Eee PC: WiFi Problems on the Road

I took my Eee PC on its first road trip last weekend.  Things didn’t go exactly as expected; Eee PC wise that is.  For those of you who are not regular readers of my blog, I would like to point out that this discussion pertains to the Linux version of the Eee PC.

Like most NetBook owners, one of the things that attracted me to the Eee PC was the portability.  I was looking forward to traveling with a computer that was no heavier or larger than a hardback novel.  I already knew that my hotel, favorite coffee shop and favorite book store at my destination had free WiFi.  It was time to say goodbye to that back ache I always developed when I traveled with my older laptop computer.

The first hint of trouble came even before I started my trip.  While I was waiting around at the Seattle airport, I decided to check my emails.  Strangely enough, the Eee PC could not see any wireless access points.  I didn’t give it much thought at the time as it was time to pack up and board the plane.  A few hours later I had arrived at my destination and checked into my hotel.  I was eager to get on line and check my email as I was off line for nearly eight hours.

I imagine that some of you are thinking, if the Denki-Guy wants to stay connected, why doesn’t he use a smart phone for email?  That is a good question and the answer is simple.  The Denki-Guy is cheap.  Back when I used my phone more, monthly bills in excess of $200 were not unusual.  This seemed excessive to me, especially when free WiFi is available at more and more places.  I have seen free WiFi advertised at coffee shops, book stores, car dealers, medical offices, beauty salons and more.  I generally have no problem checking my emails every couple hours or so.

Now back to my story.  Soon after I dropped my bags in my room, I pulled out my Eee PC and booted.  It typically takes about a minute before I see that little balloon that says, “Wireless Networks Detected.”  I waited patiently for two and then three minutes.  Nothing.  I tried to create a new network connection from scratch but when it came time to select a wireless network from the list, no networks could be found.  Expletive deleted!

That evening I tried a number of things to get my wireless connection to work.  I tried rebooting.  I tried cleaning out old connections.  I tried going to other locations within the hotel.  I tried going to a book store with free wireless.  Nothing worked.  Finally, the hotel lent me a gaming adapter that converted WiFi to a wired network connection.  I was finally on line.

My tale of woe is still not over.  The next morning, I awoke my Eee Pc from sleep mode and it seems that the wired connection had failed also.  The log told me that the network stack never received an IP address from DHCP.  More expletives deleted.  I didn’t have time to dwell on the topic though, I had meetings to attend.

Now here comes the strange part.  I arrived back at my hotel some 12 hours later and I was determined to get to the bottom of this problem.  I booted up the Eee PC and I was shocked when I saw the Wireless Networks Detected balloon appear.  I chose a network that had 100% signal strength and within seconds I had a wireless connection.  What is going on?

During the rest of my trip, the WiFi connection on the Eee PC worked fine.  I added connections for the book store, coffee shop and airport access points.  Once and a while, I would get a message that the Eee Pc could not connect to a certain access point but after chosing re-connect in the Networks control, I would get a connection.

I wish I could tell you what is going on but I don’t know for sure.  In theory, this is a computer and it should work the same way every time.  In reality, most modern computer systems act like organic systems; they are so complex that it is extremely difficult to figure out what exactly is going on.  In this case, I suspect a startup race condition (read timing problem).  For some reason, a certain process does not start up which causes problems with all the components with dependencies.

What to do if you no wireless networks are found (but you know an access point is indeed available)

  1. Restart the computer and try again.
  2. Turn the computer off, wait a minute or so and try again.
  3. Turn the computer off, unplug the AC adapter, remove the battery, let the computer cool down 5 minutes or more, reassemble everything and try again.

The next time this happens, I will take some more time to try to figure out which process is not starting up correctly.  If I can pinpoint the problem, I will post a better solution to this problem.

The Denki-Guy

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One Response to “Eee PC: WiFi Problems on the Road”

  1. Fixing Wifi on the Eee PC 900: Part 2 « A walk along the denkigai Says:

    […] hard coded wireless channel explain the WiFi Problems on the Road incident?  […]

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