What's up with 802.11n and MacBook Pros?

Unlike some folks who upgraded to Leopard at the end of October, I've had pretty good luck with Apple's new OS. No blue screen of death when I updated from Tiger; no dead keyboards on my MacBook Pro (MBP). No ability to keep a solid WiFi connection.

Oh, wait. That last one actually is turning out to be a problem, and not just for me. Check out the various threads on Apple's own support forums, where everyone seems to be trying to figure out the same thing: Why do WiFi connections between Apple's Airport base station and the company's laptops keep dropping -- especially when using Leopard?

Here's what happened to me. After a month or so of problem-free surfing, I awakened my MBP from sleep and noticed it wasn't finding my home WiFi network. The laptop was bought in June and is the latest model available: a 17-incher with the 2.4GHz Core2Duo processor; The base station was bought in August. Both offer WiFi networking using the still-evolving-but-almost-complete 802.11n draft standard, and both worked just fine until earlier this week.

I restarted the laptop; no WiFi. I turned off WiFi on the laptop and turned it back on. No go. I opened up the network system pref pane and poked around, but found nothing out of miss. So I pulled the plug on the base station to restart it and voila! my connection was back.

I sat the computer down, closed the lid, made dinner and came back to find when I awakened the MBP that my connection -- you got it -- was gone again. This time, I was able to get a connection by restarting the laptop, but over the next day or so, the problem occurred often enough that I tried my older 802.11n-based Linksys wireless router. That one was consistent: every time I put my laptop to sleep the connection died.

Next stop: Those Apple discussion forums, where users facing similar problems offered a plethora of solutions, everything from reducing signal strength to turning off IPv6 addressing on both the router and laptop to -- my fav -- sitting the Airport Extreme Base Station on its side. The thread I checked out had more than 2,800 views and more than 230 posts as of late afternoon on Dec. 6.

I am not alone.

I opted to kill IPv6, which several users said had worked for them, at least for a while. You do this on the Airport Extreme Base Station by using "manual setup" in the utility that manages the base station, going to advanced>IPv6 and making IPv6 "Local-link only." I also turned it off using the Network preferences pane on the laptop itself. This is not a guaranteed solution. After a few days, all I can say is so far, so good. But I hold my breath a bit every time I sit down to use my laptop wondering how long this "fix" will last.

My advice to Apple? Do what one user said: Tell your engineers to stop playing with their iPhones and iPods and get this problem solved.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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