Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 17, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

ROUTER WOES....Last night I went to Micro Center and told one of the salesguys that the signal strength on my WiFi router was lousy. He instantly told me not to screw around with special antennas or anything like that, but to dive in and replace my old G router with a shiny new N router. And luckily for me, they had the Linksys WRT150N on sale for a mere $89. He assured me it was so powerful I'd be lucky if my neighbors didn't start complaining.

So I got one. Installation did not go as smoothly as one might hope, but it's now up and running. Signal strength upstairs, however, still sucks. In fact, it might even be worse than before. Anybody have any relevant experience with these things that they'd like to share?

And speaking of routers, what's the deal with WPA2? I should use it, shouldn't I? First, though, I guess I have to download the appropriate XP update from Microsoft, which doesn't come preinstalled on new machines even though it was released nearly three years ago. Blah. Then I have to convince the router that it has a wired connection to my desktop machine. Half of the setup software believes this, but the other half doesn't. And Linksys tech support doesn't answer. Double blah.

Moral of the story: After spending a hundred bucks and mucking around for a couple of hours, I can say that I'm manifestly no worse off than I was before. Aren't computers great?

UPDATE: Oh hell. The Dell Latitude we bought apparently isn't N-compatible. This explains why the N router isn't doing any better than the old one. Guess I should have gotten the super-duper antenna after all.

Kevin Drum 5:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (112)

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Comments

Google it?

Posted by: absent observer on February 17, 2008 at 6:11 PM | PERMALINK

Shorter Kevin: "Get off my lawn, you computer geek kids!"

Posted by: SP on February 17, 2008 at 6:15 PM | PERMALINK

My advice: if all your computers are 802.11N devices, turn off compatibility for 802.11A, B, and G, and make sure you're running N over 5GHz rather than 2.4 GHz. (Or if it's already 5 GHz, try switching to 2.4 and see how that goes.) Also, experiment with positioning of your router. Sometimes that makes all the difference.

At home, I run two different wifi base stations: one is N only (at 5GHz), and the other is G only. This way my G computers aren't causing problems for my N computers. I split them apart by assigning two different network names.

WPA2 is better, but probably not necessary as long as you're using some basic form of security. Really the most you need to do is keep your neighbors from mooching off your wifi, and any simple password protection will do that. If you're security conscious or have something sensitive to protect, then of course you want to use whatever is best.

Posted by: Steve Simitzis on February 17, 2008 at 6:15 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry to be Mr. Obvious, but get a Mac.

Posted by: Wilbur on February 17, 2008 at 6:15 PM | PERMALINK

It's time to go for a walk aroiund Irvine, get some vitamin D.

Posted by: Billly Under on February 17, 2008 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK

You know? I know you hate all of us mac geeks from saying get a Mac. But seriously? Get a mac. Computers shouldn't be this difficult. I have an 7 year old Mac and I don't have the kinds of problems that you do on a regular basis. It all, just works, and when there's an update, it's inclusive. I can't remember the last time I was at the Apple Website to download something.

I don't understand why people put up with this crap. Windows and PCs have convinced you that computers are supposed to be incomprehensible. They really aren't.

Posted by: Christopher on February 17, 2008 at 6:17 PM | PERMALINK

Was your previous G router by any chance a Linksys WRT54G, WRT-54GL, WRT54GS, Buffalo WHR-G54S, or WHR-HP-G54? If so, then you can reflash the software on it with some open-source alternatives -- all of them will let you increase the signal strength beyond what the default software will allow you to do (as long as you don't increase it past a certain point, 84mW if I remember correctly, you don't risk harming the device OR your health :).

My favorite is here:
http://www.polarcloud.com/tomato

However, if multiple routers have lousy signal strength in a certain location, then it's probably due to the design of your house and boosting the signal strength might not make too much of a difference. You could try positioning your router upstairs instead of downstairs if you can, or maybe using separate routers downstairs and upstairs.

As for WPA2, it does support some more advanced security measures, but no one has cracked WPA1 yet, so it's not a requirement. You won't see any performance improvement or anything like that, so it's up to you.

Posted by: Brock on February 17, 2008 at 6:17 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, everything at my house is Apple, and it mostly works without much thought or effort. There does seem to be a bit of an art to blanketing an entire house with wifi, however.

Posted by: Steve Simitzis on February 17, 2008 at 6:18 PM | PERMALINK

While I was writing that, several people suggested getting a Mac, (which I absolutely agree with!) but it likely won't make a difference in this scenario. As I previously said, poor signal strength in specific areas is usually due to the structure of a building, not due to the computer you're using.

Posted by: Brock on February 17, 2008 at 6:19 PM | PERMALINK

Signal strength upstairs may suck because of signal interferance issues. Do you have a portable phone base station near the router? Often that is the culprit when it comes to interferance.

There may also be other wireless networks in the neighborhood that are interfering. Check the computer upstairs to make sure it's connecting to _your_ wireless network.

You may need to change the band your router is using to alleviate interference. You can do that in the router's setup area.

Sorry I can't help you on your XP issues. I'm a Mac guy :-)

I like WPA-PSK encryption, myself.

Hope this helps; sorry for your trouble.

Posted by: TH on February 17, 2008 at 6:19 PM | PERMALINK

When my house was being built 7+ years ago I had them put in Ethernet wiring to every room. After all these years I am still amazed how easy wired connections are compared to wireless.

Posted by: CarlP on February 17, 2008 at 6:21 PM | PERMALINK

Get a Mac and get another Airport. I've got one upstairs, one downstairs. When I added the second base station, the whole process too about 15 minutes and would have been even simpler had I not created a "closed" network.

Posted by: expatjourno on February 17, 2008 at 6:23 PM | PERMALINK

Try turning the antennas horizontal. When the antennas are vertical, they put out most of their power horizontally. If you want more power upstairs, put the antennas horizontal and they will project upwards.

Posted by: Benjamin on February 17, 2008 at 6:28 PM | PERMALINK

Other sources of WiFi interference.

# Microwave ovens: Placing your computer or an AirPort Base Station near a microwave oven that is in use may cause interference.
# Direct Satellite Service (DSS) RF leakage: The coax cable that came with certain types of satellite dishes may cause interference. Obtain newer cables if you suspect RF leakage.
# Certain electrical devices such as power lines, electrical railroad tracks, and power stations.
# 2.4 GHz phones: A cordless telephone that operates in this range may cause interference with AirPort communication when used. There are also other devices that operate in the 2.4 GHz range that could cause interference.
# Metal objects: If possible, move metal objects or change the placement of the Base Station so the path between your AirPort equipped-computer and the Base Station is free from metal objects that may cause interference.
# X-10 video senders (transmitters/receivers) that operate in the 2.4 GHz bandwidth.
# Any other devices that operate in the 2.4 GHz bandwidth (microwaves, cameras, baby monitors, and so on).

Posted by: Chris Brown on February 17, 2008 at 6:34 PM | PERMALINK

First change your channel to something other than 11. Since that is the default channel, most of the APs in your neighborhood will be on it and it can interfere with your lan's signal.

Second, it might be something your building's construction that affects the wifi's vertical signal. I suggest setting up a layer 2 bridge between your two routers. Linksys's proprietary firmware sucks (as does the other large vendors), and they intentionally don't include a repeater/bridge feature. You can for an absurd markup buy a special wireless ap bridge, but your existing router's hardware already allows bridging and other features. I suggest using DD-WRT, and open source retail wifi router firmware, and just follow on online howto describing how to change the firmware, and how to configure the bridge.

Relevant Links:

About DD-WRT
http://www.dd-wrt.com/wiki/index.php/What_is_DD-WRT%3F

How to Install:
http://www.dd-wrt.com/wiki/index.php/Installation

How to Configure a Bridge
http://www.dd-wrt.com/wiki/index.php/Wireless_Bridge

Here is some background information from Wi-Fi's wikipedia page:

" and 802.11g Access points default to the same channel on initial startup, contributing to congestion on certain channels. To change the channel of operation for an access point requires the user to configure the device.

Wi-Fi networks have limited range. A typical Wi-Fi home router using 802.11b or 802.11g with a stock antenna might have a range of 32 m (120 ft) indoors and 95 m (300 ft) outdoors. Range also varies with frequency band. Wi-Fi in the 2.4 GHz frequency block has slightly better range than Wi-Fi in the 5 GHz frequency block. Outdoor range with improved (directional) antennas can be several kilometres or more with line-of-sight.

Wi-Fi performance also decreases exponentially as the range increases.

Wi-Fi pollution, or an excessive number of access points in the area, especially on the same or neighboring channel, can prevent access and interfere with the use of other access points by others, caused by overlapping channels in the 802.11g/b spectrum, as well as with decreased signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) between access points. This can be a problem in high-density areas, such as large apartment complexes or office buildings with many Wi-Fi access points. Additionally, other devices use the 2.4 GHz band: microwave ovens, security cameras, Bluetooth devices and (in some countries) Amateur radio, video senders, cordless phones and baby monitors can cause significant additional interference. General guidance to those who suffer these forms of interference or network crowding is to migrate to a WiFi 5 GHz product, (802.11a or the newer 802.11n IF it has 5GHz/11a support) as the 5 GHz band is relatively unused and there are many more channels available. This also requires users to set up the 5 GHz band to be the preferred network in the client and to configure each network band to a different name (SSID)."

Posted by: Birch Bayh on February 17, 2008 at 6:36 PM | PERMALINK

How old is your house? The guy who put in my security /wireless system said signals don't go through old houses with lathe-and-plaster walls as well as they do wallboard.

Posted by: D,clarke on February 17, 2008 at 6:38 PM | PERMALINK

After spending a lot of time and money trying to get a signal to a dead spot in my house, I finally paid someone to run an ethernet cable to that room. Wish I'd done it a lot sooner.

Posted by: me on February 17, 2008 at 6:39 PM | PERMALINK

I have to echo the macophilia, but it should also be said that it isn't simply the ease of use that makes Windoze unattractive to me. I can say with experience that one can expend many hours getting a Linux system to do what one wants (and would very probably 'just work' on either MS or OSX), but at the end of the process, one has learned something nearly universal about operating systems or hardware or what have you, not some arbitrarily unique and proprietary MS set-up.

Posted by: jhm on February 17, 2008 at 6:40 PM | PERMALINK

I bought a cheap $10 dollar antenna by SMC, pointed at my daughter's bedroom. Works like a charm. Kept my old router. :)

This was after I had spent a lot trying to figure it out.

Posted by: Monk-in-Training on February 17, 2008 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

It's all about DD-WRT:

http://www.dd-wrt.com/wiki/index.php/What_is_DD-WRT%3F

Posted by: Birch Bayh on February 17, 2008 at 6:50 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

if you thought it shouldn't be this difficult to get right, well, you're right! Can you imagine the tech stuff people are sending you that might work!??? And this is supposed to be an actual end-user product?

As an engineer I can tell you with some authority, the sad fact is that wireless is not a viable product, in any of its incarnations. It is still the case (and macs are no different here) that you can often select an essid reporting a reasonable signal level and send the right password and yet (without explanation) the wireless just can't connect. If you do get a connection, in my experience, it will go down a minimum of once an hour. So if you're downloading iso images, forget it.

I have tried basically every brand of router and card, B/G, Mimo, N. Netgear, Linksys, Belkin, DLink. None of them alleviates the core problem that this is an inadequately designed technology.

Your best bet short of running an ethernet cable is to try one of the powerline adapters (goes through your electrical lines, you have one adapter from router to wall socket, one from wall socket to computer, using ethernet connectors. I recommend Netgear HD, the DLink ones I tried burned out within a month, they run incredibly hot. DLink replaced them but who needs the headache. The Netgears have been fine).

Some routers also drop connections on no-activity timeouts no matter how you configure them. For this reason I recommend the linksys WRT350N, which doesn't do this. It also has wireless-N--in case a houseguest wants to wireless-connect briefly to get email, sitting next to the router, about all wireless is good for.

Posted by: q on February 17, 2008 at 6:58 PM | PERMALINK

I was under the impression that if you get an N router, you need N adapters as well, or you might as well stick to G. Anyone know if this is true?

Also, Kevin, you don't say if you tried a repeater, but a couple of of people I know have had good experiences with them. You can get a cheap G router that can act as a repeater for around $30.

Posted by: mg on February 17, 2008 at 7:05 PM | PERMALINK

http://www.provantage.com/linksys-hga7s~7LNKM00Q.htm

Linksys High Gain Antenna Kit with SMA Connector #HGA7S

Posted by: Aaron Adams on February 17, 2008 at 7:07 PM | PERMALINK

To get the most out of the "N" transmitter (base station), you need to upgrade the wifi card in your computer to an "N" receiver. Your post didn't mention whether you did that.

Posted by: MarvyT on February 17, 2008 at 7:09 PM | PERMALINK

I'm running the Airport Extreme wireless router, 802.11n compliant, in a house that's so old the upstairs rooms have their electrical lights installed where the old-fashioned gas lights used to be installed. The upstairs computer has a PCI card providing the n wireless signal, and the only time I lose the network is when that computer goes to sleep and drops the connection. I simply fire up the connection utility and log back in and I'm good to go. My iPhone picks up the network without fail and my wife's HP laptop always finds the network (unless the laptop's Wi-Fi power button is off -- what a stupid feature that is!)

Posted by: SalHepatica on February 17, 2008 at 7:11 PM | PERMALINK

Sell the house in Irvine, move to Manhattan where you'll have to buy a significantly smaller apartment and you'll never have to worry about signal strength.

Posted by: Randy Paul on February 17, 2008 at 7:13 PM | PERMALINK

(unless the laptop's Wi-Fi power button is off -- what a stupid feature that is!)

Might be a concession to the airline industry with people using their laptops on flights.

Posted by: Randy Paul on February 17, 2008 at 7:15 PM | PERMALINK

Do your neighbors read the blog? I wonder how they feel about your cavalier attitude?

Posted by: Michael7843853 G-O/F in 08! on February 17, 2008 at 7:19 PM | PERMALINK

Admittedly, I haven't read through all of the comments so if somebody has already said this, I apologize for the duplication.

If you buy an "N" router, only connect to it using "N" devices. Turn off A, B, & G connectivity in the router.

The reason you want to do this is that your router will only work as fast as the slowest protocol connecting to it. In other words, if you have a shiny new "N" router and you connect a "B" device to it, it will only operate at "B" speeds or less. The "N" will do you no good at that point. Also, an "N" router cannot improve the signal range of A, B, or G.

In short, it has to be "N" and "N" only for the entire network in order for you to see any speed or range improvements.

True story. You can look it up.

Posted by: boudin on February 17, 2008 at 7:23 PM | PERMALINK

Try an antenna. The reviews at cnet suggest that your router is pretty weak compared to similar ones. A $10 Rosewill 8dbi antenna at newegg might not boost the signal as much as you need, but at the price, it's worth a shot; it helped a lot with my g router.

Posted by: JD on February 17, 2008 at 7:27 PM | PERMALINK

Those who happen (for now) to be surrounded by ideal conditions may get the impression wifi is robust. Bottom line is, if you're having problems (note long list of possible interferences in earlier comment), you are highly unlikely to end up resolving those problems with standard enduser equipment. Being in an apartment building that is good for piggybacking can also mean lots of interference and no possibility of robust connections even to your own router.

Posted by: q on February 17, 2008 at 7:28 PM | PERMALINK

One potential way round this is to use power line networking - in essence you use your electrical wiring to carry your network signals. No more wireless hassles!

You can use it in conjunction with a second wireless access point if you need wireless networking downstairs and up.

It's a relatively expensive solution, but it can work well.

Posted by: Robert Merkel on February 17, 2008 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK

My problem was the reverse; router upstairs and weak reception downstairs. Like JD and Monk-in-Training said: a 10-dollar directional anntena solved my problem. We live in College Park in Irvine, where the houses are in thier mid- to late- thirties, with lathe and plaster walls. I shoot the signal down the stairwell and off the far wall, and now get coverage downstairs.

Don

Posted by: DoniInCal on February 17, 2008 at 7:38 PM | PERMALINK

I second the reocmmendation for power line networking when you have a signal strength issue to part of your house. Its trivial to set up (no software or configuration involved - your computer, and the router just treat it like a wired connection).

Posted by: chris green on February 17, 2008 at 7:40 PM | PERMALINK

Agree that powerline ethernet extender (e.g. Netgear XE103) is the way to go, i.e. you plug the first Netgear box into an AC wall outlet, then connect a network cable from the Netgear box to into the new Linksys router LAN port. In the room where you're having the reception problem, plug the 2nd powerline adapter into AC outlet, and connect a network cable to your old wifi router. Change the SSID and channel # for the old router to something else e.g. new router is called WM01 on channel 8, old one is called WM02 on channel 9.

Works quite well.

Works very well

Posted by: quietpc3400 on February 17, 2008 at 7:44 PM | PERMALINK

Draft 802.11n wireless routers only work in the n-draft standard when being accessed by wireless cards that also speak "n-draft". There are no benefits at all in terms of range or speed gained by running a draft 802.11n router with other wireless cards that run 802.11g. The new draft n router will simply drop back to 802.11g with all of the same limitations.

Any salesguy that tells you antennas (and antenna orientation) do not matter is a salesguy whose advice you should avoid.

An antenna with a gain of 3db over whatever you're running now is the equivalent of doubling wireless amplifier power and receive sensitivity. You do have to pay attention to how the antenna is oriented so that the gain pattern is focused where you want it to be.

And speaking of focuses gain patterns, you can download free parabolic reflector templates which can be used to make reflectors that will offer as much as 9db of gain over your present antenna alone. 9db of gain is equivalent to an eight fold increase in directed transmit power and receive sensitivity.

Take the router back and either build some high gain reflectors for your old router or buy directional antennas or even a repeater to get the coverage that you need.

Posted by: Roman Berry on February 17, 2008 at 7:47 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know anything about wireless, but I recently read a blog entry on wireless antennae; Coding Horror is a generally reliable source of information on computers and programming, so it might be worth a read:

link

Posted by: Carl Manaster on February 17, 2008 at 7:55 PM | PERMALINK

I see that you had a wired connection put in. For a lot of houses built in the last 10 or 15 years the telephone system was wired with cat5. If so, you have 8 conductors available. It only takes 4 to piggy back an Ethernet signal on a telephone line when fewer than 2 telephone lines are used. If you can get an Ethernet signal to the telco interconnect box, you can use a switch or router to get a hardwired Ethernet signal to any telephone outlet in your house. Lowes or Home Depot sell the gear to do that.

Posted by: Zappo on February 17, 2008 at 7:55 PM | PERMALINK

WTF?
The smart liberal guy is running windows shit?
Jeebus.

Posted by: frankly pissed in Hawaii on February 17, 2008 at 8:08 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure anyone has said this explicitly, but now that you've spent $100, why use the two routers (old and new) together to extend the range of the network. You'll still be running at G speeds, but I assume that sooner or later you'll upgrade the Dell and have N capability. At that point, you'll need to ditch the old G router, but until then, the $100 you spent today is not wasted.

And as a Mac user from the very beginning, I too will echo the get-a-Mac advice. But I'll also admit that I've had some hair-pulling issues with my all-Apple WiFi setup at home.

Posted by: MacinBrooklyn on February 17, 2008 at 8:08 PM | PERMALINK

I had trouble with mine similar to what you describe, but I got into the router settings and changed the channel. It was set to pick a clear one automatically, but that must not have been working. Ever since I set the channel differently, the signal has been strong all over the house.

Posted by: Don on February 17, 2008 at 8:08 PM | PERMALINK

Count the number of floors and walls between your router and the computer that's trying to communicate with it. If possible, try to minimize this number.

Posted by: Jake on February 17, 2008 at 8:09 PM | PERMALINK

Roman Berry has it right.

This probably has absolutely nothing to do with the Mac vs PC debate.
Odds are you aren't getting wireless upstairs due to the radiation patterns of the antennas in the router.

Gain explained in a nutshell.

An antenna that radiates energy equally in all directions has a gain of 1. (imagine a bare light bulb)

When you start restricting the directions that the antenna radiates (or receives) energy you are increasing the gain. (think of a light bulb with reflector)

Very high gain antennas broadcast and recieve data in a very narrow beam and must be pointed very accurately at the other end of the connection. (think of a searchlight).

Most 3db WiFi antennas brodcast/recieve signal in a 'doughnut' shape. (Imagine a doughnut laying on it's side on top of the router). Not much signal goes in the up or down directions.

If you have adjustable antennas you may be able to orient the antennas to send more signal to your laptop.

Posted by: Buford on February 17, 2008 at 8:10 PM | PERMALINK

How about straight cat5 extender :) Wan port of G router connect with cat5 cable (powerline extended or not) to Lan port of N router.

Posted by: jack on February 17, 2008 at 8:16 PM | PERMALINK

Take your now old router and make it a repeater [upstairs] IE extend range.

Posted by: Jet on February 17, 2008 at 8:21 PM | PERMALINK

Antenna, antenna, antenna

and orientation of antennas on all equipment

"We are accustomed to the new land yet attached to the old country" - anon

Posted by: daCascadian on February 17, 2008 at 8:29 PM | PERMALINK

Our router sometimes get in a state where there are these long and extremely annoying pauses. For some reason turning the router off and on, and rebooting the computer, fixes things.

Posted by: Andy McLennan on February 17, 2008 at 8:36 PM | PERMALINK

wrt54gl, $49: http://www.newegg.com/product/product.aspx?Item=N82E16833124190&nm_mc=KNC-GoogleAdwords&CMP=KNC-GoogleAdwords&cm_mmc=KNC-GoogleAdwords-_-NA-_-NA-_-NA

burn dd-wrt onto it (replace the factory firmware, much simpler than you probably think): http://www.dd-wrt.com/dd-wrtv3/index.php

why?

1) dhcp with static leases by mac, i.e. I can control who can use my network by mac address and I can keep my pcs fixed, handy for other purposes

2) power adjustable 0-251mw

3) wpa2/aes; works with winblows xp2 and linux (and presumably mac, but I don't care)

4) a lot of other features, most of which I don't use

of course none of this will fix your problem of something structural blocking the path between your pc and your router...the cheap way to fix that was probably a longer cable and set the router somewhere else.

Posted by: supersaurus on February 17, 2008 at 8:36 PM | PERMALINK

A power line adapter is probably the way to go. Fry's Electronics regularly has an Airlink on sale cheap and my cheap Airlink wireless MIMO router has worked well for nearly two years.

Posted by: Ian S on February 17, 2008 at 8:41 PM | PERMALINK

What I would do in this circumstance is to go to ebay and get (for cheap) an Apple Airport Base Station (which has an Ethernet port) and an Apple Airport Express. Then I would put the Base Station next to the broadband modem and the Express on the 2nd floor. Software setup (which can be done on Windows) would have the Base Station control the network and the Express work as a range extender. Both of these can be used to connect USB printers to the network, also drive an amp and speakers and pipe music around the house from iTunes or using a shareware program called Airfoil (both of these are multiplatform). If you don't need the Ethernet port, you can use two Express units and maybe save some money. I use a set up like this to distribute wi fi on three floors to Mac, Windows, and Linux machines, and I can print from all three platforms as well. Very easy to work with. Good luck.

Posted by: Jeffrey Harris on February 17, 2008 at 8:42 PM | PERMALINK

(a) N hasn't been formally approved yet. Don't get it.

(b) Get a router that's compatible with ddwrt. Should cost around $50.

(c) Cantennas work just fine, but it's likely your problem lies elsewhere (ie obstructions).

Posted by: sherifffruitfly on February 17, 2008 at 8:52 PM | PERMALINK

I use a cable to put my PC's antenna somewhere actually where it isn't hiding itself from the base station signal. That darn heavy case is just a sink for any signal.

I don't know that any Macs support N.

Posted by: Crissa on February 17, 2008 at 8:53 PM | PERMALINK

I use an old NetGear router for my wifi (mac, for my old macmini, and my old ibook which has the older airport) and have realized that the number of walls with wiring in them makes a difference in signal strength...can you maybe place your router in a spot that's only 1 or 2 walls/ceilings from where you use it most upstairs/elsewhere? You can get really long ethernet cables (and telephone/cable wires too) and the router does not need to be right next to the computer, which is where most people keep it.

Posted by: amberglow on February 17, 2008 at 8:57 PM | PERMALINK

BTW, everybody arguing that Kevin should "get a Mac" might realize that his wireless reception issues have essentially nothing to do with whether he has a Mac or a PC.

Oh, and the super-duper antenna won't help if it's a multi-storey house. Buford has explained the situation well - high-gain omni antennas just squeeze the signal into an increasingly narrow horizontal donut.

Posted by: Robert Merkel on February 17, 2008 at 9:36 PM | PERMALINK

Robert: "wireless reception issues have essentially nothing to do with whether he has a Mac or a PC."

Kevin: "guess I have to download the appropriate XP update from Microsoft..."

Personally, I'm deeply grateful that Kevin sticks with Windows no matter what. Sometimes forget what people have to go through to do the simplest things.

You're like a living artifact of a past age, Kevin. Stick with Windows! Defend your dying culture!

Posted by: zota on February 17, 2008 at 9:46 PM | PERMALINK

zota,

Don't you get it. That's their go to solution to any problem. Problem: Something on the computer doesn't work. Solution: Get a Mac.

Also, the point of the switch to turn off wireless is for people using the computer in an internet free area. Keeping the Wifi antenna on drains the battery. If you tun it off, you save a ton of power.

Posted by: Mo on February 17, 2008 at 9:53 PM | PERMALINK

Lesson: bleg before you buy.

Posted by: F. Frederson on February 17, 2008 at 10:06 PM | PERMALINK

Get a wifi range extender. I have the powerline extender from Netgear and get my wifi signal on all four floors now.

but if you already have a linksys router, get a linksys range extender. Both are available at amazon.

Posted by: Adam Thomas on February 17, 2008 at 10:10 PM | PERMALINK

Zota: I just bought a new ipod Nano for my Mac-using girlfriend to replace her old 1gb model; she has a relatively old iBook G4, which still meets her needs just fine.

The new Ipod required me to buy a new version of OS X. This wouldn't install, because her iBook had insufficient RAM. I then went back to the computer shop and bought a RAM upgrade for her Mac, and brought it home to install. In this particular iBook, the DIMM slot for installing RAM upgrades is hidden behind a panel secured with tiny screws. My existing set of jeweller's screwdrivers weren't small enough. I had to drive out to the local hardware store and buy a new set of extra-extra small screwdrivers to get access to this panel.

The net cost of the OS upgrade, the RAM upgrade, and the screwdrivers was roughly the same as what the iPod cost. Not to mention, of course, several hours of my time.

Hassle-free? Hardly. Configuring my new Linux box to run MythTV has been far, far easier...

Posted by: Robert Merkel on February 17, 2008 at 10:12 PM | PERMALINK

Always curious if Kevin finds this way of finding things out less annoying and time consuming than just using google.

Kudos to the mac lovers for discouraging this behavior. If it wasn't for you we'd probably hear a lot more about printer drivers and computer crashes.

Posted by: people on February 17, 2008 at 10:15 PM | PERMALINK

If you are a normal person, you should not care about the "strength of your signal", you should care about the performance you get. What sort of performance was your old g setup giving you?

Although g is nominally rated at 54Mb/s, a variety of unfortunate design decisions mean that you will not get better than about half that no matter how strong your signal strength. This bandwidth, 27Mb/s, about 3.3MB/s, is then split among all users of the air channel. In other words if you have symmetric traffic with another machine connected by wire to the base station, receive and transmit will each only have about 1.6MB/s.
(This is in contrast to wired ethernet where, unless you have a really crappy hub, you can see the full 10/100/1000MB/s in both directions at the same time.)
If you are communicating with another wireless machine, every packet goes from the first machine, to the base station, out to the second machine, and your data rates are halved again.

OK, so that's point one --- know the performance you expect to get.

Point 2 is what happens when the signal strength is not high enough. Like any well-designed communications system, WiFi is capable of utilizing a number of different modulation schemes which juggle options like the duration of a bit, the number of levels encoded in a single symbol, and the amount of error protection to give a range of possible speeds; with the proviso that the top speed requires a very low noise level, and the lowest speed can operate in the presence of rather more noise.

Ideally what would happen in a noisy environment (which may be simply that you are some distance from the base station) is that the base station and computer would negotiate a position in this range of choices that gives you the best throughput for your particular location.
What seems to be the case, even now in 2008, is that this is NOT done in any sort of intelligent fashion; rather as far as I can tell what is usually done is that, in the presence of errors, both ends drop to the lowest bit rate, stay there for a while, then go back to the highest bit rate, conclude that's too noisy so drop to the lowest, repeated over and over. So what you see is a constant flipping between a high data rate which persists for a second or two, then dropping to a low data rate, then back to the high data rate.
It would be very nice to have a system (base station, computer, chipsets, drivers etc) that actually through some intelligence at this problem, but the free market does not appear yet to have offered that up as something available for purchase.

As for 802.11n it may be worth buying a USB or PC card n receiver, especially if you can give it a try first. You should be able to get one for about $60 these days and, without going into the details of how diversity works, what you should see with an n setup is a rather better ability to separate noise from signal even at the same signal strength, which ultimately translates into better performance.

Posted by: Maynard Handley on February 17, 2008 at 10:18 PM | PERMALINK

whoever suggested you get an apple airport express has taken a serious pull from the mac koolaid.

I have set up two of those, and use one daily. They aren't that easy to set up, their security and management software is below average for most modern wifis, and they need to be reset pretty frequently (at least when connected to comcast).

It certainly doesn't Just Work, and the manual is Just Crap. Check the apple website to see the bitchfest. I still use it, so it's not a brick, but it's just not all that great.

Posted by: mac wifi not all that on February 17, 2008 at 10:41 PM | PERMALINK

Well, Kevin, now that you have some extra bucks to spend on equipment - thanks to your lucrative new gig as a big-time political blogger [/humor] - I'd second Jeffrey Harris' rec @ 8:42: get an Apple AirPort, and a couple of the Express repeaters. Unless you do have serious construction/wiring issues in your house, two (maybe three) repeaters should give you a usable signal pretty much everywhere.

Of course, you may need some geek-wise help to properly pick up the signal(s)- Windows-based WiFi cards can pick up the main AirPort broadcast; but usually have to be programmed to seperately grab the repeaters: Macs, of course, do it automatically.

Posted by: Jay C on February 17, 2008 at 10:54 PM | PERMALINK

This can be a problem in high-density areas, such as large apartment complexes or office buildings with many Wi-Fi access points. Additionally, other devices use the 2.4 GHz band: microwave ovens, security cameras, Bluetooth devices and (in some countries) Amateur radio, video senders, cordless phones and baby monitors can cause significant additional interference.

Posted by: dona on February 17, 2008 at 10:57 PM | PERMALINK

Couple of comments:

1.) To all you MAC users: Grow a pair. This is a transmission problem, nothing to do with the cpu. Boring lives do you have?

2.) Like probably most people who have attempted to set up a wifi network, I also have connectivity issues. One of the reasons I love Kevin's blog is that he has a knack of hitting on subjects of general interest, and has a very intelligent readership that always provides excellent coverage. I got some good ideas from this thread.

Posted by: says you on February 17, 2008 at 10:57 PM | PERMALINK

802.11n : why bother?

802.11g gives you 54 Mbit/s, but your ISP is giving you 5 Mbit/s down, 1 Mbit/s up if you're lucky. The 54 Mbit/s only applies to traffic inside your own house. Unless you need it for a DVR setup there's no point.

If you just need it for Internet for 2 computers, even 802.11b is overkill.

Posted by: MillionthMonkey on February 17, 2008 at 11:19 PM | PERMALINK

'says you' sez: 1.) To all you MAC users: Grow a pair. This is a transmission problem, nothing to do with the cpu. Boring lives do you have?

but Kevin sez: First, though, I guess I have to download the appropriate XP update from Microsoft, which doesn't come preinstalled on new machines even though it was released nearly three years ago. Blah.

Advice to 'says you': Grow a brain, get a Mac, learn to read before you post, and stop dreaming of being the next Yoda.

Posted by: Oregonian on February 17, 2008 at 11:36 PM | PERMALINK

Well, after being told to grow a pair, I can hardly keep quiet. Besides, I have a pair already.

What I Did (with similar problems):

1) I have a Mac already.

2) I spent quite some time fiddling with the router location, so that it could cover the whole house, keeping in mind the donut shape of the transmission. It ended up being located just under the basement stairs in the c enter of the house.

3) I bought some "better" antennas, and they actually are.

4) There ought to be some program you can run that will tell you about the wireless that you can hear, the channels, strengths, etc. On a Mac it is MacStumbler, and you can use that to avoid interference with (most) nearby routers.

I've been meaning to reflash the router, and had concluded that Tomato was the best choice for someone who did not want to spend a lot of time farting around. But, given that Kevin was silly enough to take the advice of a salesman recommending an 802.11n wireless router without checking on the "obvious" issues, no, not for him.

In terms of "get a Mac", if you do and want No Wireless Problems, get a MacBook NON-pro. The plastic cases have better reception (all together now, duh, it's not a faraday cage). A Macbook non-pro picks up signals from several neighbors, including one who lives in a quite an old house.

And good grief, unable to do a memory upgrade on a Mac, don't own the right-sized screwdriver? I've upgraded the memory on every box I own, and swapped out disk drives in quite a few laptops. My son repaired a decrepit Sony Vaio, following I don 't know what instructions, and then installed Linux on it. Puh-lease, talk about "grow a pair".

Posted by: dr2chase on February 17, 2008 at 11:39 PM | PERMALINK

"
802.11n : why bother?

802.11g gives you 54 Mbit/s, but your ISP is giving you 5 Mbit/s down, 1 Mbit/s up if you're lucky. The 54 Mbit/s only applies to traffic inside your own house. Unless you need it for a DVR setup there's no point.
"

The fact that YOU, MillionthMonkey, have only one computer doesn't change the fact that plenty of us have more than machine at home and have any number of reasons for wanting our home network to be as fast as possible.
Perhaps we want backups to be faster? Perhaps we use different machines to store different content which is shared over the network? Perhaps we play games?

Posted by: Maynard Handley on February 17, 2008 at 11:58 PM | PERMALINK

I use a Linksys WRT54GS router. I tinker with the channels occasionally to find which ones have the best signal strength and I also use the WRE54G Wireless-G Range Expander. I have the router on a high shelf in a bedroom at one end of the house and the range expander is located in the middle of the house to reach the other end of the house. The central location of the range expander seems to be key.

Posted by: Barbara917 on February 18, 2008 at 12:23 AM | PERMALINK

Maynard,

I may be living the simple life, but I have two computers, not one.

I merely pointed out that there's little point to n (or "pre-n") unless you have the fancy sort of setup which you say you have. For 99 percent of all households, even though "plenty of us" are in that remaining 1 percent, 1000% of the upstream bandwidth is way more than they'll typically ever use, so 802.11g is not going to be the bottleneck in the system at all.

And to be honest, I'm guessing Kevin's house is not in that 1 percent.

Posted by: MillionthMonkey on February 18, 2008 at 12:43 AM | PERMALINK

I have had to deal with this problem a lot because I have a lot of clients who rely on me to set up their tech (Operating system - Mac or PC - is really just entirely irrelevant to this issue by the way). Certainly router location is an important factor but I have found that the various gain antennas available especially the 15db ones can often make an appreciable difference but not always. Sometimes you just have a difficult architecture and nothing will really work. Its a drag, but there it is.

Posted by: brent on February 18, 2008 at 12:55 AM | PERMALINK

If you read my earlier post, MillionthMonkey, you'd know that n is not simply g running 10x faster.

The basic problem with wireless communication is diffuse reflection, which results in a noise background that increases with distances, giving rise to a signal/noise ratio that falls off with distance much more rapidly than one would expect from simple 1/r^2. The best way that is currently known to deal with this is to use diversity encoding which, to simplify things tremendously, sends out the signal over multiple antennas and picks it up using multiple antennas, on the grounds that these multiple signals will be differently affected by noise, and at least one of them should have a decent signal to noise ratio.

This may sound awfully optimistic, but theory and simulation show that even the most basic version (2 aerials at each end, and the most simple Z2 combining code) get you a large fraction of the way from the very rapid fall-off of diffuse reflection to the much slower geometric 1/r^2 falloff.

Thus the point is that, if you are having "signal strength" problems, which may be that your connection is slower than you believe it should be, or may be that you frequently lose your connection, wireless-N has the potential to help.

As I said in that same post, in the past these devices have been extremely stupid about exactly which of the plethora of speed options provided by the spec they utilize in a given situation. Nonetheless, what the spec provides does include among its offerings not just faster connections than g, but connections that are the same speed as g or slower, but which are much more robust. For this reason it makes sense for Kevin (and other people having connection problems) to at least try out n equipment.

I do find it frustrating that testers have a speed fetish and generally do less testing on range performance. Such testing is occasionally done: an example is here:
http://arstechnica.com/reviews/hardware/802-11n-router-roundup.ars/1
To my eye these results are rather worse than they should be, and I suspect that the chipsets+drivers are STILL doing a really crappy job of choosing the optimal coding for a given environment.

Nonetheless, the hardware vendors aren't going to get any better unless consumers become more educated, part of which means understanding what the n spec is good for. To summarize: the n spec means better S/N for a given power which can translate into much higher data rates, but which can also (if the chipset/driver people get their act together) translate into much better behavior at longer distances, through walls and floors.

Posted by: Maynard Handley on February 18, 2008 at 1:04 AM | PERMALINK

These folks who push Macs for long-time PC users seem to think it's easy and essentially cost-free to make the switch.

I have literally thousands of dollars in software and various hardware bits that ONLY work on PCs. Right now, I'm living in India at a small rural ashram -- and it's damned near nigh impossible to get Mac support out this way. Or products. Sure, there's a couple places in Bangalore now that have Mac stuff -- and it costs a fortune due to the import duties.

Out this way, one of the most common methods to get on the Internet is to use GPRS cell phone connections (at 15Rs a day on Airtel, it's quite affordable and decent for dial-up). Guess which machines are pretty much painless to set up and which are sometimes impossible? The PC is easy, especially if it has bluetooth. All the cell phones that have data cables come with PC drivers and software. The Mac users? They're SOL, unless maybe, just maybe a 'script' can be found that allows the Mac to talk to the phone.

A Mac here that lacks bluetooth? They're stuck, because none of the USB dongles available in the city come with Mac drivers. We've gotten Win98 machines up and running.

Getting a Mac does tend to solve some problems. If something works, it usually works without problems. If it doesn't work though, you're stuck and there's no solution. No driver. No 3rd party easy-to-install hardware. No open-source software to get around the issue. Nada.

Anyway, someone who thought he could fix his wireless networking issues for less than $100 does NOT need the patronizing advice of being told he should go out and spend $2-3k on a new machine, and then replace every bit of software and add-on hardware he's ever owned -- just to fix a network problem!

What our friend Kevin ought to do is take that router back to Best Buy and have a little chat with the manager, about telling salespeople not to push products at people which may be unusable. And get his money back.

BTW, here I'm running a Buffalo router with DD-WRT firmware and a small signal-boosting antenna. Works great for both the wireless and wired parts. No problems, and I can even boost the signal if necessary.

It is a mixed network. Two desktops, one VAIO laptop, and one MacBook Pro (with Parallels & WinXP in 2ndary partition). So it isn't as if I don't know anything about Macs.

Seriously -- I know I've PO'd the Mac-heads around here, but why is the solution to a $100 problem always the massively more expensive "buy a Mac" solution to you people?

BTW, a better solution would be to have two wireless access points, one upstairs and one down, with a single Ethernet cable running between them. It is very common in houses for the construction materials & wiring to interfere with wireless network signals. This can be done using a couple of rather inexpensive APs -- and I also think that N-tech is too new for that to be the only supported network protocol in a given config. I always set up my WANs to support 802.1b and g. And yes, I always pick a channel other than the AP default.

Posted by: Becca Morn on February 18, 2008 at 1:09 AM | PERMALINK

I'll take sides with the antenna people. I added a good antenna to my basestation and the performance throughout the house improved dramatically.

Posted by: JohnK on February 18, 2008 at 1:56 AM | PERMALINK

I couldn't solve this problem in an 18th century English row house, upstairs to downstairs.

Part of the problem was simply interference from neighbours: try changing the default channel of your wireless router. There are at least 6 Wifi networks on my street and everyone sits at the default Channel (13 from memory on Netgear).

Eventually I sprung for a Netgear xe104 wireline (homeplug) Ethernet port. You need 2 (but each has 4 ports). Probably about $100 each in the US. It was worth getting the slightly more expensive piece (ie the 104) because of the multiple ports at both ends.

The performance is excellent and we get about 45mbps performance, which is fine for anything except maybe IPTV or streaming games.

It was drop in, plug and play, with no hassles, but my Router is also Netgear-- this may have an impact. How often is computer hardware so easy to install?

Note there is a security hole: anyone between you and the transformer can in principle listen to your data traffic. However the encryption is pretty easy to set up.

It's certainly more secure than a WiFi, then.

Probably I would try this *after* I had bought a new antenna.

Posted by: Valuethinker on February 18, 2008 at 4:27 AM | PERMALINK

Maynard

Really enjoyed your posts and your technical knowledge.

Vt

Posted by: Valuethinker on February 18, 2008 at 4:29 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, set up your old router as a repeater, and place it upstairs where the signal strength is high enough, for instance near the staircase. This should do the trick.

Posted by: Gray on February 18, 2008 at 5:36 AM | PERMALINK

"I know you hate all of us mac geeks from saying get a Mac. But seriously? Get a mac."

This kind of nonsense advice, that has NOTHING to do with the problem at hand, is what gives mac geeks a bad reputation! Grrr.

Posted by: G on February 18, 2008 at 5:38 AM | PERMALINK

Get a mac and airport extreme.

Posted by: H on February 18, 2008 at 6:42 AM | PERMALINK

Additional vote for the antenna - in my family's apartment in New York, I ended up getting a fairly inexpensive antenna and an antenna extension cable, and found a good spot that covered pretty much the whole apartment.

Until my brother moved out, it was a mixed Mac/PC household, and the one machine that consistently had difficulties with the wireless connection was my brother's iBook G4. He could have been ten feet away from the antenna, and if I walked in between the iBook and the antenna, his connection would go bye-bye - a behavior trait shared by no other machine in the house.

And maybe I'm biased, but the tech-support answer of "get a Mac" seems to me to be the equivalent of me going to my mechanic to diagnose a problem with my old Dodge's A/C compressor, and my mechanic telling me that the fix is for me to buy a Mercedes.

Posted by: BruceK on February 18, 2008 at 7:04 AM | PERMALINK

BruceK

Mac enthusiasts on the 'net are like Ron Paul supporters. They move in swarms, and they have a single point solution to every problem.

It's a sort of autism-- whatever you say, you get a 'get a Mac' as an answer.

There is much to like about Macs (and some stuff to really hate) but ironically it is at least, or more, proprietary than the Microsoft-Windows-Intel paradigm. With as dictatorial and controlling a founder figure. (actually Gates is a bit of nice guy compared to Steve Jobs).

Linux is the true choice of the advocate of freedom, but it's a whole 'nother level of hassle and knowledge. I really like Ubuntu though and when I am god of the universe, all OS will be Linux.

Posted by: Valuethinker on February 18, 2008 at 7:33 AM | PERMALINK

Seriously -- I know I've PO'd the Mac-heads around here, but why is the solution to a $100 problem always the massively more expensive "buy a Mac" solution to you people?

Uh, I believe there is a long standing joke on this board by which long time commenters suggest Kevin get a Mac no matter what the computer related question. And then there are the mac fans and the linux fans and the irate PC fans that weigh in -- much to our amusement.

Personally I suggest a Rehm Modified Pringles Antenna. You should be able to do it for a few bucks.

http://www.turnpoint.net/wireless/has.html

Posted by: people on February 18, 2008 at 8:10 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with Q above - wireless basically sucks.

My daughter has a Mac Book Pro and her college campus is supposed to be blanketed with wireless, but she has given up on wireless and uses her ethernet connection exclusively.

I've tried wireless in our (rather small) house with lousy results. I finally went to Home Plug, which works fine but has never really caught on for some reason.

Posted by: Virginia on February 18, 2008 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

How old is your house? The guy who put in my security /wireless system said signals don't go through old houses with lathe-and-plaster walls as well as they do wallboard.

I know Kevin's problem was an incompatible network card, but here is one other tip.

In my parent's house, circa 1910 or so, the walls are lathe and plaster but the ceilings are even worse. The ceilings have a metal grid over the lathe so the plaster would stick better and this really clobbers the wifi signal. There are no easy solutions to this problem.

Posted by: Tripp on February 18, 2008 at 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

I'm the network administrator at a small college. I have to figure out how to get $60 wireless devices to cover all the dorms because we are poor. Its not easy but possible.

First placement is everything. You don't want them close to a computer, microwave, refrigerator, or any device that contains a lot of metal. They get blocked easily by such things. Many other 2.4 ghz devices like phones cause interference as well. You are better off if you use a phone in a higher range.

Try to keep the device higher up away from the ground and at least six inches from a wall or ceiling. The is important because the wave needs room to form properly before going out.

You should fool around with different placements and see if it helps.

If you have a room where you can get a consistent signal but not a strong one you can also use something like Linksys WAP54G as a wireless repeater. It can pick of the original signal and strengthen it. One of these properly placed can solve the whole problem.

Posted by: AhYup on February 18, 2008 at 10:15 AM | PERMALINK

Oh and one other placement issue. Water is also very bad for wireless signals. Things like fishtanks can block signals and they have a lot of trouble in room with high humidity.

Posted by: AhYup on February 18, 2008 at 10:28 AM | PERMALINK

I have just recently set up a Linksys WRT150N for testing purposes. I
returned it to Amazon because it couldn't maintain a reliable connection
- and needed to be "rebooted" at least once every 12 hours after the
router quit responding to anything other than a reset or power cycle.
Additionally, I read this weekend that Linksys is discontinuing the
WRT150N.


I am now testing a Linksys WRT300N (v1.1) and it drops connections every
now and again. So far no reboots though.

I am testing the pre-N routers to see if there is any range
enhancement. I haven't noticed any significant improvement. Also note
that you can't replace the antennas on the pre-N routers.

My current (production) router is a Buffalo WHR-HP-GP54 running OpenWrt
firmware. I gotta say that it is rock solid. Unfortunately, the router
is not currently available in this country at the moment (patent suit).

Of the available routers, I would go to the Linksys WRT54GL. This is
because I lean toward installing custom firmware and the other Linksys
routers' newer design can make this problematic.

That said, If you don't have a need to run a heterogeneous network (PC,
Linux, Mac) then I would stay with the stock firmware.

It might make a difference what channel the router is running on.
Although there are 11 channels, they overlap. Channels 1, 6, and 11 are
non-overlapping - Like the man said before, Look at what your neighbors
are using and choose something else.

Since things were working before and now they aren't, maybe someone got
a wireless router for Christmas and is stepping on you.

Just my thoughts...

John

Posted by: John on February 18, 2008 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

can't you use the old router as a repeater? and put it half way between our new router and the upstairs area of weakness. (not to pile on the whole get a mac thing but that is what i did when i got a new airport base station) plus apple just came out with this new airport base station with a hard drive built in to automaticly back up all your computers.

Posted by: joe on February 18, 2008 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

KEVIN, KEVIN . . . KEVIN ! ! !
Your eternal Windows problems are endlessly b o r i n g !

With every new release of a Mac OS, the ease of liberation from the dreary shackles of Microsoft becomes smoother, and now, w/Leopard OSX 10.5, even dyed-in-the-wool prisoners of Redmond can make the transition painlessly.

The fact that people who essentially work on their own -- that is, not chained to some corporate network with a bunch of tight-assed network administrators and other pea-brained IT types who know perfectly well that three quarter's of the justification for their existence would evaporate on a Unix or Mac based network -- and I mean people like you, who stubbornly continue to flay themselves with all the pointless headaches and hassles, yet cling to the empty agony of struggling to make their Windows machines function, shows a disturbing pathology better shared with your therapist than your readers.

So, Kevin, since you appear to get a perverse thrill out these masochistic onanisms, kindly have the decency to keep them to yourself. Those of us who chose not to squander our time in such doomed and absurd pursuits would be ever so happy not to hear about your self-inflicted woes.

Posted by: teknozen on February 18, 2008 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK
He instantly told me not to screw around with special antennas or anything like that, but to dive in and replace my old G router with a shiny new N router. And luckily for me, they had the Linksys WRT150N on sale for a mere $89.

Surprise, surprise; coincidentally, just what you needed happened to be on sale. Or, rather, the salesman decided to push you the item they are trying to get rid of, whether or not it addressed your needs.

For the most part, the people working in electronics retail don't know, and even if they do don't particularly care, how to meet your needs; you'll occasionally find a passionate enthusiast who both knows and cares, but they are rather exceptional.

You might want to look at getting a router (or third-party firmware for one of your existing routers) that lets you use one as a repeater. You may also want to look into moving your router.

If it seems like there is something between your downstairs and upstairs blocking signal, you could also use two different routers (on non-overlapping channels) upstairs and downstairs, running a wired connection from one to the other.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 18, 2008 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

Get a repeater.

http://www.wi-fiplanet.com/tutorials/article.php/1571601

Posted by: Rob Levine on February 18, 2008 at 12:20 PM | PERMALINK

I have had the Linksys box, it died after about 9 months and has joined the box of dead wifi routers. No matter which brand you buy all the cheapo devices are built by the same group of cheapo manufacturers with rubbish components.

So I gave in and bought an airport extreme. Coverage is great, setup was a breeze and it looks a lot better put together. So far have only had it for a couple of months so I can't give figures for reliability but it looks good so far.

Whether you use WPA or WPA2 is not so much of an issue security wise but using them as opposed to WEP is a big issue. But the chief practical benefit is that WPA is much easier to set up.

Posted by: PHB on February 18, 2008 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

Unless your wifi card is also N compatible you will see no benefit. Most routers will either be sending or receiving, but not at the same time. An N router can send and receive simultaneously. Same with your wifi cards. The salesman was wrong, you need a better antennae. Or if your router is downstairs you need to move your router or its antennae towards the ceiling, upstairs move it towards the floor. Also changing the facing of the router can help as well, as the signal from your antennae actually looks like a figure eight with the crossing point of the eight at your antennae.

Posted by: Radix on February 18, 2008 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

There's Linksys, and there's Linksys. Older Linksys routers, and the WRT54GL, run Linux-based router software. The newer routers run Something Else. The Linux version is better. You may not want a Linux desktop, but you absolutely want a Linux router. My old (v2.2, I think) router is rock-solid; newer routers, whether installed at my parents' house, or one that I tried for a while, mysteriously lock up. The old one is on a UPS; for all I know it has been running continuously for the last year.

Another thing to consider is who you get your domain-name service from (this has nothing to do with your current problem, but it will improve you internet experience). OpenDNS has worked well for me for the last year (or so), and I recently got myself an actual (free) account so I could turn on porn-blocking -- it's free, they offer a decent number of knobs, they block phishing sites by default, and they also do a proper job of allowing me to block entire domains. You might want to mention this last bit to your advertisers -- if they put too much visual or CPU-hogging junk on my computer, I'll block them, permanently, everywhere.

And, don't forget ... get a Mac.

Posted by: dr2chase on February 18, 2008 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

look into channel overlap (below),your real choices might be: 1, 6, or 11. and do check for any 2.4ghz portable phones even if you're sure only the 5.x ghz are in use.

at my house, others began using a 2.4ghx set unknown to me, and it took me a good long while to figure why the wireless was bouncing

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IEEE_802.11

Since the spectral mask only defines power output restrictions up to ± 22 MHz from the center frequency to be attenuated by 50 dB, it is often assumed that the energy of the channel extends no further than these limits. It is more correct to say that, given the separation between channels 1, 6, and 11, the signal on any channel should be sufficiently attenuated to minimally interfere with a transmitter on any other channel. Due to the near-far problem a transmitter can impact a receiver on a "non-overlapping" channel, but only if it is close to the victim receiver (within a meter) or operating above allowed power levels.

Although the statement that channels 1, 6, and 11 are "non-overlapping" is limited to spacing or product density, the 1–6–11 guideline has merit.

If transmitters are closer together than channels 1, 6, and 11 (for example, 1, 4, 7, and 10), overlap between the channels may cause unacceptable degradation of signal quality and throughput.[5]

Posted by: JoeBloggs on February 18, 2008 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

My limited experience with WiFi was not a happy one, so I went with Home Plug, which works terrifically. No WEP problems, no signal dropout.

You can get two Home Plugs for about the same price.

If you insist on WiFi, make sure that your wireless adaptor is not plugged into a USB hub, but instead plugged into the PC directly.

Posted by: bebimbob on February 18, 2008 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

I don't have time to clear up all the misconceptions in this comment thread. So, I'll be quick (and if Kevin want's to reverse-lookup my IP address, he'll see where I'm posting this from).

p1. You bought the cheap draft-802.11n router. It doesn't have enough antennas, so the MIMO technology isn't helping extend your range enough. You should have bought one of the more expensive ones, with more antennas. Then you'd get the range that makes draft-802.11n worthwhile when all you're existing devices are still 802.11g-only, i.e. you can't use 5 GHz, 40 MHz wide channels, blahblahblah.

p2. You should run an open network. Don't believe me? Bruce Schneier explains why. If you must run a closed network, go ahead and run WPA2 if it works for you. I wouldn't stress on it, though— unless you run WPA2 Enterprise (and a RADIUS server, andandand), or you pick a godawful 36-random letter passphrase that nobody can remember, you might as well just run WEP. It's like a bicycle lock. You want one that's hard enough to crack that thieves will pick someone else's to break.

p3. Electricians need work. Hire one to run CAT-5 cable around your house and gigabit ethernet in every room. It costs less than you might think. You will be MUCH happier.

p4. Apple wireless base stations are easier to configure and manage than others, mainly because the AirPort Utility is a full-blown application program. You don't have to bother with the cheap-ass clunky web server in the firmware. They also have 3x2 MIMO radios in them. Now, you know why they cost more than that cheap Linksys box you bought.

Posted by: j h woodyatt on February 18, 2008 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

"Guess I should have gotten the super-duper antenna after all."

No, and you know what you should have gotten, but I'm not going to say it.

Posted by: John H. Farr on February 18, 2008 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

I have a very old Linksys wireless G router, one of the first that they made. For quite a while, I was plagued by very weak signal strength on the top floor of my home as well as frequent disconnections when I did manage to get a usable signal. While doing a little troubleshooting one day, I enabled SSID broadcasting and found that my upstairs signal strength was miraculously improved. My connection stability also improved significantly. I had originally disabled SSID broadcasting as a security precaution, but this somehow gave my laptop wireless card fits. If you have done the same, perhaps re-enabling this might help. Or perhaps not.

Posted by: Dave on February 18, 2008 at 4:16 PM | PERMALINK

I have the draft N Belkin router serving up flawless WiFi in my 110 year old townhouse. A townhouse in a very urban area blocks away from downtown. I get Excellent connectivity with laptops up in my third floor (where my bedroom is) all the way to the patio outside. Just love it and it has been a lifesaver sine I've been stuck in my bedroom for two weeks recovering from surgery.

Posted by: cassandra m on February 18, 2008 at 6:10 PM | PERMALINK

Much of the wireless bandwidth is being sucked up into that secret AT&T shunt room in San Francisco.

Posted by: Where's Sally? on February 18, 2008 at 6:28 PM | PERMALINK

Buy a Mac, and wait for the fucking rainbows to break out.

Posted by: thersites on February 18, 2008 at 6:55 PM | PERMALINK

The Airport discussion forums over at apple.com seem to be quite busy, and most of the posts are about problems people are having. (Yes, people with Macs).

Some random post subject lines dated Feb 18th from just one of the forums
:
- Airport Extreme (802.11n) - Connection drops (no auto-reset)
- Internet is slow with MacBook and Airport Extreme.
- NO SIGNAL
- Airport Extreme and T-Mobile HotSpot @ Home problems
- i cant see my files on my hard drive
- Airport Extreme USB Disk Connection Issues
- Airport Extreme garbage
- Slow Download on new iMac Fast on old Ti Book
- Airport Extreme Base Station (Oct 07 model) and VPN issues

At least, if you have a PC, there is always a solution available (get a Mac). What can these poor souls get?

Posted by: JS on February 18, 2008 at 6:59 PM | PERMALINK

Forget the super duper antenna.
Forget a Mac, even.
You really should have gone out and bought a one-story house.

Posted by: ConorC. on February 18, 2008 at 7:02 PM | PERMALINK

JS at 6:59, you're cheating!

Next you'll be telling us that the MAC OS wasn't created in 6 days, that it evolved! How crazy is that?

Posted by: thersites on February 18, 2008 at 7:20 PM | PERMALINK

Thersites, you blasphemous prole. Everyone knows that all versions of MacOS spring fully-formed from the head of Jobs.

Posted by: JS on February 18, 2008 at 7:51 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know if this has been covered or not, but the first thing that struck me was that it was an *upstairs* room that was having the problems. These wireless routers (radios) operate on a plane orthogonal (at right angle to) the axis of the antenna. If the antennae are straight up and down, and your upstairs office is above (rather than on the other side of the house), you will get poor performance. If you have a multi-antennae router, adjust one antenna so that it is 90 degrees to the direction of the office.

Good luck,

Posted by: Karl T. Braun on February 18, 2008 at 8:30 PM | PERMALINK

You forgot to point out that this is all Obama's fault!

Posted by: Cheslea's Pimp on February 18, 2008 at 9:59 PM | PERMALINK

"Thersites, you blasphemous prole. Everyone knows that all versions of MacOS spring fully-formed from the head of Jobs."

Jobs was only responsible for OS 1,2,9, and X.

You can download the System 6 OX and get it to run in emulation on macs and PCs. Fits on a small thumb drive. Just google "System 6 Heaven" This will allow you to complete almost all of your workload in the garden of eden that was Jobs 1980's design team (post Jobs). System 7 really represents our expulsion from the head of Jobs and the rise of John Sculley.

Posted by: people on February 18, 2008 at 9:59 PM | PERMALINK

take the linksys back.

go to Newegg.

order a BUFFALO router - mine sends strong signals everywhere upstairs, and out on the patio, from a concrete-block basement lair.

the devices have great distance.

and the company tech support will actually talk to you if you need help - but you probably won't.

Posted by: orionATL on February 19, 2008 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

Someone may have mentioned this already; return the new router and attach an empty pop can to the antenna of your old router. As seen on instructables.com. Takes about 5 minutes.

Posted by: israel on February 19, 2008 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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