How to Improve Your Wi-Fi Network's Performance

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How can I extend the range of my home Wi-Fi network?

First, make sure you are getting the most out of your current Wi-Fi router: Mount it in a central location in your house, preferably high on a wall; make sure that other 2.4-GHz devices such as cordless phones, baby monitors, wireless audio speakers, Bluetooth gadgets, and microwave ovens are not causing interference; and separate your router from your neighbors' router on the Wi-Fi spectrum. If they are using channel 1, for example, try channel 12 to minimize the chance of cross-channel interference.

If you still get a poor signal, consider upgrading to a router that incorporates MIMO (multiple-input, multiple-output) or draft-n technology. (See our latest review of these devices, "Wireless Routers: The Truth About Superfast Draft-N"). These routers not only provide far greater range than standard 802.11b/g routers, but they also boost speed by as much as ten times.

Finally, if you have particular Wi-Fi trouble spots in your house, such as odd corners, a basement, or an attic, power-line networking can be a great way to serve those areas. With power-line devices, you simply plug one adapter into a wall outlet and run an ethernet cord to your router; then you plug another adapter into an outlet near the device you want to connect to the network and run an ethernet cord to that device. You'll need reasonably clean power--free from excessive interference from other electrical devices--but the newest technologies, such as HomePlug AV and HD-PLC, work very well.

What's 802.11n? Do I need to upgrade my router?

Wi-Fi standards are continually evolving as technology advances. The first Wi-Fi routers were 802.11b, with a maximum of 11-megabits-per-second throughput. Next, 802.11g increased that to 54 mbps. Now, MIMO and draft-802.11n routers have pushed the wireless frontier to 280 mbps and beyond, rivaling wired ethernet. This year, the Wi-Fi Alliance will start certifying draft-802.11n routers. If you are in the market for a new router, definitely buy one of these models.

But if your old router provides satisfactory performance throughout your house, you needn't upgrade immediately. Your current equipment will operate just fine with 802.11n devices as they begin to appear. Wait to upgrade until you really need the added performance for bandwidth-intensive applications such as streaming video. Prices will only go down in the meantime.

How do I share a printer or game console over a Wi-Fi network?

For between $50 and $100, you can buy an adapter that will convert any device that has a wired ethernet port into a Wi-Fi-capable one. These Wi-Fi-to-ethernet bridges are available from companies like D-Link and Netgear, and are usually marketed as "wireless game adapters" for PlayStations, GameCubes, and Xboxes. But they work equally well with ethernet printers and network security cameras.

Often the adapters work right out of the box if your Wi-Fi net is configured to use DHCP, which enables dynamic IP addressing. If it's not, you can set up an adapter by connecting it to your PC and then assigning an IP address. Note that with some older game consoles, you must attach a networking adapter that equips them with an ethernet port before you can add the bridge. The Xbox 360 has a USB port, for which Microsoft sells a Wi-Fi adapter.

For printers without ethernet ports, you can buy a wireless print server, also available from companies like Belkin, D-Link, and Linksys. Be sure to choose a print server with ports (USB and/or parallel) that match your printers. Note, however, that multifunction devices usually lose all but their printing functions when networked this way.

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