Getting more range on a WiFi card
February 27, 2008 10:07 AM   Subscribe

How do I get more WiFi range on my laptop computer? More info follows.

I know the obvious answer here is to stick an antenna on my wireless adapter card. The problem is that none of my cards appear to have an antenna jack!

I looked on my Office Depot site for something quick I could pick up today, but all the PC card models shown only have internal antennas and there is no indication whether any of them can take an external antenna.

Googling this I'm coming up empty, and I looked on some of the wardriving forums, specifically the netstumbler forum, but mostly what I found were soldering mods and snarky answers to people asking the same thing.

I use Windows and have a Dell laptop, if it matters, and I'd prefer not to have to spend more than $80 on this. Please no suggestions for fixing the base station; thanks.
posted by chips ahoy to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
How goofy are you willing to look? Your off-the-shelf, maximum range for $80 solution is probably to drag a multi-antennaed WAP with you and connect to that with ethernet.

So base to base to your machine. Or you could get a repeater and place that for maximum range. That'll take some trial and error.
posted by unixrat at 10:13 AM on February 27, 2008

I've got a Dell with an internal wireless, and when I last opened it up, there wasn't any easy way to extend its current antenna. By the looks of it, it would require removing the small wrapper (I think it's either plastic or capton) and soldering on a new antenna, which you'd have to somehow run through the laptop. In case you're curious, there should be a slot that you can gain access to with a screwdriver located on the bottom of the laptop.

You could instead get a new PCMCIA wifi card that has an antenna connector on it, and just work from there. The problem there is that there really aren't many out there with that antenna coax jack.

Is there any way you can just boost the router's signal? unixrat's suggestion of a repeater may work just as well too.
posted by spiderskull at 10:29 AM on February 27, 2008

I'd look into getting something like a Wi-Fire, which has a pretty good built-in antenna and 500mw of power, runs about $60-80. You can also find USB WiFi devices that allow for external antenna connection. Alfa and several other companies make products like these.
posted by signalnine at 10:39 AM on February 27, 2008

These old Orinoco cards have them. I'm uncertain if they supposed WPA. I think there is hack for them.

All cisco aironet cards have them.

Now toss in the pigtail adapter (some come with this) and a decent antenna and you -might- be able to do this for 80 dollars.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:51 AM on February 27, 2008

Seconding the repeater/bridge suggestion. It usually works much better. A better antenna means a few db gain, not much more unless youre using a directional one and pointing at the WAP. (hawking makes a few cheap directional)

You can make a free repeater using an old linksys WAP with the free DD-WRT firmware.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:56 AM on February 27, 2008

Oh and to kill two birds with one stone: Hawking makes this great little usb wifi card with the directional antenna I linked to above. Its a good solution for you, but not the most portable thing in the world.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:58 AM on February 27, 2008

You could also look at client cards that advertise MIMO capability, which claims tons better range, and in the real world achieves some improvement.

Personally, I have an ancient ParkerVision D2D card, with a giant divingboard antenna, which works about twice as far as all the other cards I've tried. It's 802.11b-only though, so speed is nothing special.
posted by Myself at 11:18 AM on February 27, 2008

I've got this thing from Hawkings and it works pretty well. I got it from Best Buy for $55.
posted by 517 at 11:43 AM on February 27, 2008

The old Orinoco cards are the classic answer, and are favored by the wardriving folks who use Netstumbler. They have an antenna connector (but it's veeeeery small) and can be bought cheap (under $30, new) on eBay . That's an easy and cheap way to get started if you want to play around with antennas. Just keep the coax short, because even high-quality coax (which is definitely what you want to use) loses signal—more feet, less signal. In other words, if you put up a really nice antenna with several dB gain, if the coax is too long, you could lose all that gain by the time the signal reaches the card.

If you aren't interested in playing with antennas, it would be easier to just get the Hawking parabolic dish that damn dirty ape mentioned.
posted by exphysicist345 at 6:26 PM on February 27, 2008

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