35 Easy Fixes for Network Problems
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If your Wi-Fi downloads take forever, network backups bog you down, or your Slingbox won't sling, give these tips a try.
Use wires whenever possible: A wired network (ideally one based on wired ethernet) is inherently more reliable and usually much faster than the open airwaves. There's generally no reason for you to locate a network storage drive at a distance from your router, so instead plug it in to an available ethernet port. The same goes for a network printer.
Get gigabit: Most recent PCs have built-in gigabit ethernet, which means that they can transfer data at a whopping 1000 mbps--but only if your router also possesses a gigabit switch. For network backups, the extra throughput can mean the difference between an all-night operation, and one that completes itself in a fairly short amount of time. Wi-Fi gigabit routers run about $150.
Buy matching Wi-Fi gear: To achieve the top speeds promised by the latest Wi-Fi standard, draft-802.11n, every wireless device on your network must have a draft-n adapter (price: about $100 each). Be sure to update the firmware on any draft-802.11n devices regularly, as vendors are now bringing the first products into compliance with the second draft of the standard, and this should help with interoperability.
Change the channel: The biggest obstacle to good Wi-Fi reception is no longer distance (since most MIMO and draft-n routers provide whole-house coverage), but interference resulting from nearby networks: In any urban area, you'll probably see a long list of available networks. And because the 2.4-GHz band that 802.11b, g, and most new n gear operates within has only three nonoverlapping channels, networks neighboring yours are likely to degrade your throughput. In fact, the latest 802.11n draft effectively mandates a 50 percent reduction in performance when your network is in the presence of other active Wi-Fi networks.
To minimize interference, install and run a utility such as the free NetStumbler to determine the signal strength and channel of each available network; then set your router to the channel that is farthest from those of the strongest nearby networks. (A router's automatic channel selection feature does this for you.)
In addition, you might consider getting a dual-band draft-n router, such as the Buffalo Nfiniti Dual Band Router ($299), which supports draft-n traffic on both 2.4-GHz and 5-GHz bands. This lets you keep older 802.11b/g devices on the relatively crowded 2.4-GHz band, while using the uncluttered 5-GHz band (consisting of some 20 non-overlapping channels) for your high-bandwidth apps such as video streaming, as new 5-GHz draft-n products arrive.