Dell has joined the line-up of companies taking a risk with products that meet an early draft of the IEEE's 802.11n proposed fast WiFi standard.
"Broadcom isn’t alone, but I’m stunned that Dell will sign onto this at this stage," said Glenn Fleishman, of WiFi Net News. "There’s no one outside of the firms trying to push this early Draft N gear who believes it’s a good idea to write one’s name in water.£
Dell will offer to upgrade laptops with a Draft N adapter using Broadcom's Intensi-fi chipset - the one used in the Linksys Buffalo and Netgear Next Draft N products.
The $59 USD upgrade is available on XPS and some Inspiron laptops, according to Dell's press release. but not yet on the firm's site, either in the US or UK. The UK site offers a £9 upgrade to add 802.11a, the WI-Fi version that operates in the 5GHz band, and is also promoting the HSDPA upgrade fast cellular data, the company launched with Vodafone last month.
According to tests we've done, Draft N only gives a moderate speed boost in real situations, and users with Draft N laptops may find themselves using 802.11g anyway. They also face the uncertainty of whether the device can be upgraded to the final 802.11n standard when it comes out next year. No vendor is promising an upgrade, and it is very likely that the only way to upgrade these laptops will be to buy an upgrade for the wireless adapter.
In the meantime, they'll be tied to using WiFi kit that uses the same silicon if they want faster speeds. Broadcom and Atheros have carried out 802.11n interoperability tests, multi-vendor kit isn't advised at this stage of the game.
Users wanting a router to use their Draft N laptop will therefore have to choose with care; Dell's UK site offers a "draft N" router for £87.50, but this appears to be Belkin's earlier Wireless Pre-N Router, which is based on the Airgo chipset and never actually claimed to comply with this year's 802.11n draft. The US site offers a bigger range, including the Netgear Next Draft N router (reviewed here, which is based on Broadcom silicon.
One result of Dell's move could be to establish Broadcom as the de facto standard for Draft N products until the final standard comes out. Broadcom claims in a press release to have shipped a million Draft N chipsets already.