Mac-friendly wireless routers (#4): Models prone to dropped connections when connected to AirPort hardware; avoiding drops

Mac-friendly wireless routers (#4): Models prone to dropped connections when connected to AirPort hardware; avoiding drops

We continue coverage of an issue where some third-party routers, for various reasons, have trouble maintaining connections with AirPort-equipped Macs. In most cases of this issue, connections can be established and briefly maintained, but sporadically drop after variable intervals of time. Generally, full AirPort signal strength will be indicated, but no network services can be accessed.

Interestingly, in many cases, the dropouts only manifest when an AirPort-equipped Mac is connected to the wireless router. In other words, if only a Windows PC(s) with non-AirPort wireless networking hardware are connected, the dropouts may not occur. The Windows PC(s) generally will, however, lose their connections when an AirPort-equipped Mac seemingly causes the lapse in connectivity. In other words, if one AirPort-equipped Mac causes the dropout, all other connected systems will also generally lose access to the router.

Another salient point is that, in some cases, Macs do not cause the wireless dropout issue when booted in Windows XP, or another OS via Boot Camp -- possibly indicating a problem with the Mac OS X AirPort drivers.

First we'll examine some of the routers most frequently identified by readers as subject to dropped connections, then look at some tips for avoiding the dropouts that aren't mentioned in our AirPort tutorial.

Specific models with frequent dropouts Though it's difficult to definitively state that certain third-party wireless routers are more prone to dropouts when accepting connections from AirPort-based systems running Mac OS X, certain units were more frequently mentioned by readers as displaying the issue than others.

That said, factors other than the brand or model of router could be implicated in the dropouts. For instance, the fact that many users are able to resolve the issue by resetting their cable or DSL modems might indict them, rather than the routers, in this issue. If you're experiencing solid connections with one of the routers mentioned below, please drop us a line with your configuration (including AirPort settings and Internet connection method [DSL, Cable, etc.]). In addition, for some users, the issue manifests with some Mac models and not with others -- probably the result of differing AirPort hardware and/or firmware revisions.

D-link DI-624, DI-524, 54g This router was mentioned by several users as exhibiting the dropped-connection issue. This is unfortunate as the DI-624 is one of the third-party wireless routers that supports AppleTalk connectivity. The DI-524 was also mentioned by a few readers as occasionally having the problem.

One reader writes:

"I am experiencing the problem of dropped connections mentioned in today's MacFixit. I have a Titanium PowerBook G4 1 GHz running Mac OS X 10.4.8. Airport firmware version 9.52. Connecting to D-link DI-624. Internet connection is dropping frequently for no apparent reason. Sometimes I can go 10 hours without interruption, but typically it is 1-3 hours. Rebooting the router alone does not typically restore the internet connection, although that doers work sometimes. Usually, I have to reboot the cable modem as well. This began to happen about the time I got the router a couple of months ago. I even had the cable company out to check the modem, but they said the signal strength is fine. They thought it was the router but I assumed they were just passing the buck.

"My wife's Thinkpad loses the connection when the router goes down, too, but the connection does not drop when the Thinkpad is the only computer on the network."

MacFixIt reader Pete Elam provides a case example of dropouts occurring with one Mac (Intel-based) but not with another (PowerPC-based).

"I have been using a D-Link DI-614 wireless router for several years in tandem with my iBook with no problems. When I switched to a new MacBook Intel Core 2 Duo 2 Ghz the problems started. The connection became extremely slow. I tried numerous things such as turning off DHCP, turning off WEP, changing the DTIM and Beacon Interval and all those things corrected the problem -- that is, until I put my MacBook to sleep then when wake-up time came the problem came back. I concluded that the speed up resulted from the re-setting of the router and not the changes in the setup. I returned the router back to their original settings and now every time I connect I automatically login to the router and restart it and the problem if fixed -- until the next time."

Netgear WGU624 At least two readers mentioned this router as semi-frequently dropping wireless connections to AirPort-equipped Macs.

MacFixIt reader Thomas writes:

"I've got the Netgear WGU624 at home, and it is a pain. It seems to fly along fine most of the time, but then, out of the blue, it drops its wireless signal. I used to have it in a mixed environment, and it would sometimes drop for the macs only, but it consistently drops its broadcast altogether. I initially thought it was the router, but after getting a replacement, its just something with the model itself. I've toggled nearly every applicable setting, and some that aren't, and it won't go away."

Linksys G A handful of users identified Linksys G routers as exhibiting the dropout issue.

Avoiding dropped connections/no connection when restarting, waking from sleep

Look for a router with a Broadcom chipset Apple's wireless hardware has, thus far, generally used wireless chipsets manufactured by Broadcom. As such, it can be reasonably surmised (and substantiated by reader reports) that using third-party wireless hardware with similarly branded chipsets can reduce propensity for dropouts. Check with your router's manufacturer (via their Web site, if possible) for the chipset used.

Many routers from Buffalo Technology use Broadcom chipsets. Buffalo also ranked highly in our ranking of third-party wireless routers according to quality of Mac support/documentation.

Power cycling the router Try turning the third-party wireless router off then on in the event of a dropout after which network connectivity does not quickly return.

Power cycling the DSL/Cable modem or other network adapter Failing a power-cycle of the router, try turning off the DSL, Cable or other network adapter to which the router is connected.

Power-cycle AirPort You can also try turning your Mac's AirPort hardware off then back on, using the AirPort menubar item or "Internet Connect" located in the Applications folder.

Turn on Interference Robustness Some readers have found that turning on AirPort interference robustness (using the AirPort menubar item or the AirPort section of the Network pane in System Preferences [click on "Options..."]) results in obviation of dropouts.

Feedback? Late-breakers@macfixit.com.

Previous coverage:

Resources
  • AirPort tutorial
  • drop us a line
  • Buffalo Technology
  • ranking
  • Late-breakers@macfixit.com
  • Mac-friendly wireless rout...
  • Mac-friendly wireless rout...
  • Guide to Mac-friendly wire...
  • More from Late-Breakers
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