card if attached. To remove it, straighten the antenna until it sticks straight out at a 180-degree angle from the card, and then twist it counterclockwise until it comes out of the terminal slot on the rear of the network card. Grasp the top of the metal mounting bracket on the rear of the PCI wireless card as well as the top right corner of the card with both hands. Push the wireless network card into the PCI slot until firmly seated. Insert the screw you removed from the slot-cover bracket into the mounting bracket screw hole on the network card and tighten it.
Slide the access cover panel back onto the computer case, then reinsert and tighten the retaining screws. Screw the wireless antenna back into the terminal slot on the rear of the PCI wireless card.
Move the Dell desktop computer back to your desk or workspace. Reconnect the power cord, keyboard, mouse, monitor and any other cables or peripherals used with the computer. Power on the Dell PC and log in to Windows. Windows will detect the new PCI wireless adapter card after you log in.
Insert the installation CD for the PCI wireless card into the computer's optical drive if Windows does not configure the device automatically and prompts you for a driver. Click the “OK” button, then wait for Windows to locate the driver on the CD and install it to your computer. Reboot the PC if Windows prompts you to do so.
Click “Start | Control Panel | Network and Sharing Center | Set Up a New Connection or Network.” Click the “Set up a New Network” link, and then follow the prompts to connect the computer to your Wi-Fi router and wireless network.
Click the “Wireless Signal” icon on the Windows taskbar, then select the name of your wireless network from the list in the pop-up window. Click “Connect,” then log in with the wireless password or security key when prompted. Use the wireless connection to surf the Web or browse the local network as you normally would.
- PCWorld: The Desktop Wireless Adapter Difference - USB vs. PCI
- Dell Support: Specifications Dell Dimension C521
- Dell Support: Dell Dimension C521 Service Manual
- Dell Support: Dell Dimension C521 Owner’s Manual
- NETGEAR: NETGEAR 10/100/1000 Mbps Gigabit Ethernet Adapter GA311 User Manual
- US Robotics: Wireless MAXg PCI Adapter Installation Guide
Jeff Grundy has been writing computer-related articles and tutorials since 1995. Since that time, Grundy has written many guides to using various applications that are published on numerous how-to and tutorial sites. Born and raised in South Georgia, Grundy holds a Master of Science degree in mathematics from the Georgia Institute of Technology.