Diagnose and fix my network connectivity issue
November 29, 2020 5:52 PM   Subscribe

I think it's my computer and not the network, but it would be nice to get a second opinion or two, and advice about how to fix the situation.

This situation makes no sense to me. For work-from-home reasons, I want to move the home network from lower-speed DSL to a faster, cable-based network -- both services provided by the same ISP. I'm posting this while still connected to the 5.0 GHz portion of the DSL network (which always works) because my connection to the cable-based one is flaky at best.

When my computer connects to the network and it connects well, things are great. I get speeds of 50 Mbps or better down. When it connects and connects poorly, my download speeds are below 10 Mbps. About half the time, however, when it connects to the faster network, I get the message that while my computer connects to the Wi-Fi network, there is no Internet connection available.

Because of reasons which I intend to rectify if keep the cable network, the modem is on a lower floor than my computer and at the opposite end of the house. There is a Wi-Fi range extender plugged into the 5.0 GHz band and pumping the signal to the upper floor. When I look at the Wi-Fi signal strength on the computer, it shows full strength. Without the booster plugged in, the signal strength registers at the lowest point possible. The 2.4 GHz signal is a notch above the lowest mark. I can switch the range extender to the 2.4 portion of the network, but I haven't tried that yet.

I suspect it's a problem with my computer, because a computer belonging to another user has no problem whatsoever connecting to the network (and does so while residing on the same upper floor as well, and even connected well it before I hooked the range booster up). That computer does fine on both the 2.4 GHz band and the 5.0 GHz one, with both signal strengths registering at full strength.

I've got a W-series ThinkPad running Windows 10 64-bit. The wireless card is an Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260. My processor is a i7-4900MQ CPU @ 2.80GHz and my RAM is 8GB (yes, I know, I intend to upgrade it). The other computer is also a ThinkPad, but a newer one.

Personally, my preference would be to stay on the cheaper, slower DSL network, but the other computer's user really seems to need the faster connection to the corporate office, so I need to make sure my system plays nicely all the time with the upgraded network. What can I do to make sure that happens? Would a new network card be the answer? Or is there something I can adjust/alter in my current system?
posted by sardonyx to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Connect up to the high-speed connection via an ethernet cable rather than via wifi. There's no way to tell where the problem is without ruling out a wifi issue first.
posted by jonathanhughes at 6:37 PM on November 29, 2020 [4 favorites]

This doesn't completely answer your question but is relevant enough that I thought it still might help! I used StarTrinity's continuous internet speed test tool to diagnose a Wifi issue I was having in my house. Having a continuously running desktop utility (not some shady browser-based tool provided by the cable company) allowed me to walk around the house and observe areas that experience interference & poor connectivity. That helped me to rule out the computer being an issue, and to make the right investment in a Wifi extender.
posted by stinkfoot at 8:04 AM on November 30, 2020

I don't know the answer to your problem, but it may be worth your while to buy a cheap USB wireless adapter, like this one. It's only $20 and is highly rated. If it doesn't solve your problem, you can always return it to Amazon.
posted by alex1965 at 11:58 AM on November 30, 2020

If I'm understanding the situation correctly:

1. You have a DSL connection that came with a combination modem and wifi router, the wifi end of which has both 2.4GHz and 5GHz radios.

2. You have a range extender that gets you a wifi signal at places in the house where the DSL connection's wifi router has trouble reaching.

3. You have a new cable-based connection that also came with a combination modem and wifi router, the wifi end of which also has both 2.4GHz and 5GHz radios.

4. You have a laptop that requires the range extender to be working in order to achieve a solid wifi connection back to the router at the other end of the house.

5. Somebody else has a laptop with a wireless card that's good enough to achieve a solid wifi connection back to the router even without the range extender operating.

What I'm not seeing in your explanation: the part where you actually switch your range extender over from range-extending the DSL modem/router's wifi networking to range-extending the new cable modem's wifi networking. I don't believe I've ever seen a range extender that would just automatically range-extend all wifi networks it can see; every extender I've ever encountered has needed to be configured with the upstream SSID (network name) of the wifi network you want it to extend.

So when you compare the performance of your old DSL connection with the new cable connection, using the laptop that needs the range extender, and you get spotty results off the cable connection that you don't get when using the other laptop, the most likely explanation that occurs to me is that your laptop is presenting you with a choice between a range-extended version of the DSL modem/router's wifi network, vs not range-extended wifi from the cable modem/router.

Have a poke around in the range extender's settings and see if you can figure out how to de-associate it with the DSL modem's wifi SSID and re-associate it with the cable modem's.

By the way, this exact kind of issue is why I'm forever trying to persuade people that putting up with a bit of unobtrusive flat cat 6 running around the skirting boards is a better choice than endlessly fartarsing about with all the bizarre failure modes of wireless gear. Wifi is OK when it works but it sucks when it doesn't.
posted by flabdablet at 9:33 PM on November 30, 2020

The range extender has been switched to the new cable network's 5.0 GHz band. The one thing I haven't tried doing is switching it to the 2.4 GHz band on the cable network.
posted by sardonyx at 7:58 PM on December 1, 2020

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