Wifi issues with a PCIe wireless card
June 24, 2020 10:13 AM   Subscribe

My desktop has been having really annoying wifi issues, think dropping connection briefly every 15 seconds, and I think I've narrowed it down to being a card issue. I'd love recommendations on a wifi card that will work well and hopefully eliminate the frustrating drops!

Sadly I can't just use a wired solution, our apartment is set up almost like an E, with the only internet access at the top bar of the E and the only place I can set up my desktop at the bottom bar, with a kitchen in between. I also purchased a wifi extender that essentially sits right out side the kitchen to try and solve this and other wifi issues.

I currently have a TP-Link wireless adapter with two antennas, I will have to disassemble to get more specific than that if required. I'm not sure if it's the model or just a faulty unit, or if it's a location problem. I've tried to troubleshoot by putting my laptop in the same location the desktop sits and it doesn't seem to have the same problem, but I'm not ruling that out completely.

Given that I'm going to be working from home for the next few months at least I'd love to solve this and am happy to buy what I need to make it work. I have an Asus RT-N66U router if that helps.

This has been quite frustrating, so I'd love to know if there are any recommendations on how to fix it and on which WIFI card I should consider.
posted by Carillon to Computers & Internet (9 answers total)
Is the router yours or do you rent it from your provider? I ask because the answer maybe to replace it with a mesh network which has nodes/extenders to get a stronger signal to your location. Usually this involves a router and 1 or more extender units, but in some cases one can add an extender without having to change the router.

Other options to check before spending money:

* Can you change the channel that the router is on? Perhaps there is network congestion for competing wifi in other places in the building?

* Does your router put out a 5Ghz (not to be confused with 5G cellular) in addition to a traditional 2.4Ghz signal? If so, check that you are not connected to the 5Ghz version. 5Ghz is great for speed but does not penetrate solid surfaces well.* I see that the Asus RT-N66U has dual bands. The challenge with this may be that if whomever set it up gave both the 2.4 and 5 the same names you may not see the different WiFi names. If you don't you can log into the Asus RT-N66U and rename the bands.

Hope this helps. I'm sure others will have additional suggestions.

* I have challenges with connectivity on the 5Ghz even 15-20 feet from the router, which is why I don't allow my phone to connect to that network, and only connect devices in the same room as the router to that network.
posted by terrapin at 10:52 AM on June 24

I would try the following, in more or less this order:
-update drivers on the card. Windows supposedly keeps drivers current (and Win10 does a pretty great job of this overall) but for troubleshooting purposes it's worth getting a driver directly from the manufacturer's website. Here's TP-Link's download page, and you might be able to get the model name of the card by looking in device manager under network adapters.
-see if there is channel crowding happening, and if there is try switching your router to a different channel. The WiFi Analyzer app is decent for this, and is free in the Android and Microsoft stores (I've only used it on Windows and it's fine). If you have a Mac there's pretty good wifi channel analysis built into the OS.
-if your card has the usual removable antennae try putting an antenna extender on and see if that helps (this is I guess only slightly cheaper than a cheap new card, but you don't have to open the case, and if it works then a new card probably wouldn't).
-if the above doesn't help then maybe try switching to an Asus card? Here's one that looks decent.
posted by implied_otter at 10:58 AM on June 24

It's my router!

I'll look into channel changing as well.

I actually separated the 2.4GHz from the 5GHz band because there were issues switching back and forth between the two. I mainly use the 2.4 GHz, but they both are causing trouble.
posted by Carillon at 11:20 AM on June 24

Ok thanks to you both, I used the mac's wifi channel analysis and if I switch to the channel that it says is best it then says the other channel is now preferable.

(If you're curious what it looks like, here's the chart I get from the windows performance monitor.)

At this point I think I'll try another PCIe card and hope that solves it.
posted by Carillon at 12:05 PM on June 24

These tiny USB wifi dongles from Edimax are astonishingly capable given how small they are, and have the advantage that you can run them on the end of a longish USB extension cable and move it about to find the best signal. Cheap too. And although their design speed of 150Mb/s is pretty paltry by today's standards, if you manage to nail up a decent connection through one of these it will perform better than that chart says your present kit is.
posted by flabdablet at 12:23 PM on June 24 [2 favorites]

if I switch to the channel that it says is best it then says the other channel is now preferable

That makes sense, assuming that what it's doing is looking for channels that don't appear to have much traffic on them.

My go-to tool for finding good wifi signal and picking the best channels to fix the WAPs to is the farproc Wifi Analyzer app running on an Android phone.

And I do make my WAPs use fixed channels, because I have absolutely no faith in their "smart" automatic channel management's ability to do anything even vaguely close to the right thing. And that goes double for consumer-grade WAPs like the one built into the RT-N66U.

Sadly I can't just use a wired solution

Does knowing that flat Cat6 is a thing change that at all? Really really hard to match the reliably complication-free performance of a good solid chunk of copper wire.
posted by flabdablet at 12:34 PM on June 24

If you get a powerline adapter it can work almost as good as wired and vastly better than wifi
posted by mikek at 2:48 PM on June 24 [1 favorite]

You might have a TP-Link TL-WN881ND - PCIE card two aerials and no heatsink. It doesn't work on Windows 10 and continually disconnects! I couldn't find a fix and replaced with a model from fenvi. Lesson learnt - read the amazon reviews and don't assume lots of stars means the product still works.
posted by Bigbrowncow at 11:23 PM on June 24

Thanks all! I got that ASUS PCE-AC55BT card and having that mobile little antenna and a better card seem to have solved the problem for now. If it comes back even after this I'll look into that powerline adapter, that looks like it could definitely solve my problems if they come back.
posted by Carillon at 8:38 PM on June 25

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