Q: I have a refurbished HP laptop with Windows 10. We use CenturyLink for the DSL connection to the modem. We recently purchased a new modem from CenturyLink for better security.

Now, though, particularly when we’re using Zoom, a message pops up that says our internet connection is unstable, and often we lose our connection to the modem and the internet. There’s often a problem getting connected when we turn on the computer. It takes restarting the computer a couple of times before it connects. It occasionally happens as well on my desktop, which also has a Wi-Fi connection.

My question is whether the connection problems are due to a problem with the modem, the line from CenturyLink or the Wi-Fi card in the computer. Any thoughts or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

— Henry Burton

A: You’ve singled out the three most likely culprits: the modem, the DSL connection, or the Wi-Fi client in the computer. But since it seems that the problem arose only after you installed the new modem, I’d focus on that as the most likely cause of your unstable connection. Before calling CenturyLink for a replacement, however, make sure the connection between the modem and the DSL line is nice and tight and then reboot the modem.

You might also try connecting the computer directly to the modem via an Ethernet cable. If the problem disappears that will at least let you, and CenturyLink, know that the problem is with the Wi-Fi router in the modem. I’ve found that modems that also offer Wi-Fi often underperform as Wi-Fi routers. That’s why I chose to connect a higher-end Wi-Fi router to my cable modem and I use that for my Wi-Fi connection.

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Q: I’m a busy computer user but I’m intermediate at best technically when it comes to computers. As such, it seems as though there is a conspiracy to make it difficult for us intermediates to easily and simply know what routine maintenance to do on browsers, managing computer resources, boot up, etc., so that we don’t live in constant “speed frustration.”

To add to it, we intermediates don’t know what to trust that is online and it seems like no one we trust (Microsoft, Google, etc.) publishes anything that is “follow the dots” to make it easy for us to know what routine maintenance to do to keep EVERYTHING fast.

Is this a conspiracy to get us to buy a service contract? Can you start to publish simple instructions periodically in your column for each important subject?

— Nick Vlahovich

A: I certainly understand your frustration. In fact, many of the questions I answer in this column address one or another of the causes of flagging computer performance. And there are so many potential causes of “speed frustration” that they can’t be addressed comprehensively.

Your computer may be slow because there’s not enough room on your hard drive or there may be something interfering with your Wi-Fi. You may have malware installed by some app you downloaded, or a third-party browser add-on may be conflicting with a program. Or you may have installed a program that requires more memory than your computer has.

In short, in many cases the best I can offer is to point to the most likely suspects for a specific problem. And often I have to do a little back-and-forth with readers to make a diagnosis. And in some cases it’s impossible to diagnose a problem without hands-on troubleshooting.


My general advice to avoid “speed frustration” is this: Keep things simple. Download as little as possible from the internet. Don’t visit websites you aren’t sure of. Don’t click on links in emails unless you know and trust the sender. Only install programs on your computer that you are really going to use.

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Follow-up note: In a recent column I mentioned that I periodically sign up for a new email address so that I can avoid all the spam that eventually afflicts my old email addresses. Several readers wrote in with the observation that getting family, friends and other correspondents to switch to the new address can be challenging. Fortunately, Larry Rees also wrote in to remind me that most email programs — in fact, all that I am aware of — allow you to set up an autoresponse to incoming mail. You can use that to notify people of your new address. (Be aware, though, that some spammers may harvest your new email address from that response.)