Help! The wireless Internet on my Dell won’t work


Cheryl Emerson’s wireless Internet connection won’t work on her Dell computer. She spends an additional $236 to get it fixed but it’s still dead. Now what?

Question: I own a Dell Studio laptop computer that won’t connect to my WiFi. It’s usually plugged into the wall, so that hasn’t been an issue, until now.

I’m a pastry chef, and I teach baking in a high school culinary arts program. I will be going to France for five weeks this summer, where I’ll need to use my non-existent WiFi.

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Yesterday, I contacted Dell support, and I bought an additional one-year warranty for my Studio. I spent an additional $236 to have the computer repaired and for the warranty.

I spent a total of about 5 hours with or waiting for Dell technicians I could barely understand. As far as I’m aware, my computer was emptied and then everything reinstalled.

The technicians also played with my cable, modem and router remotely. By the time they were done, they disconnected both my WiFi and Internet access for all gadgets and my land phone line.

The final tech tried telling me it was the fault of Comcast and their signal was going “in and out.”

My Internet connections and phone lines could not have worked more perfectly than prior to me contacting Dell. My son had to spend well over another hour working with Comcast to get our home back to where it was prior to Dell “fixing” the WiFi on my computer.

In the early evening, Dell tech support called me back and asked to continue on with their help. My class begins tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. and I would like someone to help me with this or reverse the charge for a one-year warranty that I doubt is even worth it.

Cheryl Emerson, Milford, NH

Answer: This isn’t the first Dell case we’ve had come through here, and something tells me it won’t be the last. Dell used to have a reputation for making — and supporting — great computers. And by way of full disclosure, I used to be a Dell owner until it started charging extra for support and for outsourcing its calls to countries where I couldn’t understand the technicians.

Personally, I would have balked at paying another $236 to fix something that should have worked in the first place. But timing is everything. Your PC came with a limited warranty that should have covered your non-functioning WiFi, if you’d just said something at the outset. Instead, you did what a lot of computer users do when something goes wrong — you found a workaround by using your wired Internet connection.

If nothing else, your story is a reminder that warranties expire and computers don’t fix themselves, except when they do. I’ve seen an update wipe out one problem, only to create another, but that’s a different story.

When Dell started circling the drain, I switched to buying Apple products. It wasn’t the perfect solution. I paid a premium for a trouble-free product, but eventually Apple began to do the same thing Dell was — selling “AppleCare” service and support that really should have been included in the price of a product.

I know I’m not going to win points with the “pay more, get more” crowd that loves a la carte pricing, but I do see analogies in, ahem, other industries. You can’t detach a computer from support any more than you can remove a checked bag from an airline ticket or housekeeping services from a hotel. It’s just stupid and it makes the company look greedy.

After I reviewed your initial correspondence with Dell, I suggested you appeal your case to one of its executive contacts, which I publish on my website. I normally advise that before I get directly involved in a case. A representative contacted you and offered to refund the $236 you had to spend on the extended warranty. Alas, your WiFi still doesn’t work, but at least you have your money.

Is Dell's "extended" warranty worth it?

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64 thoughts on “Help! The wireless Internet on my Dell won’t work

  1. I would recommend that she arrange a visit from local repair shop. They should be able to tell within a very short time whether or not it’s hardware or software. Unfortunately, if it’s hardware she might need a new system board, which could be expensive (this is where the Dell extended warranty would have paid off).

    And if her system is old enough, she should consider purchasing a new one. These days, $500 can get you a good system.

  2. I’m in the aerospace industry. The first computer I ever used was about the size of a refrigerator and had 4K of memory. So I’ve seen just about everything. I’m using a PC I put together myself. Motherboard, CPU, power supply, yada-yada.

    In terms of their actual product, I’ve never been impressed with Dell computers. While I can’t say that HP’s customer service is any better, their PCs and laptops are, IMHO

    Allowing some techie on the phone to tinker with your cable modem and/or router by remote. Never a good idea.

    There’s an easy way to determine if your cable modem is the problem. Type into your browser. This takes you to an internal “web-page” generated by just about every cable modem out there. You can then check the modem’s status and signal levels.

    The downstream signal should be between -15 and +15 dBmv (-8 to +8 preferred). Signal to noise as high as possible, but no less than about 30. Upstream power, as low as possible. If your upstream power is in the 50’s you might have a problem. 55 dBmv is as high as most modems go.

    1. Perhaps you misread the information given. Her internet was working, including a wired connection via her laptop. She also indicates a separate router (, so the modem would not at issue here. The problem is isolated to her laptop WiFi.

      So, I would check to see if her WiFi switch is in the on position and the WiFi light is lit. If it doesn’t work then I would check Device Manager so ensure it’s not disabled there. Finally (without being there), I would run “Troubleshoot problems” from the system tray wireless icon (assuming she has Windows installed).

      1. Good call. I can’t tell you how many people have told me their WiFi is broken, and they simply turned it off. I agree with your prior post as well, though I think it could also be a router issue, or interference. I wonder if she could get her WiFi to work by going to another network, that would be my first test after the switch. Then we would know it was the laptop, v. something in the house.

        I had one Dell laptop recently that had a separate WiFi card, so I could replace it without replacing the whole system board. I got an N card for $40 to replace the G card.

        1. There’s an on-off wifi-switch on the side of many Dell laptops that’s
          to help make it easy for those on planes to go into airplane mode
          (still use their laptop to watch DVD’s but not send out interference on
          the plane). It’s easy to bump that off by accident.

          There’s also
          a function key in green on the keyboard in the shape of a wifi logo
          that you can press (press function and that highlighted key at the same
          time). Then put the notebook to sleep and wake back up to “kick” the
          wifi back to life.

          Finally, right click on the wifi in the device
          tray on the lower right and clock “properties” and see what model it
          is, google it, and download the driver from the manufacturer. That’s a
          bit geeky and may be beyond the chef’s expertise though.

          final option is to borrow someone’s USB wifi adapter to go overseas. Or
          go to techbargains and find one on sale for 10 bucks. A lot cheaper
          than $240 and hours fussing with the built in wifi.

      2. I think you give the letterwriter too much credit. She says the “played with” her “cable, modem and router” remotely. So, she distinguishes, apparently, between “cable,” “modem” and “router.” What part of her “cable” did they futz with remotely, if not the modem? My point is that she clearly doesn’t understand the terms she’s using, and it’s reasonably possible this is entirely her own fault.

        1. She states that her internet worked fine pre-Dell remote support and after her son worked with Comcast to restore functionality. That means the modem is working (else not internet). She further states that her laptop connects via patch cable. Her fault? Maybe. But checking the modem will not help.

          1. All the confusion from the letter writer gives me pause about her description of events. I don’t think she’s lying, but I think she may be very confused. I’m sure Dell’s tech support didn’t help much with that confusion, though.

          2. With specifics, maybe. But of two things she IS certain: her internet worked before Dell’s involvement and again after her son restored it with Comcast’s help.

      3. No, my point was that Dell was trying to blame her internet connection when it was clearly not the cause of her difficulty. Many companies will try to lay the blame anywhere but on their hardware. My post was designed to give the non-technical internet user a little more info on how to check their connection, that’s all.

    2. That’s real geekie. I know how to get into my cable router and check basic settings, but didn’t have a guide as to the best ranges it should be so thanks for those numbers. I saved them in my “tips” folder. I found my own problem when I saw a lot of dropped/error packets in the status page of the router growing. After my cable company fixed the line, I get maybe only a few dozen or so a month at most. Before, I was seeing dozens of dropped packets a second. That’s usually the symptom of the problem.

      Another suggestion: Contact the cable company and ask them to log into the wifi router and check some settings that can help prevent dropped connection. The biggest is authentication: Don’t use WEP (it’s trivial to break even for amateurs) and instead select WPA/WPA2 mixed. That’s pretty secure and some devices don’t support WPA2 so it’s good to have WPA as an option. Check the channels and adjust those in case lots of people in the neighborhood are flooding the airways and jamming the connection. Try using a different channel set.

        1. I would personally recommend getting a USB wifi on sale that works with WPA2. The WEP standard is amazingly insecure and there are hackers that drive around neighborhoods sniffing for passwords.

          1. Yeah, well he has a new machine he uses, but the old one has to be plugged in. Your suggestion on a usb plug in is spot-on!

    3. Several addresses can be used as the internal one for the modem. is the most common, but I already saw,, etc…

      But it is the first time for 😉

  3. If she has the extended warranty, Dell should fix this. But, until it is fixed, she can buy a USB WiFi adapter for less than $10 these days. Plug plug one in and you have wireless internet even if the system WiFi is fried.

  4. I am curious as to how long she had the computer before buying the extended warranty? Seems rather odd to me that someone would keep a computer when the WIFI did not work at all. But that is what I am getting from this. And the better choice would have been a local computer service rather than relying on foreign-based techs that are difficult to understand. Or, as someone suggested, just buy a new laptop that is fully functional.

    1. How long in can you buy an extended warranty? I would have assumed they wouldn’t let you do that after the initial warranty had ran out, otherwise people would buy the extended warranty only if they had a problem. But, if that were the case, why wouldn’t her repair have come under the original warranty?

  5. For a lot less than $236, Ms. Emerson can get a Wifi USB dongle. That will solve her immediate problem. There is no solution for Dell support, except for the refund she received.

    1. I hate it when others beat me to an obvious point. Darn you!

      Heck, search for “high gain wireless hifi” on amazon. They have a 1 watt (which is pretty strong) dish style wifi USB adapter that can suck a signal from a football field away. I’m considering getting one for traveling overseas. Don’t have wifi at the paris apartment? Just focus this baby on a restaurant offering it for free a block away! You’ll microwave the diners but at least you’ll be online!

  6. A dongle is an option, but not (IMO) before checking the basics. Is the laptop WiFi switch on (had this happen MANY times at one company)? Is WiFi disabled in Device Manager? Is the wireless router even working? Is it configured properly? Is the laptop configured properly? Wrong password?

    Buying new hardware should be a last step …

    1. I presume that Dell support ticked off all the obvious boxes. So my advice to buy a dongle is based on a cost/benefit analysis. Ms. Emerson could pay someone to confirm and/or configure the existing Wifi which would cost her a minimum of $30 (using Geek Squad as a representative value) and then they may only confirm that the hardware is defective. Otherwise she could buy a $20 dongle and easily install it herself which is guaranteed to work or she can receive a full refund.

      1. If the issue is something other than her laptop, a dongle would be a wasted purchase. She needs to get to the root of the issue first …

        1. No, Ms. Emerson needs to breathe, take in water and food. You would prefer that she confirm this to be a hardware issue with her laptop before proceeding to other solutions. From the information given, I deduce that Ms. Emerson lacks the knowledge to do that on her own and hiring someone to fulfill your preference would cost more than a $20 USB dongle. I suspect that all Ms. Emerson would like is for her laptop to connect via wifi while she is in Europe. Her problem is guaranteed to be solved with a $20 USB regardless of whether the built-in wifi on the laptop is the issue or not.

          In any case, it is all academic at this point since I would assume that Ms. Emerson is in Europe already or has already returned given that school begins less than 5 weeks from today here in New Hampshire.

          1. I agree with you. Some times the easy way is the best way.

            Not everybody is really interested in finding what is wrong – they usually only want the things working fine, even with some ugly appendices like a dongle.

          2. And when she returns her home network issue could still be there. I interpret her statements as wanting WiFi at home as well.

  7. “You can’t detach a computer from support any more than you can remove a checked bag from an airline ticket”

    People fly without checked bags every day. And people successfully provide their own IT support every day.

    Is it for everyone? Of course not. Should people have the choice to save money? Who could object to that?

  8. You can’t warranty a computer forever and actually charge a competitive price for the thing. A year warranty is standard, and have used Dell’s warranty before. Never had much of an issue.

    An extended warranty is just like insurance, which sometimes seems like you’re throwing money away until you actually need it. Betting against yourself…. so to speak. Sometimes I do get one, sometimes I don’t. Depends on the cost of the item, cost of the warranty, etc etc…

    I don’t know how much the original equipment cost to know if the price of the warranty was worth it.

    1. When I was flying every week I bought a three year accidental damage warranty for my laptop. I never broke it, but felt it was worth it in that case for the peace of mind.

    2. Dell used to offer free phone tech support forever (or for several years at least), but not a warranty. That isn’t free either, but much more affordable than a warranty.

  9. I voted no. I used to do desktop support on the side back in the day and Dell was really good back then, but quickly started going down hill. I used to call and say “Part X is broken” and they would overnight a replacement. After a few years, they started arguing, and would make me go through hours of talking with someone reading scripts who knew nothing about computers before they would replace it.

    As far as the OPs case, there are so many external factors that I just can’t come to any conclusions. My first thought is the router and interference. It cold be that the laptop is single band, and the “gadgets” are dual band, and there is interference on the band that the laptop uses, and not the other band. I see that a lot when trying to fix family members WiFi. I would have to be in the OPs house and actually work with his equipment to determine the problem. It could be the laptop, the router, interference, or yes, Comcast. Wiping the laptop should be a last resort, sounds like the techs did that first. I am sick of incompetent people.

    1. I understand you. My last case: A “technician” was installing the cable modem at my parents, and I was there just in case. After he finished the cable assembly, he called the central to enable the service, and I connected the modem to a PC and started to setup the connection, change internal IPs, assign new passwords, etc.

      The guy asked me what I was doing, I told him, he looked in my eyes and told me he cannot assure anymore the service because I “unconfigured” the modem. After all, what was the need to change the admin password?!?

      1. OMG that makes me cringe. They want you to keep the default password? Anyone can hack into your internal network. So scary. The lack of knowledge of installers baffles me.

      2. That guy’s an idiot. He don’t know Jack Squats, but is trying to
        sound authoritative. He can’t assure anything because he is

        Would the cable company REALLY not
        service your equipment if you changed the admin password and set up
        connections for your gear? That guy should be discharged. I hope you wrote him up.

  10. Dell has become the Kia of computers. Create them in bulk cheaply and thrive on volume. You want to be treated right buy Apple.

    1. We don’t sell Dell unless a client requests it. It use to be a surprise what would be found inside, never consistent.

    1. Not at all. The modem is THE internet-facing device. They can remote into it and break it. It has happened many times …

    2. Not suspicious. I had a COMCAST toad in some faraway land “helping” me with my e-mail, and he disestablished my e-mail account and erased everything! I told him to put it back. He said he couldn’t restore it. I got hold of someone with a modicum of brains and told them that they must do a restore from the back-ups, or else I’d be very very miffed, and so would the government regulators of the cable franchise. They did.

  11. I’ll never forget the first time I inadvertently turned off my laptop WiFi, it was embarrassing to say the least. Since my first HP laptop, I continue to be outraged that companies charge for customer support, that ranks right up there with how the airlines make their money. About all we can do is boycott the companies whose policies we disapprove of.

  12. 1] Son’s college Dell – motherboard self-fried. Lucky under warranty.
    2] Our agency bought hundreds of Dell desktops. Video cards failed at an alarming rate. Dell shipped us a boat load of cards. Our tech support guys just handed ’em out and told us to put ’em in ourselves when they blew. This was contra to normal where they jealously guarded their prerogatives to work on the gear – so many died that they were overwhelmed.

    Look inside a Dell and there’s nothing in there of note. Almost empty. cheap stuff. Off my radar scope…..

    1. And if you look inside, say three of them, you won’t find the same parts. I have heard this is changing, but we won’t fix it if we sell it. It is contact the manufacturer!

    2. I must be fortunate. On my 4th Dell and never a problem. Had more problems with my first Apple device. And don’t get me started on HP.

      1. On my 8th work supplied Dell laptop in 7 years. Even when the laptop never left my desk at work, it was a 50-50 chance it would work each day.

        Still running my 1st Apple Mac tower – 8 years later. Happily updated to the latest OS and fully loaded with hard drives and memory. Not so much as a hiccup.

        Just depends on the luck of the draw. 😉

  13. Dell ‘s products and services are like a VCR. I had a Dell back in the 1990’s, well, I had a VCR then too. (smile)

  14. We have 4 Dell computers. The oldest one, purchased in 2002, is still in use. The last one, purchased in 2011, was a piece of junk. It was replaced 9 months later with a refurbished unit. That one is now out of warranty and had to be repaired last year at a local shop with people who know what their doing and speak English that I can understand. Dealing with Dell directly is an exercise in total futility. Their reps are overseas and work off a script. The only thing that saved my sanity and kept my lips zipped from using extreme profanity was Costco Concierge service. Their reps worked diligently on my behalf until the 2-year warranty expired. At least my refurb has been repairable – so far.

  15. I have a Dell computer and had to speak to their technicians on several occasions.
    I could not understand a word they were saying.
    They were nice and polite…but I had no clue what they were telling me to do.
    Of course, they are named “Amanda” and “Tim” and “Robert”…if only that was true.

  16. It may be past the point of mattering, but as a temporary fix to get her through her class, she could always buy one of those wifi adapters that plug into the USB port. They’re usually only about $10-20, and as long as the USB port is working, it won’t matter whether the built-in WiFi works or not.

  17. Dell maintains a consumer and a business support department. I never buy a Dell laptop that is not from the business side of their business. The difference is night and day between the two sides of the company.

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