Ask Dan: Access point fast, WiFi slow?

Date: 13 February 2007
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.


I bought a Netgear WGT624 108mbps router and connected it up, but it's very slow. Would it work better with the WG511T PCMCIA network card?

The computer I connected the router to is a HP Compaq nx7010. Network: Fast Ethernet, 802.11b WiFi, Bluetooth.


The laptop's built-in wireless adapter is indeed very probably the problem. 802.11b is the older, slower WiFi standard; an 802.11b adapter can connect to a newer WiFi access point, but only at its standard speed.

(A reader's pointed out that his nx7010 came with an 802.11g wireless adapter. But the wireless adapter's a Mini PCI card, so I can believe that older/cheaper models have a b-only adapter.)

So yes, a faster WiFi adapter will probably solve your problem. The WG511T should indeed connect to your access point faster than most cards (though you'll only get the full 108 megabit per second "Super G" speed when you're close to the access point). Any 802.11g card will work, though, and will give transfer rates around five times as fast as what you're getting now. There's not a lot of money to be saved by buying a plain 802.11g card, so you might as well get the Netgear one.

All you have to do is install the new network adapter, and disable the old (built-in) one in Device Manager. The old adapter will still be there to use as a backup if you smash the new adapter into a doorframe, or something.

(Actually, your computer will work with both adapters active, but this can cause confusion.)

Your laptop only has one PC card (a.k.a. PCMCIA) slot, so if you want to be able to use that slot for anything else, you might prefer a USB 802.11g adapter.

If you plug one of those in with a short USB extension cord, you can Velcro it neatly to the back of the laptop lid. You can also use a longer extension cord to allow you to put the adapter up in the air (or out a window, or whatever), for better reception in marginal areas.

Note that the WGT624 also has four 100BaseT LAN ports on the back of it, so you could just plug your laptop into it with a standard "RJ45" network cable, and get as much speed as Super G can offer. This obviously is no good if you want to wander around the house and/or avoid cable clutter, but it's a quick and cheap way to hook up computers with slower WiFi adapters when you need more speed.

Boring old 802.11b speed is fine for Web browsing and a lot of other tasks. If you only need to move big files around occasionally, there's a lot to be said for the price/performance of a $5 network cable.

Note, also, that if your lousy speed is the result of poor signal strength, then putting a bigger antenna on your router may be necessary - though you can't do that with a WGT624 without hacking it.

The router should also be installed somewhere near to the middle of the area you want to use your laptop in, and should be high up off the ground.

There are also Multiple Input, Multiple Output (MIMO) routers available today, which use multiple antennas to improve speed at a given range, even with normal network adapters on your computers. There's considerable confusion about what MIMO really means, though, with some "MIMO" routers requiring you to use special adapters on your computers, and others not really being MIMO at all.

Netgear's WPN824 seems to be a proper MIMO device, despite having no external antennas at all. Aus PC Market stock it for only $AU187 delivered.

If you've already got a perfectly good router, of course, you're not likely to be itching to replace it right now.

(Oh, and it should be noted that sometimes people have crummy wireless access because they're not actually connected to their own access point. If your neighbour has an unsecured access point, Windows will happily connect to it if its "preferred" network is unavailable. It's easy to end up with your neighbour's AP at the top of the preference list, too, so Windows will connect to it rather than to your own AP. This is great news if you need to download a lot of pirated movies and send a lot of spam, of course, but you may have to put up with a flaky connection to do it.)

Shoppers from Australia and New Zealand can buy the Netgear WGT624 router, WPN824 MIMO router and WG511T PC card from Aus PC Market.