Why did my router lose its super powers?
May 29, 2008 5:25 PM   Subscribe

Why would my wireless router lose its signal strength all of a sudden?

I'm pretty much clueless when it comes to networking, routers, etc. but I'm also pretty good at understanding that kind of stuff when it's explained to me, so I'm hoping someone here can do just that.

I have a D-Link DI-524 router in the basement of a split-level house. I usually use my laptop on the top (3rd) floor. This has been just fine for years. Most of the time getting "very good" signal strength.

However, in the last couple of days -- ever since Comcast had a two day outage in the area, btw -- I can't connect wirelessly unless I'm literally right next to the router. And even then the signal strength is very low or low.

I've upgraded to the most recent firmware available for this router. I've rebooted it. I even plugged it into a new surge protector since I found that as a suggestion somewhere on the web. There doesn't seem to be anything at all that has changed -- no new cordless phones, or anything new in the house at all. The usual other wireless connections of my neighbors that have always been showing up are still there; no new ones.

Is it just time to get a new router? Did Comcast's outage have anything to do with it? Help! I'm going through withdrawal not being able to be online and watch my tivo at the same time!

posted by INTPLibrarian to Technology (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you say "For years", I would suggest a new router. They are so cheap now it's just easier to purchase a new one. I purchased a decent belkin G router at kay mart for 30 bucks recently, probably cheaper at the egg. If it exhibits the same behavior, you can easily take them back (from the local store...online returns infuriate me). Just go into the router and copy down the settings before trashing the d-link.

It's difficult to say exactly why your router went out just from a short post, but Comcast shouldn't have anything to do with the routers wireless unless they introduced some sort of major interference to the area (I am assuming it's your router, not supplied by comcast) or blasted major electrical spikes down the lines, which I doubt. You could ask your neighbors with Comcast if their internet/wifi has been jenky for the last few days.

That you can only get poor signal from within a few feet makes it that much more likely that it has simply given up the ghost.
posted by dozo at 6:18 PM on May 29, 2008

If the neighbors' networks are all showing up at their normal strength, that clears your laptop of suspicion, so it's gotta be the router. Very likely what has happened is that the amplification circuit has gone bad, so it's only putting out really weak signal and you'll have to replace it. Here are a couple of things you can try first, though:

- Unscrew the antenna from the back of the router and screw it back in, finger-tight.
- Change the wireless channel on the router.
- Unplug it for a few days, or unplug it and bang it firmly against a table a few times. Foul language often helps here.

The second two are just voodoo, but they won't cost you anything, and I've been in IT long enough to see them fix some extremely improbable things.
posted by pocams at 6:37 PM on May 29, 2008

Don't know how to check this on your d-link, but is it possible that you are now trying to share the same channel with a neighbor? If so, switch to another channel.
posted by Kevin S at 6:38 PM on May 29, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the help so far. I did change the channel -- being on 1 or 6 or 11 doesn't seem to make any difference.

Rescrewing on the antennae didn't do anything either.

Guess I'm heading to newegg....
posted by INTPLibrarian at 6:50 PM on May 29, 2008

A few theories:

- Your D-Link isn't actually working and you're unknowingly connecting to a neighbor's WAP. It's possible if they have the same SSID. I've seen this happen at least once.

- It's also possible that some new hardware in your house or nearby is creating interference. Most routers allow you to change their "channel" in their settings. Try that.

- These types of consumer routers are notoriously flaky with a limited shelf life. Your's has been running 24/7 for years. (Unless you turn it off when not in use, in which case the thermal cycling may be doing it in.) That's a lot of use for solid state components supplied by the lowest Chinese bidder. So, it could just be time for a new router... in which case you should think about upgrading to one of the new N-class routers - perhaps one of with gigabit Ethernet just to cover all your bases... or go cheap.

I recently became so sick of my Linksys that I busted it open and replaced the capacitors (you can only do this if you know how to solder.) It was flaky before, now it works like a charm. In this case though I knew the caps were going bad because of the high pitched squeal they were making.
posted by wfrgms at 6:57 PM on May 29, 2008

I've been happy with the DIR-655 as far as Gigabit/802.11n goes - $100 or so. The only problem is that it's 2.4GHz 802.11n, but so's everything else except the Airport Express at this point (which is 5GHz and more robust/faster).
posted by kcm at 7:01 PM on May 29, 2008

Don't randomly change the channel (the ones you tried are the most popular defaults), look at what channels the other visible networks are using and pick one that's as far from them as possible.
posted by bizwank at 9:57 PM on May 29, 2008

Mine got much weaker as the neighbors added their own, so if I can sidestep the messy physics that I don't really know (ahem), some sort of interference may be the culprit.

Some routers -- sadly not the LinkSys's I have so I don't remember which -- actually let you set the signal strength in software. I did this to a friend's router (the default was 3/10) and WOW did it even make the thing more kickass. It went from one bar in the kitchen to full-bars outside in the yard.

Beyond that, I have had some luck extending mine by changing the "channel" (also in the web interface) to something other than the default. 9/10 users, I imagine, use the defaults, which (again, I dunno the physics) "must" mean they're jamming up some sub-spectrum and leaving the others pretty dark.
posted by rokusan at 6:09 AM on May 30, 2008

Best answer: It could well be the router has just failed; electronics doesn't last forever, and if it's been power cycled a fair bit in the last couple of days it's possible something just burned out. This is the most likely.

That said, the 2.4Ghz band is pretty crowded with all sorts of things, not just wireless routers. Phones, microwaves and baby monitors can all interfere with that spectrum. It's possible one of your neighbours has bought something and is now hogging part of the spectrum. Without an analyser, there's no way to know. Given you're having the same problem on all three of the non-overlapping 20mhz channels (1,6,11) though, it's probably not that.

the 5ghz band used in some 802.11n kit has a lot more channels to play with; 12 is standard in the US IIRC. 5ghz gear does still tend to have a shorter range than 2.4ghz 802.11n kit, but both kick the ass on range of the 802.11g routers. If you have an 802.11n capable card in your laptop, or can fit one, it may well be worth investing in an 802.11n router.

The dlink dir655 is 2.4ghz only, and I've personally had reliablity issues with them - some people love them. My personal setup at the moment is a linksys wrt160n with the dd-wrt firmware; it's 2.4ghz single channel 802.11n capable, and the amount of extra features in the open source dd-wrt firmware compared to stock is just incredible. The range absolutely spanks my old 11g routers, and is rock solid.

I'm investigating 5ghz dualband routers at the moment, but good ones are extremely thin on the ground. The airport extreme is good as a 5ghz access point, but feature limited as an actual router, and only single radio so won't support 2.4ghz 11g/n at the same time. The linksys wrt-600n is probably the best all-rounder, but is not at all cheap, and the firmware's a bit rubbish.

If you're happy with 802.11g, an ASUS WL-500G premium or linksys WRT54GL is dirt cheap and runs dd-wrt very nicely indeed.
posted by ArkhanJG at 7:28 AM on May 30, 2008

Oh, and if you do go for an 802.11n router, don't worry about having a gigabit switch on it on the ethernet/lan side. The chances in the real world of getting enough speed over wireless to actually need it are virtually nill. The wireless numbers on the box are usually double or triple the actual maximum sustained speed. About the only circumstance it's useful is when you're plugging two extra computers in to the lan switch side, and want them to talk at gigabit speeds.
posted by ArkhanJG at 7:46 AM on May 30, 2008

A buddy of mine is on his third wireless router in about 5 years. They don't last.

I've had good luck running tomato on a Linksys WRT54GL - tomato will let you set signal strength and has lots of other cool features.
posted by and for no one at 10:26 AM on May 30, 2008

Response by poster: FYI Update... looks like it just grew old and died. I think I'd had it around 5 years.

I got a new router (Linksys WRT54GL ), signal strength is super again.

Thanks everyone.
posted by INTPLibrarian at 9:05 AM on June 5, 2008

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