Do you regularly lose connectivity to your home Wi-Fi network? Is your network speed so slow that it takes forever to copy a simple picture or music file, let alone stream video? In this two-part series, we’ll cover the best tips for boosting wireless (WLAN) throughput across your home network. Ready? Let’s dive in!
1. Figure out the best possible router position
Have you wondered why your wireless signal is strong in some rooms and incredibly weak in others? It’s not only a matter of the distance between your wireless router and your PC or laptop, but also a matter of what objects (like walls, doors, furniture, and electrical equipment as well as outlets) interfere with a good signal. In many cases, you will be able to significantly boost Wi-Fi strength just by slightly repositioning either your router or the connected PC.
The trial-and-error method will work for you eventually, but it’s really a waste of time. To get the best possible router position, you should create a visualization of network coverage across your home—and Heatmapper will do just that.
Click here to download Heatmapper (100 MB). Note: You have to register to download this free tool.
After installing Heatmapper, the program will ask if you have a map of your floor plan—don’t worry; if you don’t have one, you can create a grid-based heatmap. To do this, simply walk around your house and carry a laptop that’s running Heatmapper. As you slowly move through every area you can, use the left-click button as frequently as possible. When you’re done, just right-click! Heatmapper will then create a map of your home and show you where the Wi-Fi signal is stronger or weaker. This is what my home looked like after using the program.
The green area in the middle is the center of my apartment—and a good location for the router! However, in the bedroom (pictured toward the upper part of the screen), wireless strength is only so-so because the router is blocked by three walls. By looking at the heatmap, I quickly knew where to position the router in order to get the best Wi-Fi signal!
One quick, general tip: Don’t put the router directly on the floor or next to thick walls. The best position for it is in the center of your home where no objects or just a couple are blocking the signal.
2. Use the latest drivers and firmware
It’s rare to find firmware for a router or a driver for a network adapter that works perfectly right out of the gate. The first versions of network equipment I’ve used often came with a variety of problems like slow connections, dropouts, missing features, and other quirks. So, when I get a new network device, I immediately look for updates.
For example, when I bought my Linksys WUSB600N adapter, it didn’t work at all with my Windows 7 64-bit system. I actually couldn’t use it for a couple of weeks until the manufacturer delivered an updated driver that worked with the x64 architecture.
Upgrading the firmware of your router has become somewhat easy over the past couple of years. To do this, simply open up the firmware configuration page in your browser (as pictured below) and find the “Firmware Upgrade” page.
You’ll then find direct links to the most important Wi-Fi device makers, including Broadcomm, Atheros, Intel, Ralink, and Realtek. (These hyperlinks will lead you directly to the most current Wi-Fi drivers available.) Can’t seem to find your wireless adapter in this list? Did you have trouble while searching? Hit the comment section below, and provide us with the detailed specs of the Wi-Fi adapter as shown in your device manager.
3. Upgrade your Wi-Fi hardware
If you’re using the 802.11g (or even b/a) wireless standard, more bandwidth-related tasks, such as streaming video and launching remote applications or file copy operations, will be painfully slow. All three network standards provide a relatively low maximum bandwidth.
As you can see, 802.11n is the way to go these days; within the last three to four years, it replaced the older 802.11a/b/g networks, and offers improved speed, coverage, and reliability. In general, 802.11n is at least twice as fast as its predecessor, g, and promises speeds of up to 300 MBps. Some routers offer technologies that use two connections at the same time, thus boosting speeds up to 600 MBps.
If you’re suffering from low network bandwidth, pick a router and Wi-Fi adapters that support the latest 802.11n specifications. If you bought a PC or laptop within the last couple of years, it’ll likely have an 802.11n wireless adapter. To check, simply fire up Device Manager.
Or you can take a look at your hardware specification sheet.
If your adapter does not support 802.11n but your router does, it’ll obviously use the lower g, b, or even a modes, and vice versa. So make sure that all of your wireless parts are n-compatible.
When shopping for a new network adapter or a router that supports 802.11n, you should take the following into consideration.
- Pick a dedicated USB adapter. Even if your laptop or desktop PC has a built-in 802.11n adapter that’s connected to a full-fledged 802.11n router, you might want to look into getting a dedicated, external USB wireless adapter. It may sound ridiculous, but in my experience, many external Wi-Fi adapters perform better than built-in devices. When I first got my Linksys WRT610N router, I got quite mixed results and only an average of 100–170 Mbps; the theoretical limit is around 300 Mbps. So I ordered the adapter that, according to the manufacturer, “worked best with” my router—and what a difference that made! The signal strength did not change, but the speed went up significantly. Here’s a screenshot of my laptop that’s using both the built-in Wi-Fi chip as well as the external USB adapter to connect to the router.The maximum speed meter went up from 130 Mbps to the peak value of 300 Mbps. And with only this little addition I was able to stream full-definition 1080p video across my apartment with no stuttering or delay whatsoever.
- Stay in the family. Besides using external dedicated Wi-Fi devices, I’d also recommend picking a router and adapter from the same company. Now, that doesn’t mean that a Linksys router wouldn’t work with a Broadcom or a D-Link network adapter, but it’s also my experience that you get the best possible performance if you stay with the same manufacturer.
- Use an external antenna for your router. You can significantly boost your Wi-Fi connection by replacing the antenna or adding another external antenna. This guide as well as this one will help you figure things out.
4. Change the Wi-Fi channel
All modern routers are capable of communicating to your PC or laptop on several different channels. However, if your neighbors’ Wi-Fi equipment is communicating on the same channel, your network speeds and reliability might suffer. Windows offers a built-in solution that lets you see on what channels all of your surrounding Wi-Fi networks communicate. This is how it works.
- Step 1 – Launch the command line. To do that, click on the Start orb, go to “All Programs\Accessories”, and click on “Command Prompt”.
- Step 2 – Type in the following command: netsh wlan show all.
- Step 3 – You’ll see a long list of all of the wireless networks in your area. For example, I was able to see seven networks.
Scroll through the list, and keep an eye out for the entry that says “Channel”. Out of those seven networks, four were using “Channel 6″ to send data, two were using “Channel 5″, and one was using “Channel 13″. Thus, I should probably choose either a lower channel or one between six and 13.
Try changing the channel on the router’s configuration page. To open the page, you’ll usually enter its IP address into your browser, but check the manual to see which address you need to type in (for example, http://192.168.1.1). Enter the user name and password you specified upon setup or the default credentials if you never specified it (which is potentially dangerous).
Find your wireless channel settings. On my router, that’s under the “Wireless” tab right in the “Basic Wireless Settings” category.
Pick the channel that’s not (or barely) used in your area. Then, reconnect all of your devices and see if you’ve got better speed and/or if you’re reliability issues are fixed!
That was Part 1—stay tuned for Part 2, which will offer even more tricks to improve your wireless network speed!
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- Boost That Signal Strength! How To Improve Your Wi-Fi Network (Part 2) » TuneUp Blog about Windows
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