Why doesn't my computer reliably connect to the internet?
July 28, 2015 5:31 PM   Subscribe

My wireless network seems to work for every device we have except our actual computer. Please help.

We have cable internet that we access using our iPhones, a netbook, and an ASUS desktop computer. The iPhones and the netbook connect fine all over the house, so it seems like the problem is with the computer.

The computer uses a Cisco Valet wireless adapter. It routinely shows four out of five bars of service, so the network is clearly reaching the computer, but we get very little actual connectivity. Everything times out. Images don't load. I have to refresh pages constantly to even get them to attempt coming up. SOMETIMES things will work, and it works juuuust well enough that you can kind of hobble along and get your internetting done but it takes approximately eleven hundred times longer than it should and is very frustrating.

I bought a new wireless adapter (a teeny-tiny Edimax one for $10) thinking maybe the Cisco Valet had mysteriously died, but it has the same issue. Nearly full bars and still nothing loads. For a while it seemed like if you hung on to the Cisco Valet (physically held it with your hand like a handle while it was plugged into the computer) it improved things, but that sounds insane now that I type it out and besides, I don't want to be stuck doing that to use the internet. I considered buying a signal booster but... it doesn't seem like the signal is the problem. Right?

Possibly relevant: we recently moved. This same setup worked completely fine in our apartment for four years and we simply transported it over to the new house a month ago and it's been like this ever since.

I am reasonably computer savvy but I don't even know where to begin troubleshooting this. Can you help? Our household would be eternally grateful.
posted by meggan to Technology (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do the other devices work equally well when they are right next to the computer? How far is the computer from your wireless router and what kind of walls are in between? Are you in a densely-populated area (lots of neighbors with potentially interfering networks and other devices)? What kind of router do you have? Some have far better range than others.

It's hard to gauge wifi connectivity with the bars shown, and I know nothing about modern-day Windows networking. But my experience with Macs is that unless it's showing full bars (which still doesn't mean it has a perfect signal), it's pretty iffy. I also don't know anything about the wireless adapters you have. It's possible their antennas aren't as good as those on the other devices you're using, or just that the positioning isn't as good (e.g. if the wireless adapter is on the back of the computer against the wall, with the computer itself between the antenna and the router, that could make a huge difference vs. an iPhone in the same room). You might be surprised how very small differences in positioning and distance can make a huge difference in how well wireless networks work.

One fairly easy test to do would be to move the computer temporarily into the same room as the router and see if that helps. Experiment with the positining of the router and the computer. Try to give them as clear a line of sight between each other as possible (minimize walls and furniture in the way, make sure the antennas aren't blocked, etc.). You might also try different wifi channels if it's possible you have neighbors interfering (I'm sure there's Windows software to help you pick channels, but I don't know what the best ones are these days).

The one thing I would urge you not to do is to use a signal booster or repeater. Those things are usually more trouble than they're worth, slow things down, etc. Last resort. Personally before I'd do that, if I couldn't get anything else to work, I'd probably try powerline networking, or getting a better router.
posted by primethyme at 5:47 PM on July 28, 2015

Is it a laptop or desktop? How far away is your computer from the modem? Are they in different rooms? I never had a problem picking up signals, even across different rooms and floors, until I recently moved. Any laptop in my bedroom connects to wifi very slowly to the point where I no longer use my laptop in there. I should've gotten a signal booster but I didn't because I was moving again. You may not notice it on your phones since your phone has its own data signal it can use.
posted by AppleTurnover at 5:48 PM on July 28, 2015

Okay, this is about the same problem I was having very recently as in up until yesterday (and may have again because it once disappeared for a bit and came back). I don't think I solved it through something I did, it seems to have resolved itself.

As you said, everything else connects well. For me, that includes Netflix streaming that went through my computer and that uses much more bandwidth. It didn't make a difference if I was next to my router.

Now, in my case, I got a message a few days back (just before the problem started) where Google searches required me to put in one of those alphabet codes, saying that Google was noting unusual activity from me and I needed to prove I was human (which I did). So I have been paranoid Google had marked me as some sort of threat and had sent an internet block. Did you get that message?

Okay, let's say that had nothing to do with it. This was going to be my next step. Take my portable computer to a place with public internet and see if it connects up. That way I figured it was something on my computer and not a computer to home router issue.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:11 PM on July 28, 2015

I had this problem (laptop internet doesn't work, all other devices work fine) for a long time and the only thing that fixed it was getting a new wireless router. Previously, I had been using one of those dodgy wireless router/modem combinations from my cable provider.

If it helps you, here's my original question, but ultimately the only permanent fix was getting a new router.
posted by pravit at 6:37 PM on July 28, 2015

To answer some questions: computer is technically in a different room than the router but is only about 15-17 feet from it (as the crow flies). I managed to draw a really rudimentary, not-to-scale floor plan.

It's a desktop computer. We live in a regular ol' neighborhood, so while we do have neighbors it's not like we're in a high-rise apartment complex or anything. I know my phone can switch over to use data but it doesn't when I'm at home - I'm really aware of it because we've been trying to figure out this wireless problem. Google hasn't said anything unusual to me. The adapter is plugged in on the front of the computer so it faces the router.

I just remembered that when we had internet hooked up at the new place, the cable company replaced our way old router with a new one, so it's possible that could be part of the problem too. You'd think a new one would work better than an old one but...? New router is an Arris Touchstone Data Gateway.

There's a bookshelf and some other stuff in the room with the computer that, now that I think about it, may be interfering with the "line of sight" between the computer and the router. I will try to move some stuff around and see if that improves things. Thanks! This has been helpful so far. :)
posted by meggan at 6:57 PM on July 28, 2015

I'm pretty sure my comcast router causes this problem with my Samsung laptop.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:17 PM on July 28, 2015

Two thoughts that may or may not help:

1. I had regular connectivity issues with my desktop once, and I realized over time that every time the microwave would run, which is in close proximity to the desktop, it would cut the connection. What solved this was a higher quality router. Is there anything that might be causing interference with the connection from your desktop location? Would you benefit from a router upgrade?

2. If you don't regularly, perhaps scan for malware, just to be safe. Some malware uses bandwidth and slows everything down.
posted by SpacemanStix at 7:37 PM on July 28, 2015

every time the microwave would run, which is in close proximity to the desktop, it would cut the connection

FWIW I've noticed that when my cell phone is in a certain position/location it will interfere with certain wireless devices such as wifi cards. Just as an experiment, move all wireless devices (phones, tablets, etc etc etc) way off on the other side of the house from the computer/router and see if that makes any difference.
posted by flug at 8:44 PM on July 28, 2015

It may be irrational, but I distrust the ISP-supplied wifi gear and refuse to use it in my house. I use their cable modem (no wifi capabilities), plugged into my own router and wifi access points (you can use a wireless router, I just have a big house and need more than one). Then I know I have decent quality stuff, and it's much easier to troubleshoot issues because each piece is independent and I have full control of most of it.

Re-reading my original post, I'm not sure I was clear enough on this: if you have 4/5 bars showing, you can definitely not rule out signal strength or interference issues. On the contrary, my experience is that anything less than full bars is likely to be bad news. YMMV.

If there's any possible way, I really think it will be worth your while to just temporarily set the computer up right next to the router and see if the problem goes away. Then at least you'll know it's something with the quality of the wireless connection (whether it's strength, interference, etc.) rather than something else going on with your computer. Once you've conclusively determined that, you can figure out solutions.
posted by primethyme at 8:45 PM on July 28, 2015

Have you tried a different wireless card in the computer? I have a similar problem, though mine is only in the first 10 minutes after the computer "wakes up" -- and only sometimes. Changing out the wireless card did not solve my problem, but I still think it's worth trying.
posted by freezer cake at 9:43 AM on July 29, 2015

Even if it's only 15 feet, it may be the signal. My bedroom is maybe 15-20 feet from the modem, but I just can't get wifi in there. I have no idea why because I had the same modem model in my last apartment and got wifi through the walls to my bedroom just fine. The least stressful solution would be to wire an ethernet cord to your computer from the modem. Figuring out if you need a new wireless card or a new router or whatever just seems annoying. A wired connection is very fast and reliable too. The cord may not look great, but maybe you can get a long one and tape it to run along baseboards or something. I think it's the practical way to go.
posted by AppleTurnover at 3:02 PM on July 29, 2015

« Older Help translating a flyer from English to...   |   Is this normal? My dog wakes himself up barking Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.