OS X Mavericks: Troubleshooting Bluetooth device connections

If you are suffering poor performance from your Bluetooth mouse, keyboard or other devices, then follow these steps to understand the problem.

OS X Mavericks: Troubleshooting Bluetooth device

Stock Option

First, check the battery level: the most common cause for patchy connectivity is low battery power. You may be able to fix the problem by recharging or changing the batteries.

If that's not the cause, then OS X Mavericks carries a bunch of tools to check Bluetooth, though to monitor a connection a Bluetooth must be enabled and connected (paired) with your Mac.

When you click the Bluetooth Icon in the Menu Bar you will see a list of devices currently connected to your computer. You can select a device to get a little more information -- but that's not all the information Mavericks has for you.

If you hold down the Option/Alt key and then select the Bluetooth Icon in the Menu bar you will see much more information. Select the Bluetooth device(s) you need to check.

In the next pane you'll see the options you usually see (including Disconnect and Remove). Below these you'll see three new numbers, the device Address, its role and a number called RSSI. That's the important one.

RSSI stands for Received Signal Strength Indicator, this is a basic measure of how well connected the device is. These numbers are negative (-55 dBm, for example). The closer your number is to 0, the better the connection.

According to Amsys, a basic guide to what these numbers mean is:

  • Up to -69 is a strong connection
  • -70 to -99 is a good connection
  • -100 and beyond is a poor or very poor connection -- if you hit -110 then you have a problem.

If you appear to have a poor connection and your batteries are fully charged, then it's possible your Bluetooth devices are in range of another electrical device that is interfering with the connection.

Apple tech support states: "Avoid situations in which metal objects come between your device and computer. Don't put your computer under a metal desk or in a metal cabinet. Keep your computer away from cordless phone base stations, microwave ovens, and other electrical devices that operate on a 2.4 GHz bandwidth."

  • You can try moving your other electrical devices away from the computer, and see if that makes a difference to your RSSI.
  • You should also try to move your Mac in order to assess if the RSSI reading improves.

Another way to check for interference from other devices is to use the excellent iStumbler app. This offers a range of tools with which to check wireless networks, including Bluetooth and WiFi networks.

When checking a Bluetooth network the advantage of iStumbler is that it will also offer you data as to your S/N (Signal to Noise) ratio.  This is calculated by subtracting signal noise from signal strength. In general terms, if iStumbler shows an SNR of under 25dB, then it is likely something is interfering with your connection. If this is the case you should move your Mac to see if things improve.

Hopefully this short guide will improve your Bluetooth experience. 

Mavericks Tips and Tricks

Google+? If you use social media and happen to be a Google+ user, why not join AppleHolic's Kool Aid Corner community and join the conversation as we pursue the spirit of the New Model Apple?

Got a story? Drop me a line via Twitter or in comments below and let me know. I'd like it if you chose to follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when fresh items are published here first on Computerworld.

FREE Computerworld Insider Guide: IT Certification Study Tips
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies