Monday, May 25, 2009

Tech advice needed, please!

Would the more wireless-network-savvy among my readers be able to help me?

I'm going to be visiting a few places where wireless internet access is available, but the signal strength is very weak - so much so that it can't be accessed from certain locations within the building. I'm told that there are devices available that can boost the signal strength, such as the Linksys Wireless-G Range Expander, but I'm under the impression that these must be used on the server side, and aren't of use to an end-user trying to improve the signal he receives.

Can anyone advise me whether such a device is worth buying as an end-user? If I plug it into my own laptop, will it improve the signal I receive? If not, is there any other device I can plug into my laptop that will boost the wireless signal, and enable me to maintain connectivity when I'm in areas with a weak signal? I'm using the built-in wireless aerial and connectivity, of course. If I need to disable that and use an external system, please give details of what's required.

Thanks in advance for your help.



Carteach said...

Given that situation, I would get a PMCIA wireless card and a remote high gain antenna to plug into it. Might take some searching to find the animals in question, but I suspect NewEgg might have them in stock.

Jim March said...

It's often possible to upgrade the internal modem inside the laptop, esp. when going from a "G" spec card to an "N" class.

List your make/model of laptop and I'll get you some feedback based on what internal "slot type" you have for your WiFi card. If you're lucky it'll be a mini-pci-e type and NOT an IBM or Lenovo (as those tend to choke if you swap cards).

I'll also be able to give you installation instructions.

Trust me: without going to an external WiFi card, external booster antenna and all the hassles that can entail, upgrading to an "N" series WiFi device internally offers a huge boost.

Oh yeah: you can also ID the WiFi device you have now. Assuming you're running Windows, open up the control panel, open up "System" (click on "classic view" in the upper left if you don't see it yet), find the "device manager" item inside of "system" (under "hardware"). This shows all the various parts you have. Open up the "network" section and post what you find in there. That'll help a lot, along with make/model.

Unless you have a fairly high end laptop, it probably shipped with a "G" class WiFi device. The device manager entries will tell the tale for sure. Odds are vastly in favor of it being able to take an "N" class, likely for about $50 or so.

Jim March said...

Also: while it's possible to run a stronger "N" WiFi device in a slot, we don't yet know if he has PCMCIA or the newer ExpressCard slot. Make/model of laptop will tell that tale. Those are usually more expensive than a new internal card, and the plug-in types are more annoying. You have a bit that sticks out and it's possible to ding it, and a LOT of folks in a hurry pack the laptop in it's bag with the card poking out the side - HUGE mistake as a hit to the card can destroy the laptop's motherboard.

Peter said...

Thanks for the input, Jim. Would you please shoot me an e-mail? (My address is in my blog profile.) I can then send you the specs without clogging up the blog with technical bits and pieces.

Carteach0, I've looked at Newegg, and there are a few things that seem interesting. I'll wait to hear from Jim, and figure out an optimum solution.

Anonymous said...

Fairly cheap ($150) and *very* easy fix is to buy an RV antenna that plugs into your USB port. I've got one that allows me access to my home network from the barn 500 feet away. I take it on vacation and it typically allows me to choose from any one of several unsecured networks. You need no geekiness whatsoever to install or use one and they can provide access to networks up to a *mile* away.

Unknown said...

I second high-gain antenna solution. There is a big chance that 802.11n card in laptop is not going to help. While 802.11n access point can provide better signal for regular 802.11a/b/g clients, it comes from MIMO (multiple input/multiple output) technology which requires multiple antennas. Unless your laptop was designed for 802.11n, it only has single internal antenna.

PCMCIA/PC card with connector for external antenna + antenna on the other hand should work. Patch antenna might be a best option - higher gain than omni and more compact than yagi.