Fix problems caused by power-saving mode in wireless NICs

Many access points don't always deal correctly with wireless devices that implement power saving. Here are two ways to resolve this problem.

Many wireless network cards, both stand-alone models and those built into notebook computers, come with a power-saving

mode that can be set or disabled through the device's driver. When the network card's power-saving mode is turned on, it will temporarily disable the card during periods of inactivity to reduce the amount of battery drain.

This technology goes by several names, depending on the manufacturer. For instance Intel calls it PSP, short for Power Save Polling.

Unfortunately, many access points don't always deal correctly with wireless devices that implement power saving. This can manifest itself as a slew of symptoms: inexplicably dropped connections (despite a strong signal), v-e-r-y slow transfer speeds for data, and odd behaviors when browsing file shares such as opening a directory and finding nothing in it. I personally have had a file share directory open on a notebook computer and was attempting to copy files off the notebook via wireless, but each time I tried to do it, the copy operation would freeze up in mid-stream. In a situation like this, there are two solutions.

  1. Fix #1: Upgrade the firmware of the wireless base station, especially if there's a newer revision of the firmware that addresses problems like this. This isn't always possible or available, though.
  2. Fix #2: Turn off power-saving mode on the network card. This is usually the easiest way to solve the problem, since the amount of power saved by turning on the power-saving mode tends to be minimal.

Many notebooks that have a built-in wireless device also have a hardware switch to enable or disable it. If you know you're not going to be using the wireless device for a period of time, this is often a more effective way to conserve power.

About the author: Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the  Windows Power Users Newsletter, which is devoted to hints, tips, tricks, news and goodies for Windows NT, Windows 2000 and Windows XP users and administrators. He has more than 10 years of Windows experience under his belt, and contributes regularly to SearchWinComputing.com and SearchSQLServer.com.

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This was first published in October 2006

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