Troubleshooting Windows 7 Wireless Networking Problems (Part 3)

by [Published on 5 Aug. 2010 / Last Updated on 5 Aug. 2010]

This article continues the series on troubleshooting wireless networking problems by explaining why the device driver that you downloaded from the manufacturer’s Web site may not be the right one.

If you would like to read the first article in this series please go to

Let us Begin

In my previous article in this series, I explained that almost every laptop contains a mechanism for disabling the wireless networking adapter, and that it is sometimes possible to hit the switch that disables wireless networking by accident. Although I have personally had problems with that particular issue, more complex issues are usually to blame when wireless networking ceases to function. In this article, I want to turn my attention to some of the configuration related issues.

Anyone who works in IT has that one friend who thinks of them as their own personal helpdesk. I have a few different friends who really abuse my tech support services, but every once in a while that abuse pays off. Take for example a situation that once happened with one of my neighbors. This particular person liked to tinker with his system configuration, and he would call me every time that he messed something up and couldn’t figure out how to make it work again (which happened about once a week).

One day, I got a call from my friend, and he told me that he had just ordered a new computer. He said that he was tired of constantly having problems and that if I would help him to properly configure his new system that he wasn’t going to touch the configuration. Even though I was more than a little bit dubious of his promise, the prospect of getting my Friday nights back was just too tempting, so I agreed to set up my friend’s new system.

If you have bought a new computer any time recently, then you know that almost all of the manufacturers load an incredible amount of preinstalled software onto the system. For instance, the system that I purchased most recently came preloaded with an AOL client, a trial version of Norton Antivirus, a trial version of Microsoft Office, and plenty of nagware that was designed to sell me various supplies for my computer and printer.

Needless to say, any time that I get ready to set up a new computer, the first thing that I do is to blank the system’s hard drive. That way, I can perform a clean Windows installation and I don’t have to worry about manually removing all of the garbage that the manufacturer loads onto the system (much of which is designed so that it can’t be removed in the usual manner).

Being that I promised to set my friend’s computer up the “right way”, I started out by blanking his hard drive. When I was done, I began installing Windows. While I was waiting for the installation to complete, I used my laptop to download the various device drivers from the manufacturer’s Web site.

When all was said and done, my friend’s new computer seemed to be running really well. However, it wasn’t long before the wireless networking connection stopped working. I began checking all of the usual settings, but I just could not seem to find anything that would have caused a wireless networking failure. I spent the rest of the night, and most of the following day looking for the cause of the problem. It was only blind luck that led me to the cause of the problem.

When I had first blanked the computer’s hard drive I had gone to the manufacturer’s Web site and downloaded the various device drivers. As I worked to resolve the problem I remembered a situation that I had run into early in my IT career in which a 3COM card would intermittently lose its network connectivity. It turned out that 3COM had released a buggy device driver, and I was able to fix the problem with a newer driver. As such, I decided to look around on the Internet to see if there might be a newer driver for the wireless NIC than the one that I had been using.

I began by going back to the manufacturer’s Web site to see what the version number was of the driver that I had downloaded. While I was there, I noticed that the system specs listed the wireless NIC as having been manufactured by a different company than the one that made the device driver. As such, I visited the NIC manufacturer’s Web site, downloaded a device driver, and found that it worked perfectly.

So what went wrong? Well, there were a couple of problems. For starters, Windows didn’t bother to tell me that I was using the wrong device driver. This problem is actually quite common. In fact, I have run into several different situations over the years in which Windows completely misidentifies the hardware that is installed in a system. Last week for example, Windows identified a RAID controller on one of my servers as an SI3114 when in reality it was an SI3124. At least in this case, Windows almost identifies the hardware correctly. Sometimes, the hardware identification is way off. I once saw Windows identify a D-Link NIC as an Adaptec NIC.

This leads me to a second problem. In the case of my friend’s computer, the device driver that I had originally downloaded was simply too similar to the correct device driver. What I mean is that the two device drivers were so similar to each other that the incorrect device driver partially worked. It would momentarily establish, and then drop the wireless connection. This led me to assume that I had downloaded the correct device driver.

The final problem was that the incorrect device driver was on the computer manufacturer’s Web site in the first place. I don’t want to name names, but one of the major hardware vendors tends to be really bad about providing incorrect device drivers. This company’s Web site is set up so that you can enter the model number of your computer, and the site will take you to a Web page where you can download the drivers for your system. The problem is that this company has gotten in the habit of providing three or four different NIC drivers, when only one of the drivers is the correct one.

So how do you get around this problem? My advice is to check the system specs on the manufacturer’s Web site. That way, you can see exactly what type of wireless NIC is installed in the computer. Once you find out what kind of wireless NIC the computer is equipped with, don’t make the mistake of assuming that the manufacturer will provide you with the latest driver. PC manufacturer Web sites are convenient because you can download all of the drivers for your system in one place. However, you have to remember that PC manufacturers almost always get major system components (such as NICs or sound cards) from someone else. Therefore, the only way to make sure that you have the latest driver for a wireless NIC is to find out who made the NIC and go directly to that company’s Web site.

Conclusion

In this article, I have talked about how easy it can be to install an incorrect device driver for a wireless NIC. In Part 4, I will conclude the series by giving you some more troubleshooting hints.

If you would like to read the first article in this series please go to

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