Spotty WiFi at my new desk
August 26, 2016 9:36 AM   Subscribe

I recently set up a docking station for my laptop on a desk in my room. The only problem is that this seems to have really spotty WiFi coverage. Sometimes it's fine, sometimes it lags to hell when trying to load even something mostly text-based like Metafilter. Streaming is often impossible. I'm considering buying a range extender for my network - what should I keep in mind?

- Generally, streaming media and other high performance stuff works fine on other wireless devices in other parts of the house.

- Moving the modem or my desk significantly probably isn't an option.

- I'm willing to spend up to 50 bucks to increase performance, but I'd like to spend it wisely. Any recommendations for a good booster?

- The layout of the house is that the modem is next to the TV on the wall furthest from where my computer is, and one floor down.
posted by codacorolla to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You might want to look into powerline networking. I have done this in our home and it has work very well.
posted by tman99 at 9:47 AM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Does it have to be wifi? I use ethernet-over-powerline with my tv and it's worked very well for me.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 9:47 AM on August 26, 2016

Jinx, tman99
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 9:48 AM on August 26, 2016

Response by poster: I hadn't thought about that, but it's a neat idea. Are there any limitations to what plugs in where?
posted by codacorolla at 9:52 AM on August 26, 2016

What kind of laptop do you have? The wifi is usually only in the laptop and not the docking station. I've had good luck increasing range on my older budget laptops by just getting newer mini-pcie wireless cards and throwing out the crappy 2.4Ghz only cards that came with them. I already had a fairly modern router too, so I didn't need to upgrade that side of the connection. The installation was pretty easy as long as you have a smallish screwdriver and the price was under $30.
posted by mattamatic at 10:03 AM on August 26, 2016

Response by poster: It's a Lenovo Thinkpad, but my inclination is that it's a range problem and not a hardware problem. My Nexus tablet has the same issues, and if I've moved the system anywhere else in the house then the problem stops. Also "docking station" should have scare quotes around it, it's really just a bunch of USB peripherals, a monitor connection, and a power strip to plug into - not purpose built docking station hardware.

RE: Ethernet over Power, a friend of mine had that, but said that it was fried by a power surge after a few months. Is this mitigated by buying higher quality components? Could I plug it into a surge protector? Is it just a fact of life with that sort of system? I really like the idea, but I don't want to buy something that's going to get destroyed by a power blip.
posted by codacorolla at 10:12 AM on August 26, 2016

The main thing to keep in mind is that range extenders are generally terrible. It's a bandaid over the real problem. So I strongly recommend that you exhaust other solutions (powerline, regular ethernet, a better access point, etc.) first.
posted by primethyme at 10:17 AM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Same issue here, I'm on the top floor and the modem is downstairs. Bought 30m flat ethernet cable (flat was more convenient and I don't need Gigabit speeds) and have my old macbook acting as a router serving Wifi. I tried a cheapo wall wart router before that and it was rubbish.

In a friend's flat I set up powerline adapters in their office and living room, stuck a router on one end. 5 years and it hasn't stopped working and been zero maintenance. The adapters have to be on the same ring / electrical circuit in the house. (I just read they interfere with ham radio enthusiasts, so as long as none live close by..)
posted by yoHighness at 10:29 AM on August 26, 2016

Response by poster: Hmmm, I think that if I get a high enough quality ethernet over power adapter then maybe it won't be an issue. We only have a single circuit breaker in the house... is there any way to tell if the power adapter is on the same circuit as the outlet in my room without buying the hardware and trying it out?
posted by codacorolla at 10:51 AM on August 26, 2016

Best answer: Powerline adapters have been hit or miss for me. For one setup, they were fantastic, fast, and made me think "why isn't everyone doing this"? For another setup (in the same house, actually), the connection was incredibly spotty, slow, and dropped all of the time.

The upshot is that I would recommend that you get the Powerline adapters but get them from a place with an easy return policy.

I think the adapters frying with a big power surge is just a fact of life, unfortunately. I think you're likely to have problems if you plug them into a surge protector, but it's certainly worth trying.
posted by Betelgeuse at 11:41 AM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Agreed that they are hit or miss. Bought one for my parent's house - didn't work. At all. Don't know why. For me, it works like a champ (I haven't measured the speed, but I get a crystal clear Netflix signal, which is all I ask). The line crosses a circuit breaker, which technically can be a problem, but based on what I've heard, almost never is.

The only thing that is guaranteed to stop them is if the two circuits are on different phases, but that's unusual within a single dwelling (I think).

Surge protectors are no-nos.

Absolutely, 100% worth giving it a shot. You can use Wirecutter for recommendations (that's how I got mine).
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:52 AM on August 26, 2016

Best answer: Range extenders and other mesh networking solutions are a last resort because they add latency.

Can you pull real wired Ethernet to your docking station? That will always give you the best result.

If not, check channel assignments. Are you using 2.4GHz or 5GHz? 2.4 penetrates (most) construction materials better, but the 2.4GHz band has only three (non-overlapping) channels and is more crowded.

Can you relocate or re-orient the access point? Is this is a situation where gain antennas instead of omnis on the AP would help?

Can you add another access point (same SSID, different channel) nearer your dock (with real wired Ethernet backhaul, not mesh)?

Does your dock support using a USB 802.11 adapter? If so, such an adapter with external antennas might perform better than the antenna system built in to your laptop.
posted by sourcequench at 12:40 PM on August 26, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for the suggestions. I went ahead and ordered a well reviewed Netgear Ethernet over Power system from Amazon. I'm going to give that a try and return it if there're any problems with it.

I'm pretty sure there are no faceplates in my room, but I'll double check. Buying another modem and wiring up my room might work too. I don't want to run any new wire.

Checking on the modem settings might be a next step too... It's possible we're running at 2.4GHZ, but there are too many simultaneous wireless connections running (a web enabled TV, a PS4, three laptops) although the times when I'm using it shouldn't conflict with more than three connections at once.

I could also see maybe buying a new antenna for the system, but that might be a next step after I try the EOP solution.
posted by codacorolla at 2:23 PM on August 26, 2016

Oh, def try switching between 2.4/5ghz first...had the exact same problem clear up instantly (from a much closer computer-router distance) switching from 5 to 2.4...with no obvious difference in speed. That 5ghz just seems to be crap. YMMV.
posted by sexyrobot at 8:34 PM on August 26, 2016

Response by poster: I bit the bullet on the EoP system, and it's amazing. I'm a bit nervous about about power surges, but at the moment I'm getting blazing fast speeds.
posted by codacorolla at 4:00 PM on August 31, 2016

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