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802.11ac roadmap in PCs

On support by Intel (and others!) for 802.11ac in laptops.

Earlier this month, we did a post on Apple’s potential plans for 802.11ac, and in keeping with the client-side theme, I wanted to turn my attention to PCs1. There are more manufacturers so fragmentation is an issue, but fortunately, many companies such as Lenovo, HP and Dell utilize Intel’s built-in wireless solution on their mobile chips. This is commonly known as Centrino, but Intel has been edging away from that branding under a unified Intel Wireless moniker.

So what are Intel’s ac plans? Fortunately, Intel publishes detailed roadmaps, unfortunately, the latest official roadmap doesn’t include ac. So we will rely on what we know from leaks and other Intel announcements. The Internet seems to think that 802.11ac will ship with Wilkins Peak2, which will be packaged with Haswell3. Intel showed off Haswell / Core 4 at CES, and it appears that the speculation that Haswell will launch around June of 2013 is correct, a bit more than a year after Ivy Bridge, and consistent with a microarchitecture tock.

The good news is that manufacturers incorporate new platforms fairly quickly after announce: Ivy Bridge was launched on April 22nd and Lenovo announced its Ivy Bridge-enabled laptops about a month later4. So we should expect to see ac as at least an upgrade option on most mainstream laptops by late summer / early fall.

What about everyone who doesn’t use Intel’s wireless solution? We’ve already seen Broadcom’s plans, and here’s a basic overview of who’s got what in chipset-land right now. The ASUS G75VX is widely regarded as one of the first laptops to ship5 with 802.11ac, and we’ll undoubtedly see more machines utilizing solutions from Marvell, Qualcomm/Atheros and Mediatek among others. I would expect to see the chipsets ship in volume in late Q1 / early Q2 with applications following soon after. All in all, the next six months should be an exciting time for fans of fast wireless.

 

(1) To be pedantic, Macs are PCs, at least by the traditional definition of “PC”.
(2) Wilkins Peak is the wireless solution, Shark Bay is the platform, based on the Haswell microarchitecture.
(3) This is a wonderful in-depth look at Haswell and is highly recommended.
(4) Sandy Bridge (the tick to Ivy Bridge’s tock) was released by Intel in Jan 2011 and Lenovo had the T420 by late February.
(5) Although I’ve never personally seen one in the wild, Amazon Canada seems to have stock.