Monday, September 09, 2013

Tips for Troubleshooting Intermittent Network Connectivity

Network connectivity issues can be extremely frustrating.  If your web browser crashes you have to wonder if it was the browser, if you were disconnected from the wireless network, or even if your network interface card (NIC) is going bad.  When troubleshooting this issue you may wonder what steps are best to find the answer.  Also, there are different steps between troubleshooting a computer and a laptop.  The information below is not intended to explain how to replace a NIC should that end up being the issue, rather the information is intended to provide an easy test that can rule out the NIC or determine it is the cause of your issue.

First let me clarify a computer using a local area network (LAN) card, which means an Ethernet or phone cable is directly plugged into the computer for online access, will be easier than testing a wireless NIC.  A computer connecting via a cable will not get disconnected unless the network it is connected to goes down as the networks these cards are connected to are in an on or off state at all times.  If other devices can connect to the network, it is possible a bad cable is at fault or it could be a bad NIC.  With a computer the NIC will normally be integrated with the motherboard.  Never fear, computers are easy to add additional LAN adapters to a remaining slot on the motherboard.

If you are using a laptop or a computer with a wireless card online access is coming via a wireless network.  Wireless network signals can only travel so far so if you move too far from the nearest access point you can get dropped off of that network.  Some laptops will disable the wireless as a battery saver.  Also, there are almost always physical buttons on laptops provided as shortcuts to disable the wireless.  Always check these first, it sounds silly, but almost everyone has gone to tech support only to realize they had bumped the button or the slider and disabled the wireless card themselves.  

If you have checked and none of these seems to be your issue but your browsers are crashing more and more often there is a way to see if the network card is starting to go bad.  During normal data transfer the send / receive is fairly minimal.  Try streaming video or music and your usage goes way up, which will cause a faulty NIC to crash much faster.  

To test to see if the NIC is going bad, try this ping test.  A normal ping sends a very small data packet, but this forces the NIC to send a much larger packet and very quickly will tell you if the NIC is going bad if the ping fails.  Open the command line window, which in Windows Vista or later you can find by typing "cmd" in the search bar in the start menu. 
Then type:  

ping "any website you want" -l 1500

Pick any website to ping, your favorite website, it can be anything.  This will ping the website you specified 4 times.  If you have any failed pings your network card is likely the culprit.  Note:  if you ping a website and it fails, try another website.  It is possible that for security reasons ping is turned off for that website.

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