Help me determine why my home wifi connection is so spotty.
April 18, 2007 5:41 PM   Subscribe

[WiFi Filter] My home wifi is driving me absolutely insane. It is inexplicably spotty and goes in and out on a whim.

I have a Belkin 2.4 Ghz 802.11g wireless router, DSL from Verizon, and a Compaq Presario V2030 laptop running Windows XP Home SP2.

My connection goes in and out inexplicably. Usually when it goes out, it shows that I am still connected - at full strength - to my network. I've tried switching to OpenDNS and thought it got better for a while, but I continue to have problems. Sometimes, I disconnect from my network, then reconnect and everything seems fine. Then it goes out again after 15 minutes. My girlfriend does not seem to experience these problems with her laptop connected to the same wifi network. This makes it sound like it must be my laptop - but if something were awry why would it work 60% of the time? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. I'm on the verge of stringing 75 feet of ethernet cable from our living room where the router is to our office. I'd rather it didn't come to that though. Thank you in advance!
posted by nomad73 to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I had this problem (as the only Mac user on the network and the one with the most problems, I figured it was an Apple Thing) and it was solved when the owner of the router moved away and I went out and bought a much nicer one. I definitely got what I paid for. YMMV, but I would not have suspected it would make such a difference to drop an extra $30. Don't try this without exhausting other options, of course (or at least keep the receipt).
posted by crinklebat at 5:52 PM on April 18, 2007

When this has happened to me, I first try changing the channel (+/- 4), on the theory that there's intereference from a neighbor. Next I check that the access point has sufficient ventilation, so that it's not cooking itself (as older linksys stuff is wont to do). That failing, I buy a new Netgear WAP.

Worked for me.
posted by dws at 6:00 PM on April 18, 2007

Do you have a 2.4 Ghz cordless phone in the house? We did and replacing it with a 5.8 Ghz phone saved my sanity. It took months of frustration to figure out what was interfering.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:12 PM on April 18, 2007

Also, if you have wireless controllers (like the nintendo wavebird,) the channels could be interferring.
posted by visual mechanic at 6:19 PM on April 18, 2007

Best answer: In order:

1. Change the channel on the wifi router. There are 3 non-overlapping channels 1,6, and 11. Pick one of those.

2. Update the wifi drivers on your laptop. Your manufacturers support webpage should have them if there's an update.

3. Borrow a wireless card (or buy one from the store, you can always return it ), disable your on-board wifi, and use that. If this works then you know for certain its your on-board wifi.

4. Replace the router.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:45 PM on April 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @ selfmedicating: we just got a new cordless 5.8 Ghz phone replacing the old 2.4 Ghz one ... I had high hopes but nothing changed.

@ damn dirty ape: Thanks - will try those.

Much appreciated everyone. Thanks.
posted by nomad73 at 6:47 PM on April 18, 2007

Belkin is a terrible brand; they make horrible stuff. I've never once had a Belkin product I liked. Ever.

If you replace the router, a good suggestion is the Linksys WRT54GL. The L is important; those routers have twice as much memory as the regular G and GS versions, and run Linux instead of VxWorks. The L models are much better out of the box, and are particularly good if you put one of the open-source firmware packages on them, like DD-WRT.

I can't say for sure that you need to replace the router, but anytime I hear "problems" and "Belkin" in the same sentence, that's where I look first.
posted by Malor at 8:36 PM on April 18, 2007

One more thing. If the access point has settings that let you control both the B and G radios, turn off one of them. Unless you have a B-only laptop, that would be B. And Malor is right: Belkin is dubious.
posted by dws at 8:42 PM on April 18, 2007

I've had pretty crappy luck with my belkin wireless router. I've also had crappy luck with Netgear's wireless boxes too though. I'm now using an expensive ASUS (WL-500W) which seems to be ok, at least for now. After all this experience, the router is always the first thing I suspect.
posted by chairface at 9:12 PM on April 18, 2007

When I first moved to my flat in The Ghetto back in 2001, I had absolutely no signal problems. Then, as more and more of my neighbours got access points (BT is pushing their Fusion VOIP / Cell phones pretty heavily now) I started getting all sorts of interference; pretty much the same problems you are experiencing. Switching channels only worked up a point, then the problems were consistent.

What worked for me was installing a WIFI repeater at the opposite end of my flat, and linking it to my ADSL Wireless access point via 30' of Ethernet.

So now I've got two wireless access points in my flat, only one of which performs NAT and other services.

Also, I'm always close enough to one of my access points for it to totally stomp any interference from the neighbours.
posted by Mutant at 11:35 PM on April 18, 2007

Try changing the channels around?
posted by tomw at 2:53 AM on April 19, 2007

Response by poster: Update: I installed the latest hardware driver for my on-board Intel wireless (had to go to Intel for it since Compaq seems to have long since forgotten to update its support page for my laptop), and I changed channels on the router. There did not seem to be much of a difference, but it needs further observation.

I can't imagine it is the router since my girlfriend is on her laptop all day working from home using our home wifi and has zero problems.

Thank you all very much for the suggestions. Next step will be the wireless card route.
posted by nomad73 at 9:36 AM on April 19, 2007

Don't rule out the router. I've seen some crazy, crazy wireless router behavior. The most notable:

One netgear box would connect with WPA2 to my pilot and my G4 mac but not MacBook Pro. Using less secure encryption worked fine. I returned the box.

The second netgear box worked fine... so I thought. It turns out that after much debugging and analysis, the damn thing was mutating TCP streams and applying correct checksums to the packets. In other words, it was silently corrupting data. This kind of behavior is supposed to be impossible but I've got the demon box and verified it myself.

So I've learned to deeply distrust those boxes. I guess it makes sense when you consider they often cost $40 or less so they don't have reliable components and didn't undergo sufficient testing.
posted by chairface at 9:46 AM on April 19, 2007

I had this problem with a wireless access point that was just somewhat marginal. It would heat up or decide to follow its bliss or whatever and just fuck off. Power-cycling would resolve the problem, as would waiting five minutes.

Eventually the problem was fixed by throwing the piece of crap in the garbage and getting another. There's only so much annoyance that saving $40 is worth.
posted by phearlez at 9:54 AM on April 19, 2007

It could be that your gf's laptop just has a superior antenna and chipset. I think the best way to test this is to use the laptop right next to the router. Is it still dropping? If so, then its probably not an interference issue.

Oh, I forgot to mention that you shuold upgrade the firmware on your router. This may be a known issue with that belkin and fixed.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:50 AM on April 19, 2007

Response by poster: @ chairface: duly noted! yikes - I had no idea what insidiousness these goddamned little boxes are capable of.

@ damn dirty ape: thanks again - will try both of those things this evening.

@ phearlez: indeed. I think this router cost like $30 after rebates. I should have known better.

Thanks to you all.
posted by nomad73 at 12:28 PM on April 19, 2007

Get a booster at the computer end, or mount the router antenna in the middle of a Chinese wok skimmer.
posted by KRS at 12:29 PM on April 19, 2007

Response by poster: Just in case anyone else stumbles upon this question ... it's been about 1.5 weeks and my connection has stabilized. I think what did it - and what I should have done to begin with - was updating my laptop's wifi drivers. In my case, I had to go to the wifi manufacturer's (Intel) web site to find the most up to date driver - Compaq's "latest" drivers on their site were woefully out of date and were of no help.

Thank you all - my sanity is beginning to return!
posted by nomad73 at 1:55 PM on April 27, 2007

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