Wi-Fi is a very convenient technology for connecting laptops to the Internet quickly and easily, as well as for creating a home network without running physical wires from each computer to the router. Wi-Fi, however, does have its limitations. If you are experiencing poor signal strength, there are several things you can do to improve the situation, most of them for free.

Wireless Adapter Changes

One of the easiest ways to improve your Wi-Fi signal strength is to update the drivers and the firmware for your wireless card. Manufacturers often tweak the settings of the hardware over time to gain more performance from their products or to fix bugs that were previously hindering performance. Find the manufacturer and model number of your wireless adapter by reading the documentation for the computer, checking Device Manager in Windows for the information or by looking at the physical adapter itself. Download the newest drivers and firmware from the manufacturer's website and install them. If your wireless adapter is external and has a replaceable antenna, consider upgrading it to a high-gain antenna, which can increase the range significantly.

Wireless Router Changes

Wireless router firmware, especially on newer devices, is upgraded regularly. Sign into your router interface to download new firmware or to apply firmware downloaded to a connected computer, depending on the router's upgrade method. Changing the router's transmitting and receiving channels can also improve reception; interference from other routers and devices can be reduced or eliminated this way, increasing your signal strength. If the antennas are replaceable, upgrade them to high-gain versions. Finally, move the router as close as possible to the receiver and avoid routing the signal around heavy objects, such as furniture, or through walls.

Installing Signal Repeaters

Weak signals can be relayed further by placing repeaters, or extra routers configured as repeaters, between the source and the wireless adapter. Place the repeater close enough to receive a decent signal from the router, while maximizing the distance away from it. A second wireless router with a wired connection to the first is a good way to get around impassable obstacles such as walls.

Third-Party Router Firmware

Some routers, like the popular Linksys WRT54G, can be modified with third-party firmware, including DD-WRT, OpenWRT and Tomato (links in Resources). Such software can add new features to your router and give you more control over the standard settings, including the transmitting power. Though it can possibly shorten the router's lifespan by overheating the radio, increasing the transmitting power can significantly increase the Wi-Fi range. Installing third-party software can be dangerous to your router and will void your warranty, so proceed with caution.

Homemade Options

If your router or adapter has an external antenna, you can try some homemade solutions, such as a potato chip can antenna or a parabolic reflector mounted behind the antenna, made from a soda can or cardboard and tin foil. The homemade antenna or reflector is then pointed towards the transmitter, and radio waves that would normally pass by your antenna are reflected to it.