Modem, Router, or Us?
November 23, 2010 10:03 AM   Subscribe

A couple of times a week, our internet craps out. Is this our modem, our ISP, and/or our router?

Fairly often, our internet will stop working. Usually, our Airport Express (an old one from about 2006) will still be showing a green light and we're still connected to the network, but there is no internet connection. Doing a hard reset to the router (unplug, hold down the button for a long time, plug back in) fixes this - but then we have to go re-apply our security settings and it's a big pain in the ass.

Sometimes that doesn't work, and I have to go to the DSL modem webpage (we have an Actiontec modem through Qwest) and reset the modem. This happens less frequently - maybe once a month.

So I think that we have two different problems, and they're probably not related, but I can't be sure. Everything is at it's factory setting - in the past, I've messed around with different settings to get BitTorrent working, but it still does this with default settings. Is this somehow a problem with our router, and would a new one solve our problems, or is this a problem with Qwest?

Any suggestions welcome!
posted by rossination to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
In the past, did it work faithfully?

For me, when this starts happening, I need a new router. My internet has been working wonderfully for a couple years, but if history repeats as it has before, it'll start flaking out more and more often, and I'll have to do more and more hard resets, and I'll buy a new router and that fixes the problem. This was after years of calling Comcast over and over and futzing with other settings, and still having internet problems. Now, I just trash the router and start again, and I'm good for a couple years.

Your results may differ. :)
posted by iguanapolitico at 10:12 AM on November 23, 2010

I could have you do a bunch more troubleshooting to be 100% sure, but my immediate suspicion is the wireless router. Consumer wireless routers in general are crappy and I hate them (I haven't used an airport express, perhaps apple has better quality since you've had this one almost 4 years without issue).

When you reset the router and everything starts working again, the router is probably the cause of the problem.

When you have to reset the modem before things work again, it is probably the modem, but it might also be the ISP being flaky.

I'd try a new wireless router as a first step. Beware cheap ones, I might shoot for another airport express since you've had such good luck with it.
posted by zug at 10:15 AM on November 23, 2010

what if you leave the router alone, and just reset the DSL modem? does that consistently fix the problem? if so, I'd say it's the modem or ISP. If this doesn't work and you always still need to reset the router... new router time.
posted by jrishel at 10:16 AM on November 23, 2010

If I do go router shopping, where should I be looking? I would love to keep it under $50 if possible. Would something like this $40 D Link be OK?

Oh, also - if I get a new router, can I keep the (old) Airport Express in the mix to stream Airtunes, or is that just going to mess things up again?
posted by rossination at 10:19 AM on November 23, 2010

The trouble with the cheaper router is often in the software. Bad on-board software will crash the router whenever it see a strange packet.

The best option for avoiding this particular failure mode is to by a router that can run an one of the solid open-source router firmware. This usually mean buying a Linksys WRT54GL and installing Tomato on it.
posted by gmarceau at 10:33 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

This may be totally off base, but . . . do you have a home security system?

We put one in about ten months ago because of burglaries, and never made the link between it and our crappy internet reception. After fighting with our ISP for a couple of months, we got a good guy from the telephone company to come in and look at everything. Part of our problem was some old wiring in the house, but the major problem was that the guy who put in the security system didn't put a filter on it and it f*cked up our phone lines. If you have one, seriously, check it out. Once we fixed that we could actually get wireless internet and we've had very little trouble since.
posted by dlugoczaj at 10:41 AM on November 23, 2010

Rossination: You can certainly buy a cheap router, but I doubt it will have the performance you want. Expect to replace it within a year or two.

If you want one that will last, go with a small business router.
Cisco has the WRP400-G1 IEEE 802.11b/g Wireless Broadband Router for $102.95 at NewEgg right now. Cisco has cornered the business router market for a reason: they're good.
posted by zug at 10:52 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

gmarceau: the typical pattern I see with consumer routers is not constantly needing a reboot. It's working fine for a few months, and then slowly degrading until it needs to be reset once a week, then once a day, then twice, then every few hours, etc. I doubt that is software caused -- I'd guess cheap capacitors or high sensitivity to heat, myself.
posted by zug at 10:54 AM on November 23, 2010

I'm with the router people, but I just go cheap. I've had a good experience with Netgear (here's one for $30) and while you may have to replace it in a few years, it will more than do the job.
posted by Avenger50 at 11:16 AM on November 23, 2010

I have had the problem be all of the above (flaky connection, overheating modem, crappy router) but the fact that a router reset fixes it probably means it is the router.

I recently purchased a Buffalo Airstation to replace an ancient Linksys router. It doesn't seem to have as many of the "burned out after 1 year" reviews as the other consumer modems, and it also can be upgraded to open source firmware (which I have not bothered with since it works fine as-is). I've also moved both the router and modem to a more ventilated open position instead of inside a cabinet or on the carpet.
posted by meowzilla at 11:40 AM on November 23, 2010

We had a very similar problem when we moved into our house and set up new DSL with AT&T over the summer. Like you, our computers were all connected to the wireless network just fine but the internet connection would die 3-4 times per day (we had to reboot our modem and router to get things going again). Turned out that the DSL modem had the default login and password entered that it used to gain internet access -- this combo specifically capped internet access, hence our issue. Tech support had me change the login/pass to our account and we haven't had a problem since. Might want to check into this before you buy new wireless router (although I agree that your router sounds like it's going wonky).
posted by puritycontrol at 12:48 PM on November 23, 2010

I solved a similar problem using a $3 lamp timer switch to control the power strip that the modem and the router are plugged into. The lamp timer switch is set to turn off the power strip between 03:00 and 03:30 every morning. This seems to clean up the state of the modem and router.
posted by monotreme at 2:00 PM on November 23, 2010

Get a wrt54gl router and put either DD WRT or Tomato on it. Best possible bargain for what you get.
posted by empath at 3:04 PM on November 23, 2010

The problem you're going ot have with getting random people to troubleshoot your faulty connection over the internet is that there is more than one thing that can go wrong.

Things to look for:

Is your wireless working? (it sounds like it is)

What Ip address does your router have assigned to it from the isp?

What happens when you renew the DHCP client on the router? Do you get a new ip address or

Can you ping the gateway from your pc?

What DNS servers does your computer have? Can you ping the DNS servers?

What happens if you connect directly to the router with your pc?

What happens if you connect directly to the modem?

What does your ISP say the problem is?
posted by empath at 3:08 PM on November 23, 2010

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