fixed : upgrading Airport to WiFi-N on mid-2007 Mac mini

The mid-2007 Mac mini (model A1176) was a very interesting update for the Mac mini, because it got upgraded to a Core 2 Duo processor. There is however one thing that should also have been upgraded, but wasn’t (for some strange reason – cost reduction ?) : the AirPort card ; that stayed a WiFi-B/G compatible one only… even though all other Macs had WiFi-B/G/N at that time…

Luckily it is possible to upgrade the AirPort card to a WiFi-N compatible model.

I found one for a relatively good price on Amazon.de : the Atheros AR9280. Both MacOSX 10.6 Snow Leopard and MacOSX 10.7 Lion recognize it as a genuine AirPort-N card, so in 10.7 Lion the new AirDrop feature is also supported.

I used the installing directions from iFixit.com :

http://www.ifixit.com/Guide/Installing-Mac-mini-Model-A1176-AirPort-Extreme/1112/1

It works perfectly, even with only one antenna (FYI : normally a WiFi-N card should have 3 antennas, but the WiFi-B/G card that was originally installed came with just one…)

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6 thoughts on “fixed : upgrading Airport to WiFi-N on mid-2007 Mac mini

  1. Hello.
    I changed a couple of days ago the Airport card of my Mac Mini, Also a mid-2007 Mac mini (model A1176).
    I bought the card in ebay. It’s this: http://goo.gl/MQLrI. With chip Atheros AR5BXB92.
    All was ok. After instal it I had to do your fix, and now it’s supposed I have the Mac Mini with wifi-N:
    – Network utility says that I have a Wireless network adapter 802.11 a/b/g/n and its speed 130 Mbit/s
    -When I push the option key and click the antenna icon I get the following info:
    PHY Mode: 802.11n
    Channel: 2 (2.4GHz)
    Security:WPA2 Personal
    RSSI: -73 (change sometimes)
    Transmit Rate: change but NEVER IS MORE THAN 39
    MCS Index: 4 (change sometimes)

    So I think it has a very slow Transmit Rate, isn’t it?

    In another room I have a iMac with wifi-n also and its Transmit rate is over 134 (aprox.). Both Mac Mini and iMac are the same distance from router (an Airport Extreme).

    • @jocaferlo :

      with the Atheros AR9280 in my Mac mini (mid 2007), I get a transmit rate of about 121 (using the 5GHz WiFi)
      since I’m not familiar with the Atheros AR5BXB92, I have to stick with some ‘educated guesses’ :

      1- from what I see in your setup you’re not on the 5GHz WiFi-N, but on the 2.4GHz WiFi-N ; since the 2.4GHz bandwidth is also used by a lot of other wireless and electronic equipment (like microwave ovens, wireless land-line phone-sets, some children’s toys, etc.), there will be a lot of extra wireless interference compared to using the 5GHz bandwidth… so see if your wireless network adapter can be set to using the 5GHz bandwidth only (and you might have to toggle some settings on your Mac mini also); since only WiFi-N supports 5GHz, you can only do that if all your WiFi-connected equipment supports WiFi-N…

      2- are you aware that there might be ‘dead spots’ (due to interference and physical obstructions) in your WiFi-coverage near the location of your Mac mini ? see what happens to your Transmit Rate if you shove your Mac mini just a few inches to the left or to the right, or in any possible other direction…
      if you want to document your WiFi-coverage (i.e. make it visual on a map), you can use this FREE software called NetSpot, you can download it here :

      http://www.netspotapp.com/

      3- one of there (main) reasons for the Mac mini (mid 2007) not to be shipped with a WiFi-N capable AirPort-card at a time when every other Mac was WiFi-N capable, was the fact that the aging physical design of the Mac mini never was designed for an AirPort/WiFi-card with two antennas, as the older WiFi-B/G cards only need one antenna (current WiFi-cards even use three antennas). Even though a WiFi-N card can operate with just one antenna, it will not be able to get the same transfer rates and stability as the same WiFi-N card using two antennas. if you would like to add a second antenna to your Mac mini, you will probably end up with a less elegant design, but if your up to it, look here :
      http://www.hardmac.com/articles/74/

      4- …and you might also want to re-check if your WiFi-card and your WiFi-antenna are (still) properly attached, so you might want to open up your Mac mini again to see if the connectors are clean and tightly attached

      hope this helps – good luck !

      • Thanks for your help.
        I would like to ask for apologies for my English. is not very good…

        1. My Airport Extreme supports 5Ghz bandwidth, but it isn’t the last generation one with dual band, so if I set it to use 5Ghz some of other devices couldn’t connect to wifi (mobile, windows laptop, wii, ..).
        But I’ll try this for eliminating options.
        You say that I might have to toogle some settings on my Mac Mini. What settings do you refer? If I set the Airport Extreme to work only in 5Ghz, Mac Mini not be connected automatically to 5Ghz?
        2. I had already heard of this software. I’ll see it, but I think Mac Mini is in a open place yet.
        3. I had already thought about that, but I didn’t find much compatible antennas, and the ones I found are very expensive. Before I spend that money on this antenna I think is a better option a wifi USB adapter mini (wifi-N, 300Mbps,…)
        There is a point in the link you provide that calls me attention; it’s in page 5 when he says: “After rebooting the Mac mini, we installed the AirMac Extreme 802.11n Enabler from the CD provided with the Airport Extreme 802.11n”. I tried this (I had the enabler when I used it with iMac) but a message apeears saying that the hardware isn’t compatible.
        4. I’ll check this so. I had some troubles mounting the Mac Mini: the first time the antenna was released and finally it was very “tense”.

        I think that perhaps the problem must be in something of Mac Mini (card, antenna, software, …?) because the results I get on the other computer (iMac) are much better. Both are connected to the same Airport Extreme and even they are in different room the distance, the situation, are similar.

        Regards.

      • Hello again.
        I tried connection with the 5Ghz bandwidth and the transmition rate doesn’t improve significantly, its maximun value went 54. While in network utility as speed link says 300 Mbit/s.
        And curiously not improved anything on my iMac, I’m still values over 117. With 270 Mbits/s in network utility.

        Regards.

      • @jocaferlo :

        you’re welcome 😉

        ad.1
        if you could go to 5GHz bandwidth only, you should – if you can’t, don’t bother – it’s not your only hope 😉
        but, like you said, it’s a good thing to do just for testing
        FYI : my own AirPort-network needs do be 2.4GHz and 5GHz combined also, so I know your problem – in my case my Macs sometimes auto-connect to the 5GHz channel, and other times they auto-connect to the 2.4GHz channel, even if they’re within a 50cm range of my TimeCapsule…
        About the ‘toggling’… here’s some options :
        – turning off WiFi and then turning it back on (using the AirPort pie-icon in the menubar of the Finder) will help if you Mac is on 2.4GHz and you want is to switch to 5GHz bandwidth connection
        – deleting all your ‘preferred networks’ and re-entering them again manually sometimes helps to get better connections also ( to do so, go to System Preferences –> Network –> Wi-Fi –> Advanced –> Wi-Fi –> Preferred Networks: )
        – renewing DHCP lease might help ( to do so, go to System Preferences –> Network –> Wi-Fi –> Advanced –> TCP/IP –> Renew DHCP Lease )
        – repairing disk permissions has dealt with clearing all kinds of mysterious OSX problems in the past, so try that too ( to do so, open the Disk Utility app –> select [your internal hard disk] –> [your main partition] –> click on “Repair Disk Permissions” )
        …and there might be other settings on your Mac mini that you can switch on/off that might influence WiFi-reception, basically you could try any on/off switch… switching Bluetooth off (and back on, after testing WiFi) might even help also… (there are problems with interference from Bluetooth with WiFi…)

        ad.2
        go ahead and try NetSpot, you’ll be amazed by your findings…
        contrary to popular belief, any room, no matter how big it is, will never be like an ‘open field’ area… there will always be refection of WiFi-radiation, there will always be locations where reception is less because off reflected WiFi-radiation being in reverse-phase, which causes attenuation, or even ‘dead spots’ ; and it is not uncommon for ‘good reception spots’ to be right next to ‘bad reception spots’…
        so go ahead and try… it’s not as logical as you might expect…
        this is trail & error (if you don’t use something like NetSpot to help you…)

        ad.3
        that’s right – the antennas are expensive and hard to find (that’s why the guys from HardMac got theirs from an old Airport Base-station)…
        there is also the option to connect a (more powerful) external antenna and slide out the antenna cable through one of the air-vents…
        just google around and you’ll find some options :
        http://www.123macmini.com/news/story/281.html
        http://www.engadget.com/2005/04/11/quickertek-27dbm-transceiver-extends-mac-mini-wireless-range-to/
        http://macosx.com/forums/articles/295438-802-11-b-g-n-wireless-mac-mini.html
        …but price-wise you would be better off if you could do that with an antenna from an old wireless modem or something like that…

        from what I remember the “AirPort Extreme 802.11n Enabler” was just a firmware upgrade to (re-)enable some pre-installed Apple AirPort-cards to use WiFi-N…
        since Apple hadn’t released a WiFi-N capable AirPort Base Station yet, but the were planning on doing so, they had already built in the WiFi-N capable AirPort-cards into their current Macs at the time, but they had downgraded the firmware to enable just WiFi-B/G until they released the first WiFi-N capable AirPort Base Station
        the DIY (do-it-yourself) AirPort-card you have doesn’t have such a downgraded firmware, to there’s not point in upgrading…

        ad.4
        the connection should be firm, but not extremely tight ; and the connectors should be clean (gently wipe any visible particles off, and you could even use some pharmaceutical alcohol)

        It doesn’t have to do with the Mac mini necessarily… I know from experience that reception quality isn’t rock solid or even steady with even the newest Macs… that doesn’t have to do with Macs… the problem is in the nature of WiFi – it’s radiation… situations can visually be the same or even for layman’s common sense… but it’s never that simple…
        So… use NetSpot !
        ( …and you can even skip the first step to import a map of your home… it will work without… you know what the floor plan of your room looks like by hart, don’t you ? )

        Please report back your findings.
        I’m curious to know what solution will work for you.

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