WiFi PCMCIA Cards - Frequent Disconnects Fix

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Windows XP fix – Joe and contributors

***Problem Product***

Summary: Microsoft’s XP Wireless Zero Configuration (WCZ) Service may create problems with WiFi adapters.

Note: What follows are selected emails from among many I received on this – I can’t possibly include all who responded – if you did email, our readers are indebted to all who took the time to write about it.

It seems like I hit a nerve – if you have a WiFi PCMCIA card that drives you nuts as it connects/disconnects with annoying frequency, you’re not alone! It’s not particular to one brand but rather an endemic Windows XP/2000 issue. Readers alerted me to a few articles that are MUST reads if this is a problem for you.

Readers responded with a variety of fixes, although it seems as if the most likely culprit is the Windows Zero Configuration Service in Windows XP (more extensive Microsoft documentation HERE.) This service “configures the wireless network adapter to connect to an available wireless network” and provides automatic configuration for 802.11 adapters.

First, Michael nailed it:

“It’s a pain, isn’t it?

The most common problem that I’ve seen (and struggled with for a long time) has to do with Wireless Zero Configuration (WCZ) in some circumstances. Unfortunately this applies to XP only. The symptom is the computer will get the wireless connection, the drop it, then get it, then drop it, etc. Sometimes it’s fast (30 seconds between each part), sometimes it drops and reconnects instantly and stays connected for 15 minutes. No matter what it’s a major pain.

If your wireless network doesn’t broadcast it’s SSID and another nearby one does, then Windows will try to connect to that other nearby one, then it reconnects to yours. This is a “feature”, and many people are hoping it’s fixed in the next service pack. There are two solutions: Make your network broadcast its SSID, or turn off WZC.

To turn off WZC, get connected to the network, then stop the service and set it to manual in the services control panel thing of the Microsoft Management Console. It will stay connected and configured to the network it was attached to and the problem will go away. The other option is to use a 3rd party program to configure wireless settings (like the one your card vendor gave you). If you want to switch networks, you have to re-enable WZC.

It’s all a big pain and it happens with more than just Netgear equipment (I’ve had the problem with my Linksys card too). If this is your problem, this is your solution.
There was a blurb on Ars Technica a month or more ago about this. I struggled for this a long time until I found the answer on an obscure forum after a Google search. I really REALLY hope MS fixes this in the next release – it causes many people many headaches.”

And Marvin shed some additional light:

“The problem is not limited to WIFI cards – it happens with all network connections.

After the connection sits idle for a few minutes, it drops it; you can view this happening by the x on the connection. Using the connection re-establishes it. Connections that are used continually don’t get dropped.

Note: pre-W2K OS’s continually pinged a connection to verify its existence. Now the OS just assumes it is functioning.

The WIFI software is either having a problem maintaining the connection when the OS stops communication and then is having trouble re-establishing it, or it is simply falsely reporting on it. To verify the issue, let the OS drop the connection and then time how long it takes to re-establish – is it a few seconds, more like 30 seconds, or does it simply hang?

One to five seconds is normal. If this is the case, then ignore the red x. If you are experiencing longer drops, a simple solution is to use a schedule program or loop program and set up a ping every 30 seconds to 1 minute. This will have the same effect as using it on NT.

Note: the reason the Microsoft stopped pinging is because on a network with a thousand plus computers, for example the GM tech Center with 4 square miles of buildings devoted to model development and engineering in Detroit, the amount of network bandwidth being used up by thousands of computers screaming at each other saying, “Are you there? Yes” became a problem.

This is not a problem on home networks because of the usual 2-4 computers.”

Wayne found this article at Wired News:

“I think this link might give you some more information about what you are looking for from Wired News – I hope this helps; it took me like 10 minutes to find it again but I knew I read it somewhere!”

There’s another very good article at Wired News that delves further into this problem. The “Wireless Zero Configuration [is] a feature that was meant to do away with the mishmash of software drivers and configuration utilities.”

And herein lies the rub! Microsoft, in its determination to be omniscient, comes up with a feature to replace all the hardware vendor’s configuration utilities for 802.11 adapters. I had a BMW that kind of did the same thing; BMW developed a “fix” that made it easier to balance the front wheels. Unfortunately, the “fix” resulted in a harmonic vibration at about 68 mph – some fix!

The point being that sometimes the “fix” creates unforseen problems; in this case, it seems like it can lead to frequent connect/disconnects, as I experienced. Here’s the fix in Wired News:


• Go to Control Panel.
• Choose Administrative Tools.
• Select Services. A two-pane window comes up.
• In the right-hand pane, scroll down and click Wireless Zero Configuration.
• Click Stop the Service. A progress bar may come up briefly.
• Click Start the Service. Again, a progress bar may come up.
• Close the Services window. At this point … the connection should come back.

{mospagebreak}

Terry sent in another article addressing this fix in PC Magazine:

“I have the same wireless netgear setup with WinXP Professional. I would get intermittent signal drops when I transferred a large file. The solution I found is in the following article in PC Magazine
“Keep Your Wireless Connection from Changing”:

“Open Windows Explorer and navigate to C:WindowsSystem32 (or C:WinntSystem32 if you’re running Windows 2000). Locate the file net.exe. Right-drag it onto the desktop and choose Create shortcut(s) here when you drop it. Click twice slowly in the filename area and name the shortcut Stop WZC. Right-click on the shortcut, choose Properties, and click on the Shortcut tab. The Target field will probably show C:WINDOWSsystem32net.exe. Append a space to this, followed by stop wzcsvc (don’t forget the space before stop). If you like, repeat these steps and create another shortcut to start the service; just replace stop with start.”

Sean sent in a link to an article that addressed this at Ars Technica:

Arstechnica.com did a write up on this back in march that worked for me.

I fixed my problem by using Netgear’s Configuration Utility rather than the Wireless Zero Configuration Service – now no drops and steady as a rock. If after trying this and you continue to have problems, there are other areas to consider:

Robin

“I had this problem. All I had to do to solve it was to uncheck “Enable IEEE 802.1x authentication for this network” under the “Authentication” tab of the Local Area Connection Properties. If I remember correctly, I read somewhere on the Netgear website that this problem should be resolved in the next service pack release for WinXP.”

Dave

“I have the same problem with the Netgear PC cards but usually only when talking to a Netgear AP. The same card with a Cisco 1100 AP was fine. Also, a Dell 1450 MiniPCI card talking to the Netgear AP seems to be stable (but very very slow?!).

I have seen these kinds of dropouts more often when 802.1x is enabled for a connection. This is located here:

* Wireless network card properties
* Wireless Networks tab
* Network – Configure
* Authentication tab

Unless you know your network has 802.1x (such as requiring a certificate or extra username/password to connect to the LAN) turn this off.”

Jake

“I’ve found a few things that aggravate this somewhat.. firstly, if I run my
CPU at ~2.4 GHz, this causes the card to reconnect much more often, and a
lower signal strength (interference?)

Secondly, I’ve found the card will disconnect normally only when something
else is using the PCI bus. For example, a sure fire way seems to be to play
an mp3, while copying a file and downloading. It causes sound to stop, the card to
disconnect, the hard drive to pause and Windows to hang for a few moments.

A few things that help seem to be the old VIA v-latency patch (using kt600
board here) in conjunction with Powerstrip. As the card seem to wrestle
itself a 128 latency no matter what. Setting all things to 32 with
Powerstrip seems to help a lot.

Seems like hardware issue to me – for ref, using msi Kt6 delta fsir, rad
9800pro, 1gig twinmoss, WG 311 802.11g wireless card and a herc fortissimo
2; not using SATA ports on board, but using all 4 IDE with ATA 100 drives.
and a mobile Barton.”

James

“I had a problem like that with a Linksys setup – we had
our wireless network and one or two around us. We had
our computers configured to log onto our network and
it would always pickup the other networks, kick us off
ours, tell us about the other networks, and then
reconnect to our network.

I went through and went to
view available wireless networks, then advanced, then
clicked configure on the other two networks, putting
them in the “preferred networks” area. Then I moved my
network above the other two and I never had the
problem again; I dunno if this is exactly what you
were experiencing, but it may help.”

Chuck

“Been there man, here’s the issue… The problem lies in the way Windows uses security, particularly 128 bit WEP. There are a few fixes:

* First make sure you’re NOT using MS drivers, as provided by Windows update.
* Then, make sure you’ve got the wireless rollup package installed.
* Lastly, disable the Wireless Zero Configuration (WZC) service in the Control Panel

It that doesn’t help, then look into a new adapter.”{mospagebreak}

Bob

“I have quite a bit of WiFi experience. I use a Netgear wireless
router at home, but I’m afraid I have not used many of their
adapters – mainly I use Cisco and Intel. However, we did do a small (3 PC)
install of some Netgear USB adapters running WinXP Pro.

That being said, we did have a problem with above devices on ALL 3
PC’s. They would lose IP info. Sometimes they would lose the entire
IP config, but other times is was only DNS. I believe this to be
rooted in the drivers for a particular OS.

Since most companies have
one driver model for both Win2K and WinXP, that would follow that you
see problems with both of these OS’s and possibly not with others.
Unfortunately, our fix for this was to use Static IP’s on these
devices.

For us, wireless on PC’s is a temporary arrangement when we
have a site that won’t be in it’s location long. Rather than run
cable, we setup wireless. They are mainly internet, e-mail, telnet,
so bandwidth is not an issue.

I know this probably doesn’t give you any more of a solution, but I
wanted to let you know that there are others encountering the same
issues.”

John

“I dual boot my r3000z with WinXP and linux using the built-in Broadcom
802.11g. Under WinXP it randomly drops and re-acquires the
connection. This never happens under linux. Since I use ndiswrapper,
the driver is the same. At a guess, it seems to be a Windows thing…”

Seth

“Try this registry change in WinXP:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREMicrosoftEAPOLParametersGeneralGlobal
Add Dword: AuthMode=2

This worked for my problems but this was with a Broadcom adapter. You can
also try disabling the ‘Wireless Zero Config’ service.”

Gregg

“I was an early adopter with the Netgear 802.11g wireless network add on box and had the exact same issues with it for an entire year. The problem with my wireless access point was with the crappy firmware that they released. Apparently they release newer drivers/firmware without actually putting them up on the website. I suffered for an entire year with bad connections and even went out and bought a new antenna.

Anyway I had to bug and pester them for a year to get it fixed. It took an article on MSBC that detailed how bad their equipment is, specifically for the router I have, for them to fix all the issue’s I had with it.

Apparently they released firmware updates but never posted them to their website, why they would do that is beyond me, you’ll have to contact their technical support and bitch them out on this and tell them you know they have a fix for it because others have gotten the fix.

The access point I have is the wg602 version 1.0, which you can’t even find any information on anymore on their site, instead of giving you the information on the version 1.0 device they default to version 2.0 even if you specify you want the 1.0 information. Pure frustration!”

Xavier

“I had the same problem with a netgear wg511 pcmcia card.
The problem is due to the WinXP driver for the card.
The latest driver ( 2.5.0.2 ) did solve the problem for me – now the signal
is stable, tested with 4 different wireless routeurs.

If you are understanding French then just take a look at this
Forum;
lots of info and troubleshooting for all netgear wireless hardware.”

Finally, Joshua’s experience and fix seems to wrap it all up:

“I’m a long time reader and forum lurker of OCer’s. About 2 years ago I got my mom online with wireless using a netgear mr314 and ma101s, which were pretty much top of the line at the time. Wireless, although pretty new, was chosen because we did not want to drill through the walls for cables. I had lots of issues including changing my modem over to PPPoE, but then I had things working – more or less.

Through 3 walls, my mom’s signal was pretty weak but only seemed to work with Windows XP controlling the connectivity. My sister’s wasn’t much better through a closet and one wall. While their connections were sometimes flaky and often slow, it got the job done for emailing and whatnot.

I was constantly updating firmware and drivers and lowered WEP to 64 bit until I got it more or less stable. However, when I went off to college at UC Davis, my mother started calling about her “internet not working.” I had a friend come and bounce the routers and equipment, as my mom would get flustered trying to do things herself (eventually my sister learned to take care of things.)

Not until recently have I figured out how to keep them 100% stable. The focus has to be on the client side, with only improving the configuration of the ma101’s.

First, it is best to update to XP service pack 2; currently I am using the beta, but it seems more than stable and functional to me. It has many more abilities to configure wireless settings and, most importantly, to disable Window’s control over wireless devices.

Second, install the newest drivers for the clients and know all the WEP keys, channels, and other necessary information.

Third, in the properties of the device, go to the fields that “show wireless networks available” and uncheck the “let windows control…”¹

And last, go into the network configuration utility that comes with the driver and lock in all the settings for your network.

BAM! SOLID NETWORK. Now I wish I hadn’t drilled holes and run ethernet to my mother’s room outside of the house.”

Paul’s adds a clarification on the third point:

To clarify this point, Wireless Zero Configuration [WZC] needs
to be running as a service to access this. Verify the service by opening

Start:Control Panel:Administrative Tools:Services

Scroll to Wireless Zero Configuration to see if the service is “Started” and startup is
“Automatic”. (These are the default settings.)

You can change values after
double-clicking the service. After exiting, you can double-click the WZC
icon in the system tray, click “View Wireless Networks” and select “Change
advanced settings” in the left panel. Select the “Wireless Networks” tab to
uncheck the “Use Windows…” box mentioned here. If WZC service is not
running, you will NOT see the “Wireless Networks” tab under “advanced
settings”.

Thanks again to all who responded! Judging by the number of emails, this is enough of an issue to rate Microsoft XP’s Wireless Zero Configuration Service a Problem Product. Hopefully subsequent XP service packs will address this issue, although Microsoft has taken the position that there is no issue with this service.
{mospagebreak}

Ed Note: Location, location, location – works great for real estate, maybe a factor in wireless issues; Jon’s experience is noteworthy:

Jon

“I noticed the majority of people there didn’t say anything about the area they live in.

I live in a rural area with little to nothing around me that causes any big RF interference. No corporate buildings, no power lines/substations, no cell phone towers, etc. I am using a Linksys USB 802.11g card on a PC on the first floor of my condo. My wrt54g is on the second floor. This is a mid-size condo complex, so it has concrete subfloors.

I would have to pay someone to run the cable through the walls due to the wall layouts, so I just went wireless. I use the PC downstairs to do all my major downloading. I frequently leave a Windows remote desktop window (connected to the downstairs PC) open for long periods of time (watching downloads while playing a game). I have something downloading or seeding almost 24/7. I never have any connectivity issues.

I have used the standard Linksys setup utility as well as XP’s setup. I actually prefer to “Use Windows to configure my wireless network settings” because the Linksys utility has problems whenever I reboot. I have to manually pick what AP I want to use, whereas the Zero Config would always remember. I’ve had this setup for more than year with XP SP1 and SP2. I’m using 128 bit wep, G only, and the MAC filter list on the wrt54g, so I only allow PCs with a given mac address.

While on the other side, my friend lives in a very cluttered city with many corporate buildings with some sort of antenna array on each building. RF, microwave? Im no expert in that area. There is also a cell phone tower withing a mile.

He has the same hardware (wireless related) and software setup as I do. He can have the router and the USB adapter within 20 feet with clear line of sight in his house and lose connectivity randomly. This happens even if he only uses 802.11b.

I don’t see how other people’s connectivity issues could be caused solely by the WZC. Maybe Netgear’s drivers and WZC or just that Netgear adapter.

One other fix from Robert (I had this issue also):

I had the same issue. I did some searching and found that if you un-enable IEEE 8023.1x authentication (found in the properties of your wireless connection), you will almost never drop your connection again. There is something about XP Service Pack 2 setting this to enable by default. It explains why some people (myself included) never had issues until they upgraded to SP2.

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