How to Improve Your Laptop's Wi-Fi Reception

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When using a laptop with public wireless hotspots, a strong Wi-Fi radio signal is necessary to ensure reliable connectivity and good connection speed. Laptops with limited signal range are likely to suffer from slow or dropped connections.

There are several factors that might contribute to poor signal range in a laptop. For example, since newer laptops contain built-in wireless network adapters in the form of integrated circuit chips, you might find that they don't work as well as external network adapters like PCMCIA cards or USB adapters.

Note: There are several tools that can measure your Wi-Fi signal strength if you're not sure how to do that.

How to Increase a Laptop's Wi-Fi Range

Consider these options for improving the Wi-Fi signal range of a laptop.

Use an External Wi-Fi Antenna

This isn't always an option, but for it to be feasible requires the laptop to support add-on antennas. Wireless antennas have a special jack similar in appearance to a headphone or microphone jack. Sometimes these are called "SMA jacks."

Consult the laptop product documentation for details.

Use a Wireless USB Adapter

These are just regular USB devices that either has a visible antenna attached to them (making them look similar to an external antenna) or one that is built-in to the device, making the whole adapter look like a large flash drive.

USB Wi-Fi adapters are easy to install because they can be used on any open USB port. Some may have a short cable that attaches to the computer so that the adapter can site elsewhere nearby, but others just plug into the port and stay right there, sticking out of the laptop.

If the adapter includes an external antenna that's movable, it can be adjusted to improve signal range.

Check the Transmission Power Settings

The transmission power can be adjusted on some network adapters. If available, this setting can be changed through the adapter's driver interface program, along with other settings, like the wireless profiles and Wi-Fi channel number.

The transmission power should be set to "maximum" or "100%" to ensure the strongest signal possible. Note that if a laptop is being run in a power saving mode, this setting may automatically be lowered and decrease the adapter's range and signal strength.

Other Wi-Fi Speed Factors

A connection problem with a laptop doesn't immediately mean that the problem rests with the signal strength. There are multiple things going on when you connect a device to Wi-Fi.

You might have too many devices connected to the router at once, you might not be paying for a fast enough internet speed, your bandwidth might be hogged by other devices, the DNS server could be corrupted or slow, or the Wi-Fi channel might be causing interference.