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How do I troubleshoot wireless connectivity on desktops?

Learn how to troubleshoot wireless connectivity for desktop computers from our expert Lisa Phifer.

We have three computers with wireless cards, used to reach a high-speed Internet connection through a router and modem. One desktop connects to the Internet intermittently, but the laptops connect all the time. We have checked the router and modem and replaced the wireless card in the desktop, but nothing has fixed the problem. Can you suggest anything?

It turns out that your problem was actually a loose wire inside the desktop itself, and repairing that resolved your problem. This goes to show that sometimes what appears to be a network connectivity problem is, in fact, a physical problem.

It sounds like you tried all the logical steps -- checking network configurations and replacing hardware that might have been faulty. Because you had two laptops operating properly, you had already isolated the problem to a single desktop. I would have recommended steps to further isolate the problem to a specific component. For example:

  • If the desktop had a built-in Ethernet connection, I would have recommended plugging that Ethernet into the router's LAN port to verify that desktop network software was functioning correctly.
  • I would have recommended connecting the desktop's wireless card to one of the laptops using Wi-Fi Ad Hoc mode, to determine whether the desktop's wireless card and driver were operating correctly.
  • If that ad-hoc connection was also intermittent, you would have isolated the problem to the desktop's wireless card. I would then have suggested removing and reinstalling the connection using the Windows Hardware control panel, and physically removing and reseating the card in the card slot.

I'm guessing that, when you cracked the desktop open to replace the wireless card, you spotted the loose connection and fixed your problem. But I'm answering your question anyway to illustrate this debugging process of trying all possible combinations to narrow down possible problems. As your experience shows, you can often save time and trouble by checking the easy physical problems first -- loose Ethernet plugs, cards that aren't seated properly -- before looking for more subtle software or configuration problems.

This was last published in December 2007

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