Motorhoming | Family Motor Coach Association

Dear FMCA Computer Geeks:

I have a laptop that is probably about 5 years old. I am having trouble getting reception at most parks unless I am very near the signal. Some of my RV friends with new computers seem to be able to receive reception. What do you recommend short of buying a new laptop?

Joe Williams

Actually, I'm surprised you're able to get connected at all with a 5-year-old laptop! We recommend a USB Wi-Fi adapter.

This is a topic that has received a LOT of coverage. Many factors affect Wi-Fi reception, and you don’t have control over many of them. What you DO have control over is your own system, and the best thing you can own is a USB type of Wi-Fi adapter.

You need a USB adapter if you know you’re near a Wi-Fi hotspot but you see little or no signal at your computer. Or, there is enough signal to get connected, but the speed fluctuates and even drops you. If you plug in a USB type of adapter, you can position that adapter in the best location and, almost always, improve the quality of your connection.

What exactly is the product I’m recommending? Well, there are lots of them. I sometimes hear people refer to them as “boosters,” but they’re really not. They stand on their own; they don’t “boost” another piece of equipment.

Many motorhome owners today use the Wi-Fi capability that is built in to their computer. What I’m saying is, go into your computer’s network connection settings and turn this built-in feature OFF. Then, plug in a USB adapter to use instead. Currently, our favorite adapter is the EnGenius EUB-362EXT wireless LAN USB 2.0 adapter because it is high-powered (200 milliwats) and because you can attach an external antenna if you want better connectivity.

There have been times when we have sold adapters ourselves, but it’s rare. The products and suppliers just change too frequently for our taste! You can purchase an adapter online or at computer and networking supply stores. Ask for a USB wireless network adapter. The technical specification is 802.11(b or g). The standard Wi-Fi frequency band is 2.4 GHz. USB simply refers to the way it connects to your computer --through a USB port.

Don’t be swayed by the claims of faster speeds -- e.g. Bs are 11 mbps and Gs are 54 mbps -- those speeds are only referring to “within the local network” speeds. Once you start browsing the Internet, you will be limited to the Internet connection speed, which will be less than 3 mbps.

When looking at detailed specifications, power and range are much more important than speed. Almost any USB adapter will be an improvement over your internal one because you can position it to have the clearest line-of-sight to the Wi-Fi hotspot’s access point.

If you are close to the hotspot’s access point, you shouldn’t need the USB adapter. Your built-in Wi-Fi will work fine if you’re within 150 feet or so and have no obstructions. If that’s not the case, and you’re having trouble, a USB wireless adapter will help.

— Jim and Chris


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