Windows 7 & Solving Those Annoying Wifi Crashes

When I shifted to Windows 7 earlier this year, I found my computer crashing for no apparent reason. After some time, I figured it out. Some wifi networks don’t play nice with Windows 7. It wasn’t my imagination. It’s not yours. And as it’s just happened again to me, I’m reminded finally do this post about it.

You want the fast tips, skip to the end. You want the journey along the way? Keep reading.

Earlier this year, I was using a Dell XPS laptop, which was an excellent replacement for the MacBook I had been using. Until it crashed and needed to go into repair, that is. But that’s another post.

My laptop was fine at home, where I use a wired connection. It was fine when I’d use a wifi connection with my using my MiFi card (see Life With Verizon Mifi, The iPad, Mobile Broadband & Everything for more about that card and its awesomeness). But sometimes, it would just crash for no good reason. Eventually, I realized it had to be related to wifi. I’d crash and crash, then shift to using my MiFi card, and all would be fine.

It wasn’t every wifi network that did this. Only some, but with no rhyme or reason that I could detect.

I contacted Microsoft about this through their support line. I know several people at Microsoft, and when I started whining about crashes on Twitter, one of them gave me these a special “get help out of jail free” cards that they get to give out to people. You know, they’re sitting on a plane, get asked what they do, and the minute they mention Microsoft, they start getting asked tech support questions. They’ve got these cards to help get them out of those sticky situations.

Anyway, I called in using one of these cards, expecting everything would be magically solved. Instead, it turned into a long discussion that turned into basically, “it’s your hardware’s fault.”

I wasn’t particularly happy. Every time Windows 7 crashes, when you reboot, you get one of these “Your computer crashed. Should we check for a solution?” messages. These never find solutions, of course. But they are part of a process that logs what happened. I kept asking the support person if they wanted these logs. Like you know, maybe the logs would tell them exactly what the problem was, instead of all the constant rebooting and testing they wanted me to do.

That went nowhere. The best part was when they asked if maybe I could call back the next time it happened. Sure, I responded. The next time I’m out, say at some Microsoft event trying to live blog what some Microsoft executive would like me to report on, and my Windows 7 computer crashes, I’ll dash out of the room and immediately call Microsoft support.

Eventually I got the help I needed by using a little known art of going completely apeshit. I think my words were something along the lines of….

Look, I’ve got all these log files that no one wants to even bother looking at. I think they might be helpful. So have someone call me back, who is willing to look at these first, and then we can talk. And if you can’t do that, then I’ll throw this Windows 7 machine in the trash can, drive over to the Apple store and get a new MacBook and figure that will solve my Windows 7 problem. And I’ll probably write a blog post about why I made the move.

That worked pretty well. Someone got in touch, asked for those files, and I got a call back. And this time, I was told that yes indeed, there seemed to be a problem that Windows 7 has with some old wireless routers. Apparently these routers try to get Windows 7 to make some change to your computer, which results in it going all Blue Screen Of Death on you.

Now, I’ll get to the solutions in a moment. But first — that Dell? Yeah, it crashed and died, which really sucked, because Dell said it would take 2 to 3 weeks to repair. Meanwhile, the new MacBooks that I’d been waiting for when my aging MacBook finally died were now available. So, I shifted over to using the Mac. However, I used it to run Windows through Boot Camp. That’s how I like to roll, making my life really, really complicated.

Shut up. I’ll blog the long story why later. The short story is the Mac is a great machine for running Windows, if you like the better support Windows offers for multimonitor setups plus the great anti-glare, high-resolution laptop screen that the MacBook provides. But the point is….

Today, Windows 7 started crashing again, on a completely different computer. And it was a wifi issue, once again. So I implemented the solutions the Microsoft tech support people had given me for my old laptop, and life, so far, is good. The two things to do:

Disable Bonjour: Run the System Configuration program (Click the Windows button, type “msconfig” in the search box, and pick the program). Click the “Services” tab, find the “Bonjour Service” program and disable this. You probably have this if you’ve installed iTunes or some other Apple program. It apparently has no purpose other than to make Windows 7 crash when you use wifi. OK, the tech guy said this is usually the main reason for the wifi crash. I did this on my old computer, and iTunes and other Apple programs seemed to work fine without it. So, you probably won’t be bothered about it being off.

Turn Off Your Network Adapter’s Power Save: Go to Device Manager. Find where your wireless network adapter card is listed (it may say something like 802.11 in the name). Double click on the adapter. Select the Power Management tab. Disable the option for the computer to turn it off to save power, as well as for the device to wake the computer. Apparently, sometimes when the device tries to “wake” your computer, this will cause a crash.

By the way, today’s crash let me try these systematically. First I killed Bonjour. That didn’t help. I kept crashing. Next, I disabled the network adapter’s power save. So far, that’s doing the trick.

Postscript: Sigh, it’s happening again. At this point, I can’t see recommending Windows 7 to anyone who wants to make wireless connections. If you have a hard line, it’s great. But if you need to go wifi, it’s a crapshoot. Two different machines now. This is a major operating system flaw, in my books.