Networking

SolutionBase: Troubleshoot wireless networking after installing Windows XP SP2

Windows XP Service Pack 2 is supposed to fix problems. However, as often is the case, Service Packs can sometimes cause more problems than they fix. Here's how to fix wireless networking issues that SP2 may cause on your system.

If you're running Windows XP and connect to a network via a wireless connection, you can pretty much bet on the fact that when you upgrade your computer to Windows XP SP2, the wireless network connection will cease to function. And while this may seem like a big problem to many folks, I actually consider it to be a blessing in disguise. Now don't get me wrong, it is a hassle that you have to spend time fixing something that previously worked fine, but doing so actually forces you to investigate and make use of some of the new wireless features that SP2 brings to the table—namely the Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) security feature and the Wireless Network Setup Wizard, which makes setting up multiple wireless computers a snap.

In this article, I'll describe the procedure that I've used multiple times to reestablish wireless networking after installing Windows XP SP2. As I do, I'll show you how to take advantage of the new features that Microsoft added to wireless networking in Windows XP SP2 to make the task super easy.

Using WPA

Keep in mind that if you want to take advantage of WPA you need to make sure that both your wireless access point (WAP) and your wireless network card support WPA. Check the manufacture's Web site to see if your wireless devices currently support WPA or need updates: a firmware update for your WAP and driver updates for your wireless network card.

Blow it all away

The first thing that you'll want to do is blow away your current wireless network configuration and start from scratch. You may want to do so even if your wireless network appears to be functioning correctly after the SP2 install.

Yes, you read me right, I said blow it away. Here's why. I've found that by wiping the slate clean and starting from scratch I save hours of time attempting to fix problems brought on my trying to graft something new (SP2 wireless) to something old (SP1 wireless) and trying the get the whole shebang to work. Using my Blow It All Away technique, I start at the beginning and build a new structure using the new tools. And best of all, you only have to do it once, regardless of how many wireless computers you have!

The first thing that you should do is uninstall the wireless network card drivers from the system. Of course, before you do so, you need to make sure that you have the necessary software to reinstall the drivers. In fact, I recommend that you visit the manufacture's Web site and check for updated drivers—especially if you want to use WPA.

Once you have the drivers accessible, launch Device Manager, open the Network Adapters tree, right click the wireless adapter, and select the Uninstall command. When you see the Confirm Removal dialog box, click OK. If the wireless network card came with any additional software, take a trip to the Add/Remove tool in Control Panel and remove the software.

As soon as the removal process is complete, shut down Windows, and then remove/disconnect the wireless network card. Then, restart Windows XP as you normally would.

Reinstall the driver

Once Windows XP has booted up normally, follow the manufacture's instructions for installing the wireless network card driver. Use the most current version available. Usually, this will consist of connecting the card and working through the Found New Hardware Wizard. Don't install any additional software that may have come with the wireless network card.

The Wireless Network Setup Wizard

Once the driver is installed and the operating system recognizes it, you'll see the new Wireless Network Setup Wizard's welcome screen and should click Next after perusing the information it presents. The next screen begins with a prompt that asks you what you want to do and presents you with two options, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

The Wireless Network Setup Wizard will recognize your existing wireless network configuration and select it as the default.

As you can see, the Wireless Network Setup Wizard will recognize your existing wireless network configuration and select it as the default. However, in keeping with my Blow It All Away technique, select the Set Up A New Wireless Network option, and then click Next.

The next screen in the wizard, shown in Figure B, will prompt you to create a name, or as it's more technically called a Service Set Identifier (SSID), for your wireless network. Again, unless you have an overwhelming need to use the same SSID, I recommend that you stick with my Blow It All Away technique and give your wireless network a new name.

Figure B

In addition to setting up a new SSID, you have the option of moving up to the stronger WPA security.

In addition, you can specify whether you want to have the Wireless Network Setup Wizard automatically generate and assign a network key, as well as whether you want to use WPA or WEP encryption. Regardless of whether you want to have the wizard create the network key or do it yourself, I strongly recommend that, if your wireless network devices support WPA, you select the Use WPA Encryption check box. WPA is by far the superior of the two encryption schemes.

If you're already using WPA, via the Windows WPA Client that was released prior to SP2, or have decides to continue using WEP, stick with my Blow It All Away technique and use a new network key.

Once you establish your network key, you'll be prompted to choose your wireless network settings propagation scheme, as shown in Figure C. As you can see, the recommended option is to use a USB flash drive on which to save the settings in an automated installation format. More on this automation feature in a moment. However, if you've been looking for a reason to get a USB flash drive, this is definitely it!

If you're a glutton for punishment, you can choose the manual option which will eventually directs you to print a hard copy of the settings that you can later use to manually enter the information when you configure other wireless computers as well as your WAP.

Figure C

One of the new features in the Wireless Network Setup Wizard allows you to save the settings to a USB flash drive.

As I mentioned, saving your wireless network settings to a USB flash drive is definitely the way to go as it is allows you to create your wireless network settings once, store them on the flash drive, and then use the flash drive transport the settings to other wireless computers and configure them in an instant. When you go the USB flash drive route, the Wireless Network Setup Wizard will prompt you to remove the USB flash drive and instruct you to take it to the other wireless computers as well as to the WAP.

Transporting wireless network settings with a USB flash drive

When it comes to setting up multiple wireless computers with new configuration options, the Wireless Network Setup Wizard's USB flash drive transport system is definitely the key to my Blow It All Away technique. This is really easy!

Of course, you'll want to update the wireless network adapter drivers on all your systems. But once you do that, all you have to do is connect the flash drive to the USB port in another Windows XP SP2 system and wait a few moments. When you do, the AutoRun program installed on the flash drive will launch a scaled down version of the Wireless Network Setup Wizard, which will display the dialog box shown in Figure D.

Figure D

Once you insert the USB flash drive the Wireless Network Setup Wizard will prompt you to configure the wireless settings.

All you have to do is click OK. As soon as you do, the Wireless Network Setup Wizard will instantly configure the wireless settings and display a confirmation. You can then remove the flash drive and successively take it to other computers.

Now, the scaled down version of the Wireless Network Setup Wizard is designed to configure a WAP that can accept a USB flash drive connection. However, if that's not your situation, you can find the wireless settings on the flash drive in a file called Wsetting.txt. You can open the file in Notepad and manually enter the necessary settings.

Completing the Wireless Network Setup Wizard

Once you've configured all your other wireless computers as well as your WAP, you then return to the original wireless computer. After you connect the flash drive to the USB port, click Next, and you'll see the last screen in the wizard, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E

After you've configured all the other wireless devices, you'll reconnect the flash drive and complete the Wireless Network Setup Wizard.

At this point, you'll want to click the Print Network Settings button so that you have a hard copy for your record. You'll also notice that the default setting is the delete the information from the flash drive for security purposes, but you can clear that check box if you want.

You're done!

That's all there is to it! Instead of spending hours in frustration trying to troubleshoot wireless network problems brought on by the grafting of SP2 wireless settings to SP1 wireless settings, you just blow everything away and start from scratch with a clean wireless network configuration. The rebuild process is greatly aided by the Wireless Network Setup Wizard, and along the way, you get to improve wireless security by moving to WPA.

About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

Editor's Picks