14.11. Troubleshooting Network Problems
Networks are notorious for problems, since it takes only one weak link to break the chain. After hours of struggling, you'll sometimes discover that the glitch is as simple as a disconnected cable or a mistakenly flipped setting. This section lists some quick fixes for both wired and wireless networks.
14.11.1. General Network Problems
If you're having trouble with a new network, or a newly added PC, run through these steps first.
Turn off and restart . Unplug the router's power cable and turn off all the PCs. Then plug the router's power cable back in, wait 30 seconds, and start one PC. When it's up and running, turn on the next ; repeat until you turn on all the PCs. Sometimes this maneuver doesn't do anything, but old network hands know that about half the time, this restart procedure is all you need to chase the gremlins away.
Check the network cables . If one of those little plastic locking tabs on the plug breaks off, you're sunk. The cable will fall out of the port, breaking the connection, and leaving you with handfuls of hair as you try to track down the wrong setting that's messing things up. Fortunately cables (Section 14.2.3) are pretty cheap nowadays and are easy to replace.
Also, double-check that each PC's network cable plugs into a numbered port on the router. If the port lacks a number, that port's not meant for PCs. If only one PC is acting up, try swapping cables with another PC; you may just have a bad cable.
Run the Network Setup Wizard . Although the wizard can't help with hardware problems, it can eyeball your settings, making sure nothing's out of line and making changes where needed.
Let Windows repair the connection . From the Start menu, right-click My Network Places; from the shortcut menu, choose Properties to see any network connections you have, including Ethernet, dial-up, FireWire, or any other connection methods on your PC. Right-click the Local Network icon; from the shortcut menu, choose Repair. This breaks the connection with the router, taps the router on the shoulder, and requests a new connectionhopefully one that's working a little better.
Restart the router . You can restart a router in two ways. You can always unplug the router's power cord, wait a bit, and then plug it back on. Or you can push its reset button, usually a tiny recessed button on its back panel.
Check the firmware and drivers . Check the versions of the drivers (see Section 1.3) and firmware on your router and your network adapters. Update old versions to see if that fixes the problem.
14.11.2. Wireless Network Problems
When a wireless network gives you trouble, start by turning off the password protection (Section 188.8.131.52). If that cures the problem, you know your password settings are at fault, probably due to a mistyped password (see Section 184.108.40.206). Try entering it one more time, or, if you have a USB drive, letting the Windows Wireless Network Setup Wizard (Section 220.127.116.11) have a go at entering the password for you.
14.11.3. Bickering Wireless Software
Windows XP didn't offer full wireless support until Service Pack 2 (Section 15.4). To make up for the delay, most wireless adapters come with their own software, which installs itself when you run your wireless adapter installation program.
That immediately starts a power struggle. Which software should control your PC's wireless network connection, the wireless adapter's bundled software or Windows XP's built-in software? Although both pieces of software usually start up when you turn on your PC, only one can have control.
To see which software currently controls your adapter, look at an obscure checkbox in Windows' wireless settings: choose Start Control Panel Network Connections. Right-click your wireless connection icon, choose Properties, and then click the Wireless Networks tab.
There, on the page's top, sits a checkbox called, "Use Windows to configure my wireless network settings." When this checkbox is turned on, Windows XP remains in control, and you see all the settings and menus described in this chapter. When turned off, Windows XP passes control to the adapter's built-in software, which uses completely different menus .
If Windows XP's wireless software doesn't seem to be working well for you, turn off that checkbox and let your adapter's built-in software take over. You can launch your adapter's software by clicking the Start button, then clicking an entry for your brand of wireless adapterD-Link or Linksys, for instanceand then running the program called "Setup," "Utility," or something similar.
The adapter's built-in software also usually sits as an icon on your taskbar near your clock. Give it a double-click to start using it. (Hovering your mouse pointer over any taskbar icon tells you its purpose in life.)
If your adapter's software doesn't do the trick, however, feel free to switch back to Windows XP's version by turning that "Use Windows to configure my wireless network" checkbox back on.
14.11.4. Signal Strength
The bane of wireless connections everywhere is that wireless signals fade in and out, seemingly at random. When the signal doesn't have enough oomph for you to connect, try these fixes:
Realign the antennas . If your router and wireless adapters have antennas, point them directly at each other. If your PC's wireless adapter lives on the end of a cable, try moving the adapter to different places on your desk. Sometimes placing it on a nearby shelf gives it the boost it needs.
Relocate your wireless router . Add a longer cable between your modem and router, letting you move the router to a more central spot in your home.
Buy a wireless access point and a long cable . Plug a Wireless Access Point (WAP)a little wireless transmitterinto your router with a long cable. Then place the wireless access point in the weakest area of your home, to extend the wireless signal into that area.
Buy a wireless access point and Powerline adapters . If running cable proves too awkward in the previous scenario, plug a Powerline adapter into your router, and then plug a second Powerline adapter into a wall outlet near your home's weakest wireless spot. Plug a Wireless Access Point into that second Powerline adapter, and you've extended the reach of your wireless network so that it now covers the previous dead spot.
Buy a wireless repeater . These hardcover sized devices plug into the wall, absorb any incoming wireless signal, amplify it, and retransmit it, spreading your WiFi beams farther throughout your house. Unfortunately , the repeater cuts the signal's speed in half during the process.
Replace your router's antenna . The antennas on most wireless routers broadcast evenly around all sides of the router. (That's why routers should be in the center of a house, if possible.) If your wireless router must be near a side wall, replace its antenna with a directional antenna that can be aimed at dead spots. Not all wireless routers come with replaceable antennas, unfortunately, but if yours screws off, it's probably replaceable.
Replace your laptop's PC Card adapter with a wireless adapter on a cable . Some wireless adapters come in the form of little boxes attached to a long cable that plugs into a USB port. The long cable lets you situate the wireless adapter in a spota high shelf, for examplewhere you can get better WiFi coverage.
Buy equipment from a single manufacturer . Equipment from the same company often adds proprietary speed boosts that work only with that firm's equipment. This holds especially true with "Pre N" (see Section 14.1.2) wireless equipment.
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Universal Plug 'n' Play (PnP)
Some Internet-connected programs like Instant Messengers and online games want you to turn on your router's UPnP (Universal Plug 'n' Play) setting. Developed by Microsoft more than five years ago, the technology lets programs automatically change settings on your router so they can communicate better.
Specifically, the programs want to open ports little windows of communicationsthat let them talk freely with other computers. Instead of asking confused people to "open TCP port 3389" on their router, the program uses UPnP to flip the router's switch itself.
In today's world of viruses, worms, and spyware, many people are afraid to give programs any control over their router. But if you're running a trusted program that asks you to turn on UPnP, you need to open your router's settings menu (see Section 18.104.22.168) and flip through the menus until you spot the UPnP option. The UPnP option usually offers buttons for Enable and Disable. Click Enable, and you're through.