Do laptop network connections fail over time?
May 11, 2012 6:23 AM   Subscribe

Do laptop network connections fail over time? WIFI and Ethernet cards? If so, is it time to replace my current computer?

I have Dell Latitude D630 laptop. I’m estimating it to be about 4 years old. I’m having various problems with internet connectivity lately. I apologize if my description of the problems are not clear and a bit vague, but this is part of the problem. The symptoms are not very consistent.

To connect direct through Ethernet my computer is using Broadcom NetXtreme 57xx Gigabit Controller.

For WI-FI Intel(R) Wireless Wi-Fi Link 4965AGN

Here is what’s happening.

The problem first started when I was staying in a hostel in Spain. The WI-FI would connect and I could surf the internet for a few minutes before I got the “problem loading page” message. Sometimes after getting the “problem loading page” message, the wireless network connection would show it was still connected and sometimes I would get the “limited or no connectivity message”

At my apartment, sometimes I simply cannot connect over the WI-FI. Sometimes when I do the connection will last an hour or two and then I would lose the connection. Sometimes when I have bit torrent open, the torrents will continue to download but webpages won’t load. Sometimes everything stops.

Usually the next step is to connect directly into the router. Sometimes I have the same problems described above.

In addition, I connect get a steady connection in my room, a mere 25 feet away from the router.

On the other hand, I have found that at my local Starbucks and another local coffee shop that I never have these problems.

Is it possible that the laptop is failing? The WI-FI and Ethernet controllers are two different components. It is improbable that both would fail at the same time. IS the problem software related? Virus (I run MacAfee and Malware bytes frequently. I use sandboxie always when online or downloading through bit torrent.)

Is it time to replace the laptop?

Let me know if anybody has any ideas and thanks in advance.
posted by Che boludo! to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I doubt the laptop or network card is failing. But to test, buy or borrow a usb network card and try - they're not expensive.
posted by devnull at 6:26 AM on May 11, 2012

You've got a four-year old Windows laptop. This means you're running Windows XP. Windows XP reliably screws itself over in far less time than that. I'd recommend doing a fresh install of Windows, i.e., formatting your drive. When I was running XP I'd do it as often as every six to nine months.

This is an absolutely terrible way of doing things, but I've yet to come across anyone with a credible alternative that doesn't involve a different OS.
posted by valkyryn at 6:28 AM on May 11, 2012

I'd install windows 7 if you're going to do a reinstall.
posted by empath at 6:30 AM on May 11, 2012

Nth'ing an OS reinstall. Even the nigh-invulnerable Mac reaps great benefit from regular OS maintenance and software updates, this goes triple for Windows.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:39 AM on May 11, 2012

In your hotel, it might just be that the signal is weak, or there is a lot of interference from other networks.

In your apartment, other networks might be causing interference.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:58 AM on May 11, 2012

A restart seems to be the best short term solution to this problem I have found.

I just reinstalled the OS in the last 4 months.

If I upgrade to Windows 7, shouldn't I just upgrade to a new computer? It's not terribly expensive but it seems like the better investment would be in a new ship shape computer.
posted by Che boludo! at 6:59 AM on May 11, 2012

You might check if there are newer drivers for your wireless and ethernet card. You might also want to stop bittorrenting in the short term to see if that helps matters.
posted by mmascolino at 7:03 AM on May 11, 2012

Solid-state components actually do suffer from wear and tear. Heating and power fluctuation causes plastic and metal to expand and contract at different rates, stressing the insides and connection points, and if you tug on a network cable enough it will eventually come loose.

The same thing is true of cables, frustratingly; they're supposed to just work, right? But now and then if it's been rolled up or pulled enough, cables fail. They're a pain in the ass to diagnose, too.

I'd consider doing two things: Check your wifi setup, and make sure it's on a relatively uncongested channel (set it to channel 1 or 11, basically) and retry your connection. "Auto" settings tend to go squirrelly more often than not, particularly if your neighbor has a microwave or new cordless phone that wasn't quite manufactured to spec. Next. get a new ethernet cable and test that connection. Odds are only so-so that one of these two things will help, but you'll definitely want to test them before you drop as much money on a new laptop as you'd have to.
posted by mhoye at 7:09 AM on May 11, 2012

If I upgrade to Windows 7, shouldn't I just upgrade to a new computer? It's not terribly expensive but it seems like the better investment would be in a new ship shape computer.

I highly doubt a four-year old laptop is going to be able to run Windows 7 worth a damn. It runs well on modern hardware, but it's an absolute resource hog by the standards of the last decade. 32-bit Windows OSes can't handle more than 4GB of RAM, and that's about as little as you want to run Windows 7 decently. I'd be surprised if you even had that much.

You can get yourself a shiny new laptop for under $500 that's running Windows 7. It'd be a lot less aggravation to just throw it out and buy a new one. These things don't last forever.
posted by valkyryn at 7:52 AM on May 11, 2012

Does your laptop tend to get fairly hot at times?
Possible gradual weardown of solder points on main board over the years.

Are other things behaving strangely?
Possible virus/worm attached to your network adapters that is undetected by your AV solution but might be detectable with TDSSKiller

Do you know the IP of your router?
You can do a ipconfig /all to see the IP of your gateway, then run ping /t 192.168.x.x (where x.x is the last two octets of your gateway). You could then run ping -t in a separate cmd window. Drops or latency spikes on one but not the other = problem beyond the router :: Drops or latency spikes on both = problem at the router)

What kind of router do you have?
Some routers, especially older ones, really don't have the processing power to keep up with torrents. In fact, torrents can absolutely destroy a local network's performance + neighbors if you're on cable. (perhaps tone back your concurrent connections or look into Usenet subscriptions). The startbucks wi-fi might either block or throttle bittorrent traffic...or have a robust router.

Since it happens on both LAN and Wi-Fi, see if you can try other PCs/Cellphones on your local network while the issue is happening on your laptop. If they experience similar issues, then it is definitely your router's configuration/hardware state. You may want to rule this out before buying a new laptop...unless you're intending on buying a new laptop that case I'd test with the new PC...and determine if you also need to replace or reconfigure your router.
posted by samsara at 11:11 AM on May 11, 2012

Oh also, please for the sake of all that is good....ditch Mcafee as your anti-virus solution. There are plenty of free solutions out there that do a MUCH better job detecting and cause less performance issues. My personal recommendation is Microsoft Security Essentials but I have some other ones listed in my profile too if interested.
posted by samsara at 11:14 AM on May 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

That laptop was originally sold with either XP or Vista. Pretty much anything that can run Vista will run Windows 7. How much RAM does it have?

This is probably an issue with your network anyway.
posted by The Lamplighter at 3:22 PM on May 11, 2012

Yeah, Mcafee/Norton are total bloatware, and actually they can mess up your network connections. Microsoft Security Essentials is great and totally unobtrusive.

I'd say reinstall the OS, you can reinstall XP if you want, just make sure you get it updated right away.

If you feel like you might get a new computer anyway, you might try experimenting with installing Unbuntu or something. If you still need to run windows apps, you can install VirtualBox, and run stuff from there. You're much less likely to get malware installed on a Linux desktop.

Oh yeah and like other's said, make sure you make sure it's not just a problem with the network itself.
posted by delmoi at 6:03 PM on May 11, 2012

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