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Troubleshooting AirPort 3.4 (#3): signal strength; connections; fixes/downgrading

Troubleshooting AirPort 3.4 (#3): signal strength; connections; fixes/downgrading

Today we continue our coverage of issues with Apple's recently released AirPort 3.4 software, which has generated a significant amount of reader email over the past few days. The problems do not appear to be isolated to any particular version of Mac OS X, nor are they restricted to Apple-branded wireless hardware.

Reduced signal strength; confirmed by Apple Readers continue to report reduced signal strength since installing the update. C. Mike Stimpson writes:

"Just like the reports from other users, I too am experiencing drops in signal strength that remain consistent since applying the 3.4 update. Before the update, I was able to get 2 bars in the Airport menu while on the other side of our house from the Airport Extreme Base Station. Now, I'm lucky if I even get one bar. Interestingly enough, on occasion, the menu bar will show no airport life whatsoever (zero bar strength); however, I will still be able to access the internet without a single bar being reported. Sometimes, though, the signal has dropped out entirely, leaving me with reason to believe that the loss in signal strength is not merely cosmetic. I am using a PowerBook G4 12" 867 MHz."

More significant, Scott McClure reports that Apple is now aware of the problem and has reproduced it in-house:

"Called Apple Tech support, and did some testing with them on the line. It was nice to have two AE equipped laptops to test with, and see the difference between v3.3 and v3.4. At 38 feet from the base station, the iBook G4 with v3.3 got 11 out of 15 on the Internet Connect/Airport signal strength meter, and the PowerBook G4 with v3.4 got about 6 out of 15. Both were sitting side by side, facing the same direction. It behaved this way with the Airport base station running FW 5.1.1 and the new 5.4. It didn't seem to make any difference." [Note that iBooks generally get better reception; however, reports from other readers indicate similar results using the same laptop model. -Ed.]

"The front-line support guy brought a product specialist on the line, and we went over it again. He said that they would escalate my case to engineering so they would have my info as an additional data point. They are aware of the problem, and engineering has been able to reproduce the problem. They hope to have a fix out in the next day or so. Apple suggested that if you can't wait a few days for an upgrade (or easy downgrade), the other work-around would be to do an archive-install of 10.3.3, and install all the updates EXCEPT for Airport 3.4." [See information below about downgrading to AirPort 3.3. -Ed]

Readers also confirm that these problems aren't isolated to Apple hardware. Paul Bresciani reports reduced signal strength on his PowerBook 12" when using a Linksys wireless router:

"I have a Powerbook 12" 867mhz w/airport extreme card and a Linksys 4-port Wireless-G router. After installing the Airport 3.4 update, I also noticed the 'bars' in my typical spots dropped about 2 bars (from 2 bars to zero). In Internet Connect, I was getting no bars as well. Oddly, I still maintained my internet connection. For fun, I switched from 'mixed' (B & G) mode to 'B-only'. I initially got my two bars back - for about as long as it took to start writing this email. I am now fluctuating between no bars and one bar. (At least I sometimes see one bar...)"

Similarly, Mike Stimpson also notes, "At work, I use the same PowerBook on a wireless network that is not routed from an Apple Base Station. I've noticed a similar drop in signal strength there as well."

Reader "John" even quantified the signal loss connecting to a Linksys wireless router: "My test install was on a Firewire HD, running 10.3.3 [and AirPort 3.4]. My router is a LinkSys WRT54G. Using MacStumbler to check signal strength: Booted from my 17" PB, 10.3.3 and Airport 3.3.1 yields 52 to 58; booted from the Firewire drive Airport 3.4 yields 36 to 43 This 30% decrease in reception is certainly more than cosmetic!"

Connection problems; printing Readers also continue to report problems with dropped connections. Russ Sansom writes, "My G4 disconnects from my airport Extreme base station, even though I have a strong signal. A G4 in the Kid's room remains connected. I've rebooted, restarted and continue to lose connection after a while." Similarly, Kristie Barlett notes, "I too am having signal issues with my AirPort. Twenty feet away from the base station I used to have 4 bars, now I have 2 and a connection that is intermittent."

Several readers also note that they're able to maintain a wireless connection until they try to print via that connection. Thomas Deliduka reports: "Last night was the first time I went completely wireless since the upgrade to Airport 3.4. I had no problems getting to the internet, etc. However, as soon as I tried to print to a shared printer on the network I would lose my connection. I had an IP address but couldn't ping anything including the router. A reboot would restore the connection."

Laurance Kirmayer notes a similar issue: "I also found that on my Powerbook G4, running system 10.3.3, AirPort became unusable after the upgrade -- with the connection dropping after a few minutes or whenever trying to print over the network. Downgrading to Airport 3.3.1 solved the problem."

According to Bob Davis, Apple has also reproduced this issue:

"I use a Linksys wireless router at home and a Netgear wireless router at work. As soon as I 'upgraded' to AirPort 3.4 I found that I was unable to print from my Powerbook G4 through my ethernet wired home computer that was connected by USB to my printer. The Print Center window showed that it was 'connected' to the other computer but the connection was dead. I could no longer share the other computer. The fix was to put my Powerbook to sleep and then wake it up. This was repeated many time both at home and at work. Apple support had no solution other then to do an archive and restore OS 10.3 and to NOT upgrade again to AirPort 3.4. They seem to think that 3.4 does not work for printer sharing with third party routers."

Issues connecting after sleep MacFixIt reader John McGibney notes an issue connecting to a wireless network after waking his PowerBook from sleep:

"I too have a problem with the Airport connection on my G4 Al. PowerBook. It no longer connects to the router upon waking from sleep. I have to manually select the network 90% of the time after I wake it up. It sees the network/router but it fails to auto-connect even though its the only network available and the network settings are set to use this network as the default. Once I manually connect there are no problems and speeds seem about the same. I haven?t done any real speed tests and I?m rarely more than 30? from the router. The router is a US Robotics 802.11g model."

LimeWire fix? Yesterday we noted issues with file-sharing software such as Limewire where the affected computer would drop its wireless connection and then self-assign itself an IP address in the 169.x.x.x range. Reader David Rockoff confirms this issue and explains a fix that worked for him:

"I believe I may have found a possible fix to the IP assignment issue with AirPort 3.4. After fumbling around with LimeWire for a time, and observing that it may be responsible for ruining communication with my base station, I attempted to delete the preferences folder (entitled 'LimeWire' inside home/Library/Preferences). After doing this (with LimeWire unopened), I re-installed LimeWire (without removing or deleting any additional files)...After re-starting LimeWire and re-configuing the preferences, the problem seems to have disappeared! I can now use LimeWire without a loss of connection or base station communication!"

(On a similar note -- although pointing to AirPort Firmware 5.4, rather than AirPort 3.4 -- one reader reported another issue where launching a particular application causes him to lose his AirPort connection since the upgrade. Tom Everett writes, "I have Mac OS 10.3.3 and a 1 GHZ eMac with Airport Extreme and DSL. When I play America's Army game for Mac it automatically cuts me off from the internet, and can't get back on until I've restarted the computer. It started when we updated to Airport Firmware 5.4.")

Instructions for downgrading to an earlier version of AirPort software On Monday we noted that some users who are experiencing the problems described here have had success in reverting to an earlier version of the AirPort software (e.g., v3.3). An industrious Mac user has posted detailed instructions for removing AirPort 3.4. You can then download (and reinstall) AirPort 3.3 and the AirPort Update 3.3.1.

AirPort 3.4 issues? Drop us an email at Late-breakers@macfixit.com.

Resources
  • detailed instructions
  • AirPort 3.3
  • AirPort Update 3.3.1
  • Late-breakers@macfixit.com
  • More from Late-Breakers