New Computer, Wireless Connection Gone Awry

By Ronald Pacchiano | Posted October 22, 2004

I just purchased a new Dell Inspiron 9100 laptop computer. The system is top of the line with Windows XP Professional, an ultra high-resolution LCD display (1900 x 1200), 1GB of memory, 80GB HD, 3.2GHz processor and an integrated wireless LAN adapter. I absolutely love this system, and it is without a doubt the best PC I have ever owned.

However, nothing is perfect. For some strange reason my wireless connection drops off every few minutes. I don't understand what could be causing the problem, but it is very annoying. First it's up, then it's down, then it's up. I can't stand it anymore. I tried talking to Dell's tech support, but that has proven to be useless.

I was hoping that you might be able to help me. Do you have any idea what might be causing my wireless signal to fluctuate so dramatically? My last notebook, a Sony Viao with a D-Link wireless adapter, never exhibited this type of behavior. Also, I'm curious to know what other variables might limit the range of my wireless network. Even with my Viao, I felt like the range on it was nowhere near the advertised distance. Thanks for your help.

Congratulations on the 9100. That's a great system. However, I understand what you mean regarding Dell's tech support these days. It's definitely not up to its past standards.

In any case, I think I have a suggestion for you that should clear up your problem. I've seen this condition before, and it's actually a pretty easy fix. Usually this behavior occurs when your connection is configured to use 802.1x Authentication, but your current hardware does not support it. To correct this situation all you need to do is disable this authentication process. To disable it just follow these steps:

  1. Click Start, select the Control Panel and double-click the Network Connections icon.
  2. The Network Connections screen will appear. Right-click the Wireless Network Connection and select Properties.
  3. On the Wireless Network Properties page, you'll see three tabs. Select the one that says Wireless Networks.
  4. Select your network connection from the list of available networks and press the configure button.
  5. Now click the Authentication tab.
  6. The Authentication screen will open. Remove the check mark in Enable IEEE 802.1x authentication for this network
  7. Click OK to close the window and close all other open windows. Reboot your computer.

Your wireless network should now be able to maintain a signal to your wireless network without interruption. If, however, you're still experiencing the same problem after restarting the computer, then check out this article from the Microsoft Knowledge Base. It goes over these symptoms in more detail and might be able to help you get around the problem. I've had this problem in the past, and this solution has always worked for me.

In regard to the second part of your question about what variables could affect the range of your wireless network, the answer is lots of things. You need to always keep in mind that the number of walls, ceilings or other objects that the wireless signals must pass through limits the range. Typical ranges vary depending on the types of materials and background RF noise in your home or business. The key to maximizing range is to follow these basic principles:

  • Minimize the number of walls and ceilings the signal must pass through — Each wall or ceiling can reduce the range of your wireless devices. For optimal results you should position your access points, routers and computers so that the number of walls or ceilings between them is minimized.
  • Building materials do matter — A solid metal door or aluminum studs may have a negative effect on range. Try to position access points, routers and computers so that the signal passes through drywall or open doorways and not other materials.
  • Make sure that the antenna is positioned for best reception by using the software signal strength tools included with your product. Increasing the height of the router or access point is also helpful.
  • Keep your product away (at least 3-6 feet) from other electrical devices that generate RF noise, like microwaves, Monitors, electric motors, UPS units, etc.
  • If you are using 2.4GHz cordless phones or X-10 (wireless products such as ceiling fans, lights, and home security systems), your wireless connection will degrade dramatically or drop completely. Anything using the 2.4GHz frequency will interfere with your wireless network.

For the average home, range should not be a problem. However, if you do experience low-or-no signal strength in areas of your home, consider adding a repeater to your network. Position it directly between your computer and your wireless router.

Initially, a wireless signal is very strong, but the longer it travels, the weaker it becomes until the signal has degraded beyond use. This is known has attenuation. The repeater works by picking up the weakened wireless transmission and regenerating it. Once regenerated, the signal is rebroadcast. This process effectively doubles the range of your wireless network.

Adapted from PracticallyNetworked.com, part of the EarthWeb.com Network.

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