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 ensures reliable connectivity and good connection speed. Laptops with limited signal range 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 a USB adapter.

Take the following steps to improve the range of your laptop and the speed of your connection if you have problems with your Wi-Fi connection.

Family using digital tablets in a living room
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Environmental Factors That Affect Wi-Fi Range

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

Router Distance

A laptop can get a Wi-Fi signal within a limited distance from the router. Move the laptop closer to the wireless router to combat this problem. The closer the laptop is to the router, the better the signal.

There are many ways to test the speed of the laptop connection at various areas of 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, move the router closer to the laptop. If you do that, be sure the router isn't on or near the floor because that can make the signal 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 plug into a power outlet between your laptop and the router. Wi-Fi repeaters repeat the Wi-Fi signal, effectively expanding the Wi-Fi range further through your house.

A similar option that can 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.

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 routers have several antennas that push the signal further than a traditional router.

Obstructing Objects

Metal structures and large appliances between the laptop and the router can obstruct the signal. Relocate your laptop or desk to avoid these signal killers.

Other Wireless Devices

To obtain the strongest 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 may not be the only equipment that uses the Wi-Fi connection.

As more devices go online behind a single router, the limited bandwidth capacity of the network is 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 the laptop.

Use a Newer Wi-Fi Standard

Replace your router when technology standards change. For example, 802.11ac routers are faster than earlier standards like 802.11n and 802.11g. These routers 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 isn't physically broken from prolonged use, it probably uses 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 a laptop connects to the network. Old drivers can reduce the range and speed of the connection.

Update the Router Software

Updating the router 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 if the laptop's Wi-Fi is working, an external adapter that plugs in via USB can often improve the range of a laptop.

External network adapters sometimes have antennas that reach the router 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 moved to the 5 GHz frequency to avoid home electronic interference.

If your router functions at the 2.4 GHz frequency, change the channel the router operates on to see if that helps the range. Available Wi-Fi channels are 1 through 11, but your router may only use two or three of those. Check the 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% to ensure the strongest signal possible.

If a laptop is 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 slow speeds can appear to be broken. If videos buffer while streaming, apps won't download, or web pages are slow to load, it could be due to the speed that you pay for.

Even if you have upgraded hardware, purchased a fast laptop, and are sitting next to a high-speed router, if the internet speed you pay your ISP for isn't quick, then everything will seem 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 your devices have ample bandwidth to connect smoothly.

If you pay for lots of bandwidth and there's no other reason for why you're not getting those speeds, investigate if there are any apps on your laptop that use large amounts of bandwidth. VPN services, download managers, torrents, and other file-sharing tools often hoard bandwidth. Shut down those apps to instantly boost your laptop's Wi-Fi.