I can't make decisions!
September 15, 2008 2:03 PM   Subscribe

Should I buy a computer today (the last day of the apple promotion) and/or is my landlord required to provide me with a stable wifi signal if it is included in the lease?

I have two interconnected questions for the hive mind.

1. I recently moved into a new studio apartment. This apartment is a cottage in the backyard of the landlord's house. Free wifi was advertised in the craigslist listing of the apartment and was included in the lease. However, once I moved in I discovered that the connection is not that strong. I have to stand on the landlord's back porch with my laptop to establish the initial connection and once I move into my apartment the signal strength drops considerably. In addition, the signal cuts in and out randomly. The signal has been gone for the past 24 hours, and when I called the landlord she said that nothing had changed so she doesn't know why I can't get it anymore.

Is my landlord required to provide a stronger signal since wifi is a utility she provides in the lease or am I getting what I paid for?

If I buy my own router and plug it into the cable outlet INSIDE my apartment, can I use her cable service or would I have to get my own plan with comcast? Would I still be able to get my cable tv (if I use a splitter or something)?

2. Related to that, I have been considering buying a new macbook and getting a free ipod touch with the apple educational promotion. I don't need a new computer - mine is only 2 years old and I have a 3 year applecare plan on it. Plus, I don't have enough money for a new computer and would need to buy it on credit, which I really don't want to do.

BUT.... the new macbooks have better wifi cards so my signal at home will be better. I'm a big internet user, so I need internet service at home. In addition, I am in the market for a new smartphone (I was thinking the iphone of the new T-Mobile Android). Maybe I can use the free ipod touch as my on the go email/internet/map service and I won't have to spend money on a new phone and a monthly fee.

But then I heard rumors that the macbook will have a significant upgrade in October, and I don't want to regret buying the older (current) model. Plus, the ipod touch won't work away from a wifi signal which limits it's smartphone replacement benefit.

I've been going back and forth for the past 2 weeks and today is the last day of the apple deal so I need to decide NOW! What should I do? I'm even thinking of buying the computer and leaving it unopened just so I have 2 more weeks (the return period) to decide.
posted by Nickel to Computers & Internet (12 answers total)
If you think that the fancier wireless card will improve your signal strength (whether or not it will, I honestly don't know), then it would seem to me to be a much better option to just buy a new wireless card rather than a new computer you don't need and can't afford. Even if you're not up to poking around inside your laptop, having a new card installed will still be significantly cheaper than a whole new machine.
posted by Johnny Assay at 2:16 PM on September 15, 2008

I don't know about the legality of what your landlord must provide, but if they are decent folks, I'm sure they will work with you if you can show them that it is a real issue. I'm sure they don't want to spend a fortune for a fix, but with a little creativity, you can work this out.

1. You cannot plug a router into her cable service and get service without an agreement with the provider. The provider maps the account directly to the modem they give you, so it's a no-go.

2. If your landlord is amicable, there are a few solutions for the problem. The best solution is to run CAT5 from her router to your apartment. That's the route I'd take. It's the most reliable and may not be very expensive, especially if you go down to Home Depot and get the CAT5 in those big rolls.

3. Another solution is to mess with the location of her modem/router. If her house has coax throughout, moving it closer in proximity to your apartment might help.

4. A different router might help too. You could try an Wifi antenna that plugs into your USB port, my brother does this on his laptop that has a weak internal antenna.

5. Get a tech-head to help you if this all sounds cryptic (especially if you don't know how to crimp cat5.) Craigslist is a great resource to rent someone for an hour.

Don't buy a new computer if you don't need one, just to get better service. That's silly. Buy one when you really need or want one. And don't play the guessing game against Apple, you won't win it.

Good luck, it's not a big problem. Just be a little patient and you'll get it resolved.
posted by bprater at 2:24 PM on September 15, 2008

Buy this little hawking dish. Point it at your landlords access point.

the new macbooks have better wifi cards so my signal

Probably wont make a difference if the signal is marginal.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:46 PM on September 15, 2008

Depends on the exact phrasing in the lease, but it seems quite reasonable that if it's something like "Landlord will provide wireless internet access via WiFi" that, yes, you should actually be able to receive it consistently. Has she actually tested it in your apartment?
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:47 PM on September 15, 2008

You could also look at a number of ways to improve signal.

1. Get the landlord a big huge antenna for the existing router. This would only work with certain routers.

2. Get the landlord a better router. Some simply provide better signal over distance.

3. Get a router for yourself and configure WDS on the landlord's router and yours. You can generally get a better signal with a router with a nice external antenna than with your laptop's antenna. WDS allows the pair of routers to repeat the signal and relay traffic out to your place.

4. Find some nerdy-type to come figure out what would work best to boost your signal. This might involve a cool open source firmware on a router pushing a stronger signal than strictly allowed.
posted by advicepig at 2:47 PM on September 15, 2008

If I buy my own router and plug it into the cable outlet INSIDE my apartment

If you run a cable to her place do not buy another router. Just buy a switch or s hub for your place. You dont want two routers on the same network.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:49 PM on September 15, 2008

Response by poster: My landlord has been really nice about this whole issue. A few weeks ago, she had someone from the geek squad come by and set up something at the back of the house that will help carry the signal into my apartment in the back yard. However, I'm still having problems.

When I talked to her about my problems this morning, I was hoping she would offer to call geek squad in again, but she just said she didn't know what the problem was and left it at that. I guess I should be more explicit about what I want (although I hate confrontation).

My landlord has a 1 year old macbook that receives and excellent wifi signal from my apartment. We've had my 2 year old macbook and her 1 year old macbook side by side and done speed tests and hers consistently has 2-3x greater speed. She is able to initially connect to the internet from inside my apartment, while I have to carry my laptop up onto her porch to get the initial connection. I asked someone at the apple genius bar about this and he said that my macbook has a 802.11g wifi card while the macbooks that shipped a year ago have 802.11n cards.
posted by Nickel at 2:53 PM on September 15, 2008

Or if money is really tight you can buy the cheapst usb wifi dongle and attach it to an old strainer. Poor man's dish.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:56 PM on September 15, 2008

is the wireless network an Apple one (i.e., using AirPort Extreme/Express base stations)? those are pretty easy to extend, though you have to get another Apple base station to do it (just an Express would do, though).

if the network is an Apple one, and she got it set up around the same time she bought the laptop, it'd be an 802.11n network, which would explain why her laptop gets better coverage in your house. you could actually probably just get an Express for yourself (about $100) and set it up to extend and just put it on the interior wall of the porch - it's about the size of the power brick for your laptop, so it'll be fairly inconspicuous - and have much better coverage in your house. (you may need your landlord's help to get her end of the connection set up for you.) this all doesn't really count if it's not an Apple network, but it's worth asking.
posted by mrg at 3:27 PM on September 15, 2008

Just in case you didn't realize this, 802.11n is much faster than 802.11g, even if the reception is equally good. So as long as you have 802.11g, you'll never get her speeds under any condition.

This doesn't mean you don't have reception problems, of course.
posted by davejay at 4:25 PM on September 15, 2008

I sell macs for a living. Do not buy a new macbook -- new ones are on the way. Do buy a $19 ethernet cable and run it underground to the studio. Then attach a Airport Express.

Problem solved.
posted by mmdei at 7:07 PM on September 15, 2008

RE: the MacBook - “Don't Buy - Updates soon”
posted by blueberry at 11:41 PM on September 15, 2008

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