Surface Pro 3 WiFi

Specify 2.4 or 5 GHz WiFi bands on Surface Pro 3

 

On January 15, 2015, Microsoft released a package of drivers to Windows Update that includes an updated Marvell WiFi driver for the Surface Pro 3. If you are one of the folks that has been trying to resolve issues of connecting to 2.4GHz instead of 5 GHz on your dual band router, this new driver includes settings to fine tune your connectivity preferences.

First, verify that you have Driver Version 15.68.3073.151:

 

1. Type the words device manager on the Start Screen/search and then open device manager.

2. Expand Network adapters

3. Right Click or tap and hold the Marvell AVASTAR Wireless-AC Network Controller and select Properties

4. Open the Driver tab and verify the version

 

marvell1

Specify the band:

By default, the Band is set to Auto in the Value field. Access the dropdown list and select 5GHz if you want to connect to only the 5GHz band. Note that the 5GHz band is the one that provides the 802.11ac speeds. You can also specify 2.4GHz only.

 

marvell2

Important: If you change locations and have specified a setting other than Auto, you should change the setting back to Auto to insure connectivity “on the road”. This is especially important when using public WiFi which normally uses the 2.4GHz band.

Microsoft Announces Upcoming Updates to Surface Pro 3

 

Some good news, Microsoft has announced upcoming updates to the Surface Pro 3 on TechNet. In particular, there are some WiFi updates that hopefully will fix some of the horrific issues that have plagued some customers since launch.

http://blogs.technet.com/b/surface/archive/2014/11/17/information-on-the-upcoming-updates-for-surface-pro-3.aspx

 

sp3upcoming

 

Note in particular:

Wireless Network Controller and Bluetooth driver update (v15.68.3066.135)

  • Enables better throughput after waking from sleep and connecting to an 802.11AC network.
  • Ensures Infra scan list is not empty while connected to a wireless display adapter.
  • Resolves an issue connecting to Cisco 1242 access points.
  • Ensures device reconnects properly to a hidden SSID using a 5Ghz DFS channel after waking from sleep.
  • Adds customer-requested functionality to prefer 5Ghz connections when both a 2.4ghz and 5ghz connection are present with the same SSID.

Too bad Microsoft didn’t have the common sense to post this information in the Answers Community Forums where users are begging for relief.

Real World Data Points on Slow WiFi on Surface Pro 3 using 2.4 GHz

 

Microsoft Surface customers have been complaining about slow WiFi speeds using their Surface Pro 3’s in Microsoft Communities and elsewhere. I wanted to clearly frame this issue for anyone that might be interested. (Microsoft are you listening/reading?)

 

As I’ve stated before, the very fast 802.11ac speeds only are achieved on a 5GHz SSID. Folks with single band 802.11 (2.4 GHz) routers are not going to achieve the fast speeds that 802.11ac offers. Given that nearly all of the public WiFi access points are 2.4GHz only (Starbucks, McDonald’s, etc.) and that the Surface Pro 3 has severe performance issues with the Marvell wireless radio when using the 2.4 GHz band, it’s easy to see why there are so many unhappy campers. I’ve written about tweaks that folks can use at home, but these provide only incremental speed boosts when attached to a 2.4 GHz network using the Surface Pro 3. The speeds obtained are dreadful when compared to just about any other wireless adapter on any other similarly equipped computer and far less than can be obtained when using a USB wireless 802.11ac adapter on the SP3, and using the 2.4 GHz band (as you will see).

 

All of my testing was done from the same location in my home, in my living room on the first floor with the Netgear R7000 router on the 3rd floor. I tested with speedtest.net and my ISP provisioned speed is 105/10.

 

Testing with my ASUS ROG “desktop replacement” which has a Broadcom 802.11ac built in adapter:

 

As you can see, my speed exceeds my provisioned speed.

5 GHz 2.4 GHz
asus 5 ghz ausu 2.4

 

Testing with my Surface Pro 3:

Still getting great speeds on 5 GHz, but totally dismal speeds on 2.4 GHz.

 

5 GHz 2.4 GHz
sp3 5ghz sp3 2.4 ghz

 

Others report even less that the 12.49 speed I can achieve. It’s crazy bad.

 

Disabling the onboard WiFi in the Surface Pro 3 and using a Netgear AC600 802.11ac adapter:

 

While the SP3 has a USB 3.0 port, the wireless adapter, like almost all the other 802.11ac USB mini adapters available today, is still only USB 2.0. While USB 2.0 has a theoretical 60 Mb/s rating, most folks have found that it tops out at 40 Mb/s in the real world on all devices.

2.4 GHz
 netgear usb 2.4

 

So even with the restriction of USB 2.0 speeds, the difference between the Marvell wireless and the Netgear USB 802.11ac adapter performance is alarming.

It’s infuriating to customers that Microsoft hasn’t addressed the issue or even commented specifically about it. Is 12.49 Mb/s fast enough to check email? Sure, if you don’t have lots of attachments. But is it what people expect of a $1400 device? No way.

 

If you want to share YOUR speed tests with me, tweet them to @barbbowman

A $40 Fix for Surface Pro 3 Slow WiFi

 

I recently wrote about the wireless speed issues with the Surface Pro 3 and several ways to trouble shoot, including making configuration changes, buying a new router, etc.

Without knowing when or if the Surface team will fix this, there is another option that you might want to consider. Purchase a third party USB 802.11ac wireless adapter. Nearly all the USB 802.11ac wireless adapters use the Realtek chip and examination of the base Realtek driver shows support for every manufacturer I could think of. I picked the Netgear version, available at Amazon for $40. There are other brands at other prices available on Amazon and elsewhere, but I can only write about what I personally used and that experience.

 

netgear usb ac

I took my Surface Pro 3 on a trip around town to places where the WiFi performance was unsatisfactory. I had disabled the onboard Marvell wireless in device manager and was using the Netgear AC600 specifically with the “standalone beta driver” from Netgear’s support site.

I did not experience the issues that I previously had with the onboard Marvell.

Yes, it is $40 folks shouldn’t need to spend, but given the current state of affairs with no sign of relief in sight from Microsoft, I’d rather travel around with the external USB adapter and know that I have options.

Let me know on Twitter @barbbowman if you’ve tried a different USB wireless adapter with your Surface Pro 3 with good results.

Change Config or Spend More Money to Fix Surface Pro 3 Slow WiFi?

 

People who purchased the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 have been complaining since June of slow WiFi speeds. Microsoft has not specifically addressed this issue or acknowledged that they are aware of this particular issue. This makes it tough to determine if or when a fix will be forthcoming.

A little background information on 802.11ac may be helpful for some people. The faster “ac” speeds apply ONLY to the 5 GHz band. If you are expecting supersonic speeds and are using a 2.4 GHz only 802.11n or 802.11g router, this isn’t going to happen. To truly take advantage of 802.11ac, you need a current generation 802.11ac dual band router (and currently, with the SP3, you need to specifically and deliberately attach to the 5 GHz band).

 

2.4 GHz only N routers

 

There’s not much you can do to resolve slow speeds with 2.4 GHz only routers, but you can perhaps get incrementally better speed in a congested area if you try a couple of things. There are lots of other devices that share the 2.4 GHz band and are potential sources of interference like microwave ovens, old 2.4 GHz cordless phones, and Bluetooth. Some folks may be using add-on keyboards that attach to the Surface Pro 3 via Bluetooth and are connected to 2.4 GHz wireless routers. Bluetooth and 802.11n 2.4 GHz share/overlap in the same frequencies. It’s entirely possible that there is interference. This hasn’t been proven, but since they do share the frequency range, some but not all devices may be impacted.

1. Change the channel from auto to 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, or 10. Almost everyone will be using 1, 6, or 11. You can try to determine the least congested channel by running the netsh command below from a cmd prompt:

netsh wlan show networks mode=BSSID

and then try to determine the least used channel (which will probably change anyway since all your neighbors are probably set to auto). I’m not sure this will provide much relief, but it is worth trying. You’ll get something like the output below. You can do this to determine both the least used 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz channel.

 

Microsoft Windows [Version 6.3.9600]
(c) 2013 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.C:\Users\barb>netsh wlan show networks mode=BSSID

Interface name : Wi-Fi
There are 20 networks currently visible.

SSID 1 : hawk5
Network type            : Infrastructure
Authentication          : WPA2-Personal
Encryption              : CCMP
BSSID 1                 : c4:04:15:29:b4:23
Signal             : 82%
Radio type         : 802.11ac
Channel            : 157
Basic rates (Mbps) : 6 12 24
Other rates (Mbps) : 9 18 36 48 54

SSID 2 : fabfive
Network type            : Infrastructure
Authentication          : WPA2-Personal
Encryption              : CCMP
BSSID 1                 : 40:16:7e:bf:0d:0c
Signal             : 66%
Radio type         : 802.11n
Channel            : 157
Basic rates (Mbps) : 6 12 24
Other rates (Mbps) : 9 18 36 48 54

SSID 3 : high5
Network type            : Infrastructure
Authentication          : WPA2-Personal
Encryption              : CCMP
BSSID 1                 : e8:fc:af:94:fe:6c
Signal             : 88%
Radio type         : 802.11ac
Channel            : 48
Basic rates (Mbps) : 6 12 24
Other rates (Mbps) : 9 18 36 48 54

…etc…

C:\Users\barb>

 

2. Change the channel width to 20 if it is set on 40 or auto.

 

2.4/5 GHz Dual Band Routers

 

Some routers (Apple has been doing this for years) ship with both the 2.4 and 5 GHz channels set to the same SSID (name). Other vendors have started doing this, some by default, others let you specify this optionally. It’s marketed as an “Smart Connect” type config where the “best” channel is selected by the client/router automatically. I asked a couple of users in the Microsoft Surface Communities forum about their config and learned that they were using the same name for both SSIDs. I asked them to make a change and specify unique SSIDs and attach to 5GHz. They’ve reported their problem has disappeared. Similarly, people with Netgear, ASUS, and Linksys routers have changed to unique, separate names for the 2.4 and 5 GHz SSID’s, connected to the 5 GHz SSID and reported back that their issue is resolved.

 

1. Many of the newer 802.11ac routers are emphasizing using a single SSID name for all for smart connectivity that determines the best radio for a computer or device to attach to. This is an issue for the Surface Pro 3.

linksys

The Linksys/Belkin WRT1900AC ships with the same name for both SSID’s out of the box. This is an issue for SP3 owners.

smartconnect

The Netgear R8000 has Smart Connect features that depend on using a single name for THREE SSID’s. This is an issue for SP3 owners.

airport5GHz

Apple Airport Extreme Routers have used a single SSID by default for several years. This is an issue for SP3 owners.

There are some folks who just prefer to use the same SSID and manually configure whatever router they own in this single SSID name configuration themselves. Sadly, while this is not an issue for apparently any other computer or device, it is an issue for the Surface Pro 3. There is anger expressed when I suggest changing the configuration. Sorry, you shouldn’t need to do this, but if you want better speeds, currently, this is required.

 

2. If you have a dual band 802.11n router, not an 802.11ac router, the issue is the same. You need to use the 5 GHz SSID and configure separate and distinct SSID names.

 

3. If you are connecting to the 5 GHz band and are having speed issues, try setting the channel to the highest one available or to the lowest one available instead of “auto”.

Again, Microsoft has not acknowledged this specific issue or acknowledged that a fix will be forthcoming.

One more thing.. the throw money at it solution

 

For those of you with 802.11n 2.4 GHz only single band routers, as I mentioned previously, you won’t enjoy 802.11ac speeds unless you upgrade to a a 802.11ac (by definition, dual band) router, configure it for separate SSID names and connect to the 5 GHz band.

This is the current state of affairs. It’s up to Microsoft to fix.

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