Why is our work-from-home internet connection so balky?

Q: We are working from home, as are so many people, and we have a lot of Zoom meetings. Everybody in our meetings complains that we are breaking up and ask us to “please say things again.”

We replaced our modem and router in April and upgraded our Xfinity cable service to “Blast,” with nominal 250 Mbps download and 12.5 Mbps upload. Before that we had an older router and lower subscription, but the upgrades don’t seem to have helped much. 

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If I didn’t know better, I’d say we need much faster upload speed; however, we were told that 12.5 was more than adequate. Upgrading significantly more would be very expensive. Turning off all other internet-using apps and turning off the video feed does not seem to help. 

The problem is the same whether we hook the PCs to Ethernet CAT-5E or use wireless, and we’re in the same room as the router. Downloads and TV are mostly fine. So the question is, what’s really going on here?

— Martin and Judith Paquette, Bellevue

 A: There are a lot of things that can reduce your internet performance. But the place to start is by first making sure whether you’re getting the performance from your service provider that you expect.

So the first thing to do is to run a broadband speed test. I use Ookla (www.speedtest.net).

And, by the way, don’t expect to get the full advertised speed touted by your service provider, especially if you’re testing over a Wi-Fi connection. If you’re connecting via Ethernet expect to see roughly three-quarters of the advertised speed. If you’re connecting over Wi-Fi don’t be surprised to see speeds under 50% of the advertised speeds.

If your speed levels are significantly less than that, before contacting your internet service provider do four things:

First, make sure your modem is on the list supported by your service provider.

Secondly, if you’re using Wi-Fi and want to maximize performance, make sure your Wi-Fi router and the Wi-Fi clients in your devices are using the latest standard – 802.11ax. You can use devices with earlier standards, but you’ll only get the performance supported by the weakest link. In other words, if your router supports 802.11ax but your client is using 802.11n, you’ll only get the performance delivered by 802.11n.

Third, if you’re using Wi-Fi, look for possible sources of interference – anything that emits radio waves. Televisions and microwaves are common culprits.

Finally, bear in mind that the farther you are from your Wi-Fi router the more likely you’ll experience drops in performance.

One last thought: Try connecting with a different computer. It’s possible that something inside your computer is malfunctioning and interfering.

Q: I have a Dell Inspiron 15 5000 Series with an Intel Core i5. It is four to five years old. For the past year or so it has been a pain to start it up at times.

Sometimes I will push the power button and it fires right up. Other times it will take 10 or more times of pushing the power button before it responds. My son has told me to hold the power button in for 30 seconds then try again.

Normally after doing that within five tries it will start. I try to keep an almost fully charged battery all the time. I am concerned that there will be a time when I will not be able to start it! What do I do?

— Joe Stevens

A: It sounds to me like you’ve got a hardware issue — most likely either a bad power supply or a bad connection between the power supply and the power button. 

If that’s the problem, the computer could be repaired. But because your laptop is old enough to be out of warranty, the repair cost easily could be half of what it would cost you to buy a new comparable laptop.

You may want to consider recycling the computer and investing that money in a new one. Either way, I urge you to back up any files you care about right away.

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