How Can I Get a WiFi Signal to Work on My Computer?

By Ben Lingenfelter

Depending on the make, model and age of your computer, getting Wi-Fi signal to show up and be recognized can be challenging. There are operating systems that aren't compatible with older hardware, and instances where drivers are missing entirely.

Troubleshooting Wi-Fi Signals

Step 1

Make sure everything is connected the way it should be. Cable or DSL lines should go into their modems, and those modems should be connected to wireless routers.

Step 2

Analyze the signal by checking with another computer. Ask a friend who has a PC with working Wi-Fi to come check it out. See if that computer can access the signal. Alternatively, take your computer to a Wi-Fi hotspot and check to see if you can connect. If the computer can't find a Wi-Fi Wi-Fi signal anywhere, there are hardware issues. Hardware issues have a wide range. A new router might send out an 802.11n signal, but the laptop might have a wireless card that can only read a 802.11b signal. Older laptops might not even have wireless capability installed. A $20 PCMCIA card (slot in left side of laptop, about the size of a fat credit card) or $10 USB dongle (like a big flash drive that provides wireless) is the simplest fix in these situations.

Step 3

Log on to the router. If another computer can access your wireless and you can't, or if you can access Wi-Fi elsewhere, the next step is to log in to the "back end" of the router. Connect directly to the router with an Ethernet cable. Navigate to in any browser. This will take you to a login page. Most routers use admin/admin for the username/password. If that doesn't work, check the bottom of the router or the user manual for more information. If the router was purchased used, reset it by pressing the "reset" button underneath.Once logged in, find the "wireless security" tab or page to find out if there's a password already set. Set up your own password while you're there. For home use, WPA security is usually sufficient, but choose whatever security protocol you'd like.

Tips & Warnings

  • It never hurts to restart both computer and wireless modem/router. If the modem and router are started in the wrong order, wireless often gets "stuck." Plug them into the same power strip and reset it. This often gets them "talking" the right way.
  • It also helps to have a PCMCIA wireless card handy. They're priceless when it comes to simply checking to see if the problem is the router or the laptop.