Thursday, January 22, 2009

Gotcha Of The Day: Shira's Dell Laptop Having Network Woes

For some time, Shira's noticed that networking on her relatively new Dell Laptop is flaky. She'll visit a site, say weather.com and the browser will hang. She'll hit reload, and it will load more or less immediately.

She tried out different browsers, including IE, Firefox and Chrome and had the results in all of them. What the heck was going on?

Last night and today and tackled the problem. First, I tried one of the most fundamental networking tests - a ping. Ping times the round trip life of a packet and confirms it didn't get lost along the way. In this case, I pinged my wireless router like so:

C:\Users\ben>ping -n 100 192.168.0.1

Pinging 192.168.0.1 with 32 bytes of data:
Reply from 192.168.0.1: bytes=32 time=3ms TTL=127
Reply from 192.168.0.1: bytes=32 time=5ms TTL=127
Reply from 192.168.0.1: bytes=32 time=4ms TTL=127
Reply from 192.168.0.1: bytes=32 time=3ms TTL=127
...

I chose to ping my wireless router, as all packets need to go through there before hitting the Internet at large. While most of the packets hit the local router quickly (like they did in my test above), some actually timed out. This is surprising, as the packet doesn't have all that far to travel - just to my basement - and didn't have any other hosts to travel through.

If a connection as basic as this is having problems, my thought was that the cause had to be pretty fundamental.

Using my Dell knowledge, I visited support.dell.com and entered in Shira's laptop's service tag (found relatively inconveniently on the bottom of the unit, but, I digress).

I then scrolled down till I found the section that mentioned her wireless card. I attempted to download the latest driver, but that didn't work as I ended up at some odd Dell FTP site. I then retried with Internet Explorer, instead of Firefox, and it downloaded like a champ. I ran the executable and rebooted.

I then repeated the test above, and there were no dropped packets. Surfing around the Internet, things seemed fast.

It's probably too early to declare this issue totally solved. But, at least I confirmed that there's no longer packet loss doing something as simple as pinging my router. I also saved myself a phone call to dell by using their support site. So, all in all, I'm pretty happy.

This problem could have been solved a whole lot faster if I remembered Windows Hardware Rule #1: When in doubt - upgrade the driver.

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