How to Improve Your Laptop's Wi-Fi Reception

Take steps to improve the range and speed of your Wi-Fi connection

Wherever you use a laptop computer, a strong Wi-Fi 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.

Modern laptops have a built-in wireless network adapter. Older laptops require an external network adapter such as a PCMCIA card or USB adapter. Either way, you can take steps to improve the range of your laptop and the speed of your connection if you're having problems with your Wi-Fi connection.

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Environmental Factors That Affect Wi-Fi Range

Several environmental factors can cause a weak Wi-Fi signal. If you're in a home network environment, there's a lot you can do about these common culprits.

Router Distance

Your laptop can get a Wi-Fi signal within a limited distance from the router, and the closer you are, the better the signal.

Move your laptop closer to the wireless router to combat this problem. There are many ways to test the speed of the laptop connection at various areas around your house or office to see where you need to be for a good signal.

If moving closer to the router isn't possible, maybe because your home office is too far from it, consider moving the router closer to you. If you do that, be sure the router isn't on or near the floor because that can make the signal even worse.

Weak Signal

If you can't reposition the router to a central location or move the laptop closer to the router, add a Wi-Fi repeater. These devices are plugged into a power outlet somewhere between your laptop and the router and are built to repeat the Wi-Fi signal, effectively expanding the Wi-Fi range further through your house.

A similar option that can help extend Wi-Fi through your house is to buy a wireless mesh system. A mesh network consists of more than one router that blankets multiple rooms with Wi-Fi.

See how mesh networks differ from range extenders if you're not sure which to go with.

Yet another solution for a weak Wi-Fi signal that's helpful if moving the router isn't an option, is to invest in a long-range router. These types of routers usually have several antennas that help push the signal further than a traditional router.

Obstructing Objects

Take note of any metal structures or large appliances between your laptop and the router. These can obstruct the signal.

Relocate your laptop or desk to avoid these signal killers.

Other Wireless Devices

To obtain the strongest possible Wi-Fi signal, limit the number of devices that access the Wi-Fi connection simultaneously. With the popularity of streaming movies, tablets, mobile phones, and smart devices, your laptop isn't the only equipment attempting to use the Wi-Fi connection.

As more and more devices go online behind a single router, the limited bandwidth capacity of the network has to be split between each device, essentially slowing everything down.

Update Your Equipment and Software

The strength of a Wi-Fi signal and its range are also dependent on the router, its drivers and firmware, and the software on your laptop.

Use a Newer Wi-Fi Standard

Replace your router when technology standards change. For example, 802.11ac routers are much faster than earlier standards like 802.11n and 802.11g. They can also connect to multiple devices at the same time instead of switching between devices.

The same is true for external network adapters used in older laptops. Even if the network adapter itself isn't physically broken from prolonged use, it's probably using an old wireless standard or outdated antenna technology. Look at the newer alternatives.

Update the Laptop Software

Keep the software on your laptop updated. Network drivers, for example, affect how your laptop connects to the network. Old drivers can reduce the range and speed of your connection.

Update the Router Software

Updating the router's software when possible is also important. Routers use firmware to stay current, so check the router manufacturer's website to see if there's an update for your router that includes enhancements or new features that could boost the laptop's Wi-Fi range.

Use an External Wi-Fi Adapter

If you have an older laptop with a malfunctioning network adapter, or even if your laptop's Wi-Fi is working file, an external adapter that plugs in via USB can often improve the range of your laptop.

External network adapters sometimes have antennas that can reach the router much easier than the internal network card.

Avoid Frequency Interference

Older routers run on the same frequency as many home electronic devices. A microwave oven, cordless phone, or garage door opener that runs on the 2.4 GHz frequency can interfere with a Wi-Fi router signal at that same frequency. Modern routers have moved to the 5 GHz frequency precisely to avoid home electronic interference.

If your router functions only at the 2.4 GHz frequency, change the channel your router operates on to see if that helps the range. Available Wi-Fi channels are 1–11, but your router may only use two or three of those. Check your router documentation or the manufacturer's website to see which channels are recommended for use with your router.

Check the Transmission Power Settings

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

The transmission power should be set to the maximum of 100 percent to ensure the strongest signal possible.

If a laptop is running in a power-saving mode, this setting might be lowered automatically, which decreases the adapter's range and signal strength.

Speed Could Be a Factor

A network with really slow speeds can appear to be completely broken. If videos buffer while streaming, apps won't download, and/or web pages are slow to load, it could just be due to the speed that you're paying for.

In fact, you could have all the most upgraded hardware, the fastest laptop on the market, and be sitting right next to your high-speed router, but if your internet speed you're paying your ISP for isn't quick, then everything will seem pretty sluggish.

Contact your ISP to upgrade your bandwidth to something faster. For example, if a speed test site shows that you're paying for 15 Mbps, upgrade to 20 Mbps, 50 Mbps, or something higher so that all your devices have ample bandwidth to connect smoothly.

If you're already paying for lots of bandwidth and there's no other obvious reason for why you're not getting those speeds, investigate if there are any apps on your laptop that are sucking up bandwidth. VPN services, download managers, torrents, and other file-sharing tools are often to blame for hoarding bandwidth; shut those down to instantly boost your laptop's Wi-Fi.