Squeezing More Out Of Your Home Wireless Network

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Whether you've just set up your home wireless network or it's been up and running for a while, chances are you're not getting the most out of it. That said, it doesn't take much to squeeze a little more performance out of your wireless network, or to make it a little more secure.

A previous Tech Tip looked at some ways to tweak a wireless network. Here are a few more tips for squeezing more out of your home wireless network.

Fiddling with the router

Your wireless router is, obviously, the central component in your home wireless network. Without it ... well, you wouldn't have a network, would you? There are several things you can do with your router to improve the performance.

Tweaking the firmware

One of these is to upgrade your router's firmware. The firmware is the set of programs that's embedded in your router. A firmware update, which you can download from the Web site of your router's manufacturer, contains fixes and new features. In many cases, a firmware update can correct problems and improve performance. But before you download new firmware, make sure that it's for your router. If not, bad things can happen.

Speaking of firmware, if you like getting your hands dirty and really want to unlock the full potential of your router, you might want to check out the Open Source DD-WRT firmware. This firmware puts your router in overdrive, by doing things like boosting speed and giving you the ability to throttle your bandwidth. You can learn more about DD-WRT's features here. That said, using DD-WRT isn't for the faint of heart. Follow the instructions here before you do the deed.

Upgrading your router hardware

Don't forget the antenna on your router. It's inexpensive and fairly easy to upgrade.  Doing that can extend the coverage of your router. That said, not all routers have antennas.

If you can afford to, consider buying a new and more powerful router. A router that support wireless-N will give you better signal quality and a stronger signal overall. To get the full benefits of wireless-N, the wireless cards in the devices that access your network will also need to support wireless-N.

Upgrading your other hardware

Your router isn't the only piece of the puzzle. The wireless adapter (also called a wireless card) for a laptop computer or desktop computer plays a pretty big role in the efficiency of your network, too. You can have a great transmitter, but if the receiver isn't up to the job then you're not going to get all the benefits of tweaking your network.

The first thing you should do is make sure that your wireless adapter supports the same wireless standard that your router does. The most common standards are wireless-B, wireless-A, wireless-G, and wireless-N. Wireless-G and wireless-N offer the best speed and transmission range for signals.

If your router supports a newer standard — like G or N — but your adapter doesn't, consider replacing the adapter. With desktop computers, the adapter can either be a card that plugs into the back of the computer or one that you can insert into a USB port.

With laptop computers and netbooks, replacing the wireless adapter can be a bit trickier. It could take a bit more dexterity and knowledge of hardware than you have. In that case, consider using a USB wireless adapter. A USB adapter offers better signal strength and if you have one that is connected using a USB cable, you can position the adapter to get the best signal strength.

Anything else?

If you can, make sure that your wireless adapter and router come from the same manufacturer. If, say, you have a Linksys router but a Belkin wireless adapter you will get a connection. But the adapter might not be able to take advantage of some of the features of the router.
Speaking of wireless adapters, consider updating the driver software. As with a firmware upgrade, a driver update can correct problems and add new functions.

Some wireless adapters allow you to tweak what are called transmission power settings. This regulates the strength of the signal that your wireless adapter puts out. How to do this will vary from operating system to operating system. But if you can adjust this setting, try to select the maximum.

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