Wifi Won't Connect? Step-by-step Guide to Troubleshooting Your PC's Wireless Network.

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Guide to troubleshooting your home wireless network when it won't connect or when you get disconnect. Windows XP/2000.

Wireless networks can be very frustrating and often can be difficult to troubleshoot if you have limited computer knowledge.   Here are some steps that should get you on your way.

  1. Check the simple things. Frequently the cause of the lack of connection may be something simple that we simply haven't noticed is a problem.  Make sure your wireless switch is in the on position.  Some computers may have actual hardware switches, some may simply have a finger-over button.  Check to see if you can see a light on your computer that is next to an icon that looks like a radio tower.  If you are trying to connect to wireless, the light should be on.  The button for the wireless is usually close to this light.  If the light is off, flip the switch and see if the light turns on.  If the light does not turn on, you may need to contact your computer manufacturer for additional troubleshooting as the hardware may be damaged.
  2. Make sure the wireless connection is enabled. Sometimes computer connections can become set to disabled status accidentally in the operating system.  If you are using Windows, you can go to the Control Panels to check this.  First click on Start, then go to either Settings and choose Control Panel or just choose Control Panel depending on your menu set up.  Under the control panel, you will look for an icon called Network Connections.  Under network connections, check to see that the connection with the word "wireless" is set to enable.  If it shows as disabled or has a red X on it, right click the connection and choose the "enable" option.
  3. Check your router or wireless modem. Some wireless outages can be caused by a bad reset of your router or wireless modem after a power surge, "black out," or "brown out."  When any of these happens, your router or modem may have restarted itself.  Usually when this happens, it will reconnect to the computers that were there before the incident with no problem, but may have trouble making new connections--so if you bring your laptop home from the office, it may have trouble connecting after a power issue.  When this happens, turn off everything starting with your modem.  Wait about 10 seconds and then bring up the very first piece of hardware in the chain (usually the modem).  The startup sequence can take up to 2 minutes to complete, so be patient and make sure all the usual lights come up and are acting normal.  If a red light comes up, or if a light is missing, you may need to contact your internet service provider to see if there is an outage.  After the first hardware comes up, you may or may not have a router next in the series.  Repeat the steps with any and all hardware between the modem and the computer making sure you turn the hardware back on in order.  When all the network hardware is up and have finished their startup sequences, turn on your computer and try to connect.
  4. Make sure your security settings are correct. When a computer tries to connect to a wireless network, there are certain security settings that the network will use to try to prevent unauthorized users from using the internet connection.  Usually when you are at home, this involves a network name and network password, but there can be many different configurations.  If you set up your own network, check to make sure your computer is using the same type of security that your wireless router is and try retyping the password to make sure there has been no corruption that could be causing the issue.  If you did not set up your own network, you will want to contact the person who set up your network and make sure you have the correct information for your network names and passwords as well as the security type.
  5. Check to see if you have a different software regulating your wireless connections. Some brands of computers use another software other than Windows to regulate their wireless connection settings.  If this is the case, you will want to ensure you are using the correct software for your connection.  Some connections will allow Windows to override the wireless connection settings and this may confuse your computer as to the correct security settings of the network.  Windows can also be somewhat more stable for special types of connections.  If you are having trouble with your computer disconnecting while using a VPN software to tunnel into your work network, you may want to try to use Windows instead of your computer's special wireless software.
  6. Check your wireless drivers. Sometimes wireless drivers (especially special drivers included for special wireless software) can become corrupted.  You can check the network drivers under the Control Panels as well.  Go to the Control Panel and look for the "System" icon.  Go to the hardware tab and click on "Device manager".  Look for the section labeled "Network adapters."  If any of these adapters has an exclamation point in yellow on it, that's a good sign that something isn't working.  Sometimes there will not be any indication of trouble, but the driver may still be the issue.  If you've gotten to this stage and you're not comfortable with computers, you may want to contact your manufacturer's technical support or your company's technical support line.  If you are more comfortable with your computer, you can right click on the wireless driver and click "uninstall."  After the driver is completely uninstalled, you can go to the "Actions" menu and click "Scan for hardware changes".  This should re-install the original driver and may solve your problem.  You can also try to download the driver directly from the manufacturer's site and install it instead of re-installing the original.
  7. Try to connect with a wired connection. If all the previous steps fail, you may want to see if you can locate an ethernet cable and try to connect directly to the internet instead of trying to connect through the wireless.  An ethernet cable looks something like a phone cable, but has a slightly wider plug and is usually colored blue, green, white, yellow or purple (usually not black).  Sometimes there may be damage to the network adapter that you have not noticed or the connection from the internet service provider may not be working properly.  These can sometimes be difficult to tell with a wireless connection, but if you can plug your computer in using the ethernet cable and it still has no connection, that is a good indication that the problem may not be with the wireless itself.
  8. If you need more help, contact a professional. If all of the above solutions fail, you may have several options.  If the computer you are working on is provided by your company, call your company's tech support line.  They may know of special situations on your computer that you are not aware of that could be causing your problem.  They will also give you advice for free since your company is paying the bill.  If they cannot help you or if this is your personal computer, you should contact your internet service provider.  They should also be able to give you advice for free since you are paying for a service from them.  They may know a bit more about troubleshooting your internet service and will have a few more options for verifying that you have service than your company's tech support, but they also tend to be busier and will not always know about your computer's individual setup.  If your internet service provider is unable to help you and you own the computer you are trying to connect with, you may have a hardware issue and will want to contact your manufacturer.  These calls are not always free and will sometimes involve replacing hardware which may also have some cost unless your computer is under warranty.

1 comment

Dan Smith
Posted on Jan 7, 2011