Microsoft

Troubleshoot a wireless connection in Windows 7 with a firmware upgrade

Greg Shultz chronicles his trials and tribulations in a Windows 7 troubleshooting expedition regarding a flaky wireless network connection.

Like many folks out there, my father has been a Microsoft Windows XP holdout. He's upgraded to newer and more powerful machines several times over the years to keep pace with his computerized photography hobby, but each time, he has installed Windows XP. I don't blame him for skipping Vista as it was notoriously out of whack with several of his favorite photography programs.

However, I have been trying to convince him to make the move to Windows 7, as Microsoft has done a lot to ensure compatibility, and the new operating system really is stable. But, he has a lot of blood, sweat, and tears invested in his Windows XP setup and just won't go lightly into a whole new endeavor. Furthermore, his most trusted photography program, Nikon Capture NX, doesn't yet support the 64-bit version of Windows 7.

As such, I have given up trying to convince him to upgrade the operating system on his desktop system and recently shifted my focus over to attempting to get him to upgrade his laptop, which he is using primarily for surfing the Web and e-mail. This past weekend, I finally succeeded in getting him to make the move to Windows 7 on the laptop, but only as long as we set it up like I described in my series on configuring a Windows XP/Windows 7 dual-boot system.

He still wanted to have access to Windows XP, but at least he was finally interested enough in Windows 7 to allow me to nudge him in that direction. Setting up the dual-boot configuration was a breeze, and soon we were booting up Windows 7 Ultimate on his laptop. Everything was going smoothly, and I was extolling the benefits of Windows 7 with a big smile on my face until the laptop attempted to connect to his wireless network.

At that moment, the whole network came tumbling down, and I was soon embroiled in one of the trickiest troubleshooting expeditions I have been involved in for some time. Fortunately, the story has a happy ending, and everything is now working fine. But, because this type of situation could easily befall and befuddle others out there, I thought that in this edition of the Windows Vista and Windows 7 Report, I would chronicle my trials and tribulations in an effort to save others from this fate.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a free TechRepublic download.

The strange result

When I attempted to connect the laptop to the wireless network, the wireless icon in the notification area initially showed a connection and then it lost the connection. Thinking that I must have something incorrectly configured, I accessed the Wireless Network Properties dialog box and began investigating the settings on the Connection and Security tabs. After verifying that the settings were indeed correct, I went over to the desktop system and noticed that it had lost its Internet connection.

I then flipped the switch on the power strip to reset the Linksys RangePlus WRT110 Wireless Router and the DSL modem. Once they came back up and the desktop system regained its Internet connection, I rebooted the laptop and the whole ordeal played out again — the laptop attempted and failed to make a wireless connection and the desktop lost its Internet connection.

A driver problem?

Thinking that I needed to update the driver for the Atheros AR5007EG Wireless Network Adapter, I disabled the wireless card, connected an Ethernet cable to the laptop, and reset the wireless router and the DSL modem again. Once they came back up and the desktop system regained its Internet connection, I again rebooted the laptop and it immediately established an Internet connection with no problems whatsoever. Of course, this re-enforced my conviction that the problem was being caused by an erratic wireless driver.

With a solid Internet connection, Windows 7 went right to work and downloaded several patches and fixes from Windows Update. After restarting the system, I headed back to Windows Update, accessed the optional updates, and located a more current version of the Atheros driver. I then immediately downloaded and installed that driver.

Unfortunately, a new driver didn't fix the problem. The laptop attempted and failed to make a wireless connection and the desktop lost its Internet connection.

I disabled the wireless card, connected an Ethernet cable to the laptop, and reset the wireless router and the DSL modem. Again the desktop system regained its Internet connection and the laptop and immediately established an Internet connection with no problems whatsoever.

Is IPv6 the problem?

At this point, I was pretty exasperated and was ready to give up for the day. However, my father suggested that we take a break and come back to it. He was excited at the prospect of having Windows 7 on his laptop.

After lunch, I turned to Google and began scouring the Web for any wireless network connection problems remotely similar to what we were experiencing. While I didn't find reports of total network crashes, I did find several folks who reported that disabling IPv6 solved wireless network problems in Windows 7.

I know the IPv6 is a necessary component for several of Windows 7's networking functions, like HomeGroups, but I thought that I would give it a shot. So, I re-enabled the wireless card, accessed the Wireless Network Connection dialog box, and disabled IPv6. I then disconnected the Ethernet cable, reset the wireless router and the DSL modem, and restarted Windows 7.

In a few minutes, Windows 7 had established a wireless connection with no problems whatsoever and I was able to connect to the Internet. Furthermore, the desktop system had a stable Internet connection.

So, now I knew that IPv6 was at the heart of the problem. I also knew that disabling IPv6 wasn't a long-term solution.

Firmware on the router

Returning to Google, I began searching for wireless network connection problems related to IPv6. Soon I discovered several posts where people were reporting that they had discovered that older network hardware, such as routers and wireless devices, were incompatible with Windows 7's use of IPv6.

Now, the Linksys RangePlus WRT110 Wireless Router is just a little over a year old, but it did predate Windows 7. A trip to the Linksys Support site revealed a firmware update for the WRT110. However, the release notes for the update made no mention of Windows 7 compatibility.

With nothing to lose and everything to gain, I downloaded and installed the firmware update for the WRT110. Once that process was complete, I re-enabled IPv6 and lo and behold, everything worked just like it was supposed to.

What's your take?

Of course, my hope was that everything would have worked correctly right out of the box, so to speak, but I did accomplish my goal of getting Windows 7 up and running on my father's laptop in an effort to wean him off of Windows XP.

Are you running Windows 7 on a wireless network? Have you encountered similar problems? What network components are you using? Did you have to update drivers or firmware?

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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.

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