Pretty sure my airport card is dead....
October 2, 2010 11:38 PM   Subscribe

I think I killed my wireless card... My macbook pro connects to wifi very sporadically. About half the time, I can be sitting three feet from the wireless router and no network will show up, but my housemates are able to detect the network rooms away. Is this fixable?

Computer specs:
MacBookPro1,1 (2006)
2 GHz Intel Core Duo
AirPort Extreme (0x168C, 0x86)

Me specs:
I'm a student and I use the computer for graphic design work. I got the computer used, and as you might be able to tell I'm not a tech whiz. It's entirely possible this question has been asked before but I just didn't realize.

The problem:
The computer does not recognize wireless signal unless it is very, very close to the source, and even then it doesn't always work.
At home, we just had comcast wireless installed, and my housemates are able to connect to the wifi from all over the house. (There is a pretty even split in the house between Macs and PCs, so I don't think that 's the issue)
The ethernet cable is currently my only option for connecting to the internet, and I'm getting tired of doing homework in the living room.

What are my solutions to the death of my wireless card? I've stopped at the mac store to inquire about getting a new one, but that costs around $60.
I know for PCs there are D-link cards/usb sticks you can use to amplify wireless signal, but is there any such thing for a Mac? If so, where can I find this?

Is there a way to fix this without spending a lot of money (and that doesn't take years of training)?
posted by lockstitch to Computers & Internet (8 answers total)
There's two likely possibilities; the wifi card itself is borked, or the aerials that go to the card are damaged or disconnected.

I'm not hugely familiar with macbook pros compared to windows laptops (which I know well), but this looks like a decent video on how to get to the parts with minimal effort. Basically, just unscrew and pop the bottom off! (obviously, be careful in there, and earth yourself first by touching something metal that's grounded, such as a house radiator)

If you check the wifi card - should look like this - you should see a couple of wires plugged into the little plugs at the top. Make sure they are on securely, and that there's no obvious breaks in the wires. If they are unplugged, that's probably your problem.

If not, either the break is somewhere you get to it easily, like the hinge, or it's the card itself - most likely the latter.

You can buy a replacement wifi card and fit it yourself for cheaper; ideally, you'd want the same model number you've got in there which should be printed on the card itself, so you get one with the same slot type. To get it out, just unscrew the two small screws holding it down, and you can lift it up and slide it out easily from the slot. Reverse that to fit the new one - and don't forget to plug on the aerials! It's usually about a 5 minute job with a small screwdriver, so its not the trickiest job ever.

Alternatively, you can just use a usb wifi dongle that's osx compatible. Less elegant, but simpler! There's a whole bunch of them; hopefully someone with more mac specific experience can advise, but here's a few:

802.11g/n for $30 - better range, if your router supports 802.11n.
bunch of 802.11g no-name wifi adapters for $10-$20 or so.
posted by ArkhanJG at 2:47 AM on October 3, 2010

Note, the usb dongle is not an amplifier - it's a separate wifi card in its own right, with its own drivers. You want an osx compatible one, so it'll hopefully either have the drivers built in, or easily available.
posted by ArkhanJG at 2:50 AM on October 3, 2010

Ahah, done a little more digging on your specific card. Going by this guide you have a a mini-pcie wifi card. A BCM4321 would be a cheap replacement.

Disassembly is a bit more complex than I thought though, as the wifi card is on the top side, under the keyboard so you'd need to take out more screws - please ignore the first video guide above, it's for the wrong model. Still, its still doable if you're patient and keep track of the screws as you take them out following the guide for your model.

Have any friends who are studying IT or engineering? They'll be able to swap that sucker out for you no sweat...
posted by ArkhanJG at 3:04 AM on October 3, 2010

And gahh. I put the wrong guide link in my last post. Sigh. Those instructions are for the macbook; you have a macbook pro. The instructions for disassembling a macbook pro are here, though to swap the hard-drive. The hard-drive is right next to the wifi card, so once you've got that far, just do this bit to check/swap the wifi card itself.
posted by ArkhanJG at 3:13 AM on October 3, 2010

I'm with arkanjg.... antenna connector most likely culprit.

I had a friend with the same symptom.... insensitivity. His fix was to re-seat the antenna connector on the wifi card. On his mac, it was accessible via the battery compartment, and I haven't looked at yours, but if you can find the card, the little connectors have a satisfying 'click' when they seat properly. I'd bet you'll find it loose.

Your symptom screams 'antenna', not card.
posted by FauxScot at 4:26 AM on October 3, 2010

Agreed with antenna diagnosis. If it was the card failing, the OS would complain bitterly. I think you have a bathtub Mac, same as mine. These are difficult to disassemble due to the crazy latch inside the CD-ROM slot. An external 802.11n adaptor might not be a bad idea.
posted by chairface at 8:03 AM on October 3, 2010

It isn't necessarily the wifi card - it could be a software issue. If the encryption on the router is WEP, that could result in exactly the same symptoms you're describing. Change it to WPA and try again. If it's already WPA.... then OK, maybe it's hardware.
posted by ndicecco at 8:37 AM on October 3, 2010

I had a computer that had wireless problems. Its antenna was securely connected, but the connector was damaged. These connectors are really tiny and fragile, so you should check for this as well:

The connector is like one of those metal snaps on a windbreaker. There are springy fingers on the wire end that snap around the "cup" on the card. And then there is an even tinier one inside that: a little post on the card that little fingers on the cable snap onto. My problem was that one of the fingers on the inner connector had bent over which prevented the inner part of the connector from being held securely onto the card. Needed to change the whole antenna assembly thing.

Have any friends who are studying IT or engineering? They'll be able to swap that sucker out for you no sweat...

Snark: not in my experience. Being trained in the book-learnin' of those things is rarely a predictor of having skills in the hands-on hardware of the things. They are simply two different professions. Like mechanical engineer versus die maker.

I work in the hardware profession, and half the people in my field don't know what they are doing, and who are afraid of opening notebook computers.

Find one of those people who can take apart iPods to change their batteries or takes apart cell phones to replace keyboards.
posted by gjc at 8:46 AM on October 3, 2010

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