How To Troubleshoot Weak Wireless Connections

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A few months ago, our dog chewed through the cables for our satellite TV. That’s her in the picture. She also chewed $300 worth of computer cables, but that’s not the point. A few weeks ago, we got sick of not having television, so we bought a D-Link DivX Connected device that allows us to play media content from our laptops on our big TV in high definition wirelessly. It’s pretty cool.

The problem is that our wireless connection would keep dropping for no apparent reason. I would reset the router, reset the wireless adapter on the laptop and reset the DivX device. That would work for awhile and then it would happen again. So I fired up the Xirrus Wireless Wi-Fi Inspector that I wrote about awhile back, and went through troubleshooting my weak wireless connection through that. Turns out I forgot that a lot of my neighbours have the same crappy modem/router combination my ISP assigned me and they all like to talk on the same channel at the same time. Now, I would change the channel on my router manually to one that wasn’t being used.

But the weak wireless connection problem still continues. Sometime I forget that I am a college-trained computer technician. Once I recalled that little tidbit, I started digging into how I could manipulate my wireless adapter to work better, hopefully.

Keep in mind that my wireless adapter is a an Intel device. Yours may differ, however the principles should be the same.

I opened up my Intel wireless adapter by clicking on the Start button, then the Connect To link and then the Wireless Network Connection link. Up pops the Wireless Connection Status window.

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weak wireless connection

Then I clicked on the Properties button. Voila! Here’s the Wireless Network Connections Properties window. Now we’re getting to the meat and potatoes, or tofurkey and potatoes for our vegetarian friends.

fix weak wireless connection

Clicking on the Configure button took me to the Intel Pro Wireless 2915ABG Network Connection Properties window. Try to say that 3 times fast!

step_3

Notice that I highlighted the Intel Throughput Enhancement option in the Property select box. The default value of this is Disabled. When it’s disabled, the adapter uses a packet burst mode known as Wi-Fi Multimedia mode (WMM). This mode is ideal when you use your computer in a wireless network with other computers doing ordinary uploading or downloading of music, video, text and any other type of file. Hence the name – multimedia.

When the Intel Throughput Enhancement is enabled, this packet burst method is meant more for streaming video and audio. Hmmm, I’m trying to stream audio and video to my DivX Connected device! So, I enabled it. Now, if you enable it, and there are other computers using the same router as yours, you will be hogging the bandwidth! Make sure that’s okay with your other users. If you’re the Dad, like me, you just go ahead and do it. After you get Mom’s permission, of course.

Then I checked on the Power Management mode. Mine was defaulted to the Lowest end of the slider. Well, that’s great if I were using my laptop without it always being plugged in. However, I always have it plugged in, so power management is not an issue. By setting it to maximum, I’ll get higher performance! This should assist in noisy environments as well. I don’t mean kids and dogs, I mean lots of other Wi-Fi signals, like the ones from my neighbours. Darned noisy neighbours!

step_4

I scrolled down a bit further and found the property Roaming Aggressiveness. Mine was set to be as aggressive as possible. What that means is that if my router has a weaker wireless connection than another signal in the area, the adapter will try to jump to that. For me, that means it tries to connect to a neighbour with a stronger signal. Well, I don’t want that so I dialed it down to lowest.

troubleshoot weak wireless connection

The last thing I did was to check the Wireless Mode property. Originally, it was set to 802.11B and 802.11G mode. I don’t think changing this will make that significant a difference, but since my router, adapter and DivX device are all capable of 802.11G mode, I saw no sense in leaving it mixed. So I changed it to that exclusively.

Did it work? So far, so good! Unless the microwave is on, the connection hasn’t been dropped between my laptop and the router. Sometimes it gets dropped between the router and the DivX Connected device… but that’s another article!

How do you usually troubleshoot dropped wireless connections? Do you have a solution of your own? Share them with us in the comments!

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21 Comments - Write a Comment

Reply

Luis

You should also add that you can improve your Wireless connection considerably by finding out which channels other routers around you are being used. Theres a few free apps online (i know i saw one on Hak5 but i cant remember the name) I use a free app that was made for my G1.

Guy McDowell

Yep, did that by mentioning using Xirrus and changing what channel my router was using.

Webtraffic

nice tutorial but the unfortunate part is that it’s only useful for those with an intel wireless component. For most I don’t think they’d have all those options.

Reply

catester

Nice work. And I just love it that there is a property called “Roaming Agressiveness”. Who knew?

Guy McDowell

Not me! At least until I started digging a little further.

Reply

Ian

It seems Xirru doesn´t support Linksys Wireless-B USB Network Adapter v4.0 :S
Also I checked the wireless properties menu and it´has in no way the amount of options of Intel.

Anyway I still have my neighbours wireless :D

Reply

Jack Cola

I should first add that Heatmapper is a good application to map your wireless signal strength out around your house. It also tells you information about your router and other routers it picks up such as the channel the routers are on. Have a read of this MUO post: http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/map-your-homes-wifi-signal-strength-with-heatmapper/

On the otherhand, I got a new router and my wireless signal often drops out and disappears on 802.11N, so I switched it to G, and it drops out less frequently. Still trying to troubleshoot why when considering when I disable and re-enable the wireless adapter, it picks the signal up again.

However, I couldn’t find any of these settings on my wireless card, but then again, its not an Intel Wireless Card.

Guy McDowell

Heatmapper looks awesome, Jack. I’ll be playing with that for certain.

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Gav

Just wondered what of the DivX Connected device your using – it is the DSM330 – I’ve got the same one so this would be a great set of tips if they work that well. :-)

Guy McDowell

That’s the one! It made things better for us, but our real weak link is the router. If you have a good router, these tips should help significantly.

Ken Pasco

You should get an N router…..much faster than b or g

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Gav

Cheers! Will give it a go hopefully it improves the performance of my DivX Connected box too :-)

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Andrew L

I’ve used Network Stumbler for checking signal strengths, routers, channels, etc. It’s simple and works very well.

Thank you for the device tips! I have a Broadcom device, but using your principals got me a strong and stable connection all the way to the lazy-boy in the living room (at the far corner of the house from my wireless transmitter). Previously I was never able to keep a connection there for more than a minute. I’ve spent hours, without success, trying to tweak the output end (modes, seldom used channels, power settings, foil reflectors, etc.). This is great! Five minutes effort and I can now go anywhere around the house or yard. Whooohooo!!!

Guy McDowell

Glad to hear that!

Reply

Alex

The first comment mentioned a tool shown on Hak5
(awesome show) to see what channels are in use. the tool is called inssider. it can be found at http://www.metageek.net/products/inssider this tool shows the signal strength of all of the wifi devices in the area and what channels they occupy. it can be really helpful in both wardriving and troubleshooting a congested connection.

Reply

IT tech

Well I have had the same problem in my network since I have my wireless 2 month ago. I got tired of doing the same router/modem reset troubleshooting until I got the following message from w7 “your DNS server is not responding”

So I went to wireless properties/adapter properties and found that by default you have “obtain a DNS server automatically” I don’t know which server is but it doesn’t work very well.

So I went online I found that the solution is to change that and use a public DNS server. I change the adapter properties (internet protocol version 4/TCP ipv4) to use the server 208.67.222.222 and that’s it. It worked for me since my wireless has not been dropped from that change.

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