Q: My wife’s HP laptop (purchased in 2013, running Windows 8.1) is having difficulty printing to our HP OfficeJet 4655 over Wi-Fi. She gets a “printer is offline” message (even though it isn’t), and nothing can clear it short of deleting the printer and reinstalling it. This clears it every time, but she doesn’t have the patience to do this every time to print a document. The problem recurs every time she restarts her computer. Our network router is a Netgear N600. Other communications through this router (such as internet) work fine. This problem used to occur only occasionally, but now it’s constant.
The printer and router are in the same room as my HP laptop (purchased in 2019, Windows 10). My computer has never had this problem. Her computer is in the kitchen, through a couple of walls.
How can I troubleshoot this and determine why her computer thinks the printer is offline when it isn’t? Resetting the cable modem and router doesn’t change anything.
— Randy Nevin
A: I do believe you’ve pretty well nailed down the problem yourself. I’m betting that if you take your wife’s computer into the same room as the router it won’t have any trouble printing.
In other words, I’m pretty sure that the problem is a spotty network connection when her laptop is in the kitchen. That spotty connection can be the result of distance from the router and/or interference with the Wi-Fi radio waves. The interference can be caused by obstacles such as walls, especially if those walls contain metal objects or have metal objects on them. Or it can be caused by other electronic devices, such as microwave ovens.
If the laptop works fine when it’s in the same room as the router, you have several potential options. The Netgear N600 supports the 802.11n standard, which is several years old and doesn’t offer the range of the current 802.11ac or 802.11ax standards. Upgrading the router may increase your Wi-Fi range enough to reach the kitchen more reliably. But it’s not just the Wi-Fi standard that matters. If you invest in a higher-end router that also offers more antennas you’ll also further increase the Wi-Fi range.
Since your wife’s laptop is getting some Wi-Fi signal in the kitchen — enough to use a browser without obvious problems — upgrading the router, especially to one with multiple antennas, should be enough to keep the printer reporting itself as online.
If she wasn’t getting any signal at all, you’d want to look into setting up a Wi-Fi mesh network. Mesh networks use multiple repeaters to extend your Wi-Fi network from the router to devices outside its range.
Q: I have an 802.11n Wi-Fi router. The internet line is copper wire, and the advertised download speed is 10 Mbps. I tested the download speed on a smartphone and got 14.2 Mbps. I would like to get a laptop with Wi-Fi 6. Will it work well on this router?
— Bob Eder
A: Here’s the thing. The performance you’re going to get depends on the “weakest link.” An 802.11n router supports connections up to 300 Mbps, or megabits per second. Wi-Fi 6 — otherwise known as 802.11ax — supports connections up to 9.6 Gbps. That’s gigabytes per second. In short, Wi-Fi 6 supports connection speeds up to 30 times as fast as 802.11n.
The weakest link for you seems to be your internet service, which you say is limited to 10 Mbps. That’s way below what your Wi-Fi router can handle, and way below what a laptop with an 802.11ax client can handle.
The bottom line? Your new laptop with 802.11ax will work on your Wi-Fi but it will be limited to the 10 Mbps performance of your internet service.