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October 20, 2008

Macs vs. PCs - quick wireless performance experiment

I'm taking the unusual step of republishing this blog entry because I am concerned that it is both misleading and unfair (particularly on the Asus EeePC).  Having repeated my experiment at the weekend, I find I get significantly different results than I did before and am unable to replicate the complete lack of connectivity from the EeePC in the loft conversion.  As AJ Cann noted in his comment on the original entry, this may be because a relatively small change in position can have a relatively large impact on wifi signal strength - I don't know.  I remain reasonably convinced that there is some kind of generic difference in the ability of Macs vs. PCs to connect to weak and/or busy wireless networks but I don't think this blog entry is in any way helpful in quantifying it.  The remainder of this entry is the original blog post, which I leave in place as testament to my own incompetence.  Apologies for any confusion caused. 

I was so disappointed at the lack of wireless connectivity from my new Asus EeePC 1000h at the FOWA Expo last week that I decided to do a quick experiment.

Take one EeePC (running Windows XP) and one MacBook.  Use the Speakeasy Speedtest to measure upstream and downstream bandwidth over my wireless home network (at exactly the same time and with the machines side by side) at three points in the house - downstairs (next to the ADSL wireless router), on the first floor and up in the loft conversion.

Note that I took each measurement four times, then took an average.  Here are the results:


Not totally scientific I grant you - but strongly indicative of the differences between the machines.  Basically, upload speed is pretty much the same on both (probably limited by the upload bandwidth on the ADSL connection), except in the loft where the EeePC got no signal at all, but download speed is roughly halved on the EeePC compared to the MacBook.  In passing, I note that even on the MacBook I get less than 50% of the 8Mb broadband connection I pay for - not very surprising since I rarely get more than 4Mb and the wireless connection and use of WEP presumably eats into some of the available bandwidth.  Also that (somewhat oddly?) the MacBook didn't appear to lose any bandwidth as it was moved further from the wireless router.

Broadly speaking, this bears out my experiences at FOWA - looks like the EeePC (and PCs in general?) doesn't cope well with weak wireless signals.  Is there anything I can do about this?  I've tried tweeking some of the settings on the wireless card driver but it doesn't seem to make much difference.  I suppose I could buy a supercharged USB wireless connector... or go for a USB 3G connector (which would give me always-on connectivity and form a usable backup in those cases where wireless is too weak for the EeePC - or too expensive).

(Note that the MacBook is my daughter's machine... grrrr... why are kids the only ones with significant disposable incomes in my house?).


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Thinking of buying an EeePC, so this is helpful.

Experience in our block of flats is the opposite - husband's Mac (big, silver 3-year-old, laptop ... not sure of the model) can't pick up the one elusive open wireless network in the block, where my Toshiba laptop usually can. So maybe it's EeePCs in particular?

The antenna in both is presumably very small, and I've found remarkable differences in connectivity by moving machines just a few inches sometimes.

@Suzi - hi. I wouldn't base your decision just on this test (obviously) - I'd hate to be responsible for that :-).

Googling around, I haven't found much evidence to suggest that EeePCs are worse than other laptops - and my gut feeling from FOWA is that almost all PC users were suffering - not just those on EeePCs.

In all other ways (so far) I'm very happy with the machine... my gut feeling is that this is a Windows problem rather than a hardware problem - though I can't really justify that in any way.

Just tested with speakeasy and I'm getting over 7.1Mb downstairs (where the router is) with a MacBook. Seems just as good at the end of the garden and much better than Jane's PC. Paul Walk said his MacBook better than the MacBook Pro - perhaps because of the plastic case. Def a major bonus in the Mac v PC debate. Upload pretty poor though.

Two points:

1. All ADSL 8Mb connections are "up to 8Mb" and depend on the distance from the exchange, line quality, contention, your house phone extension wiring etc.

2. The speed of wifi (even 802.11b) is faster than 8Mbps; it's not the bottleneck - the broadband is. Despite that, clearly broadband performance can vary.

@Tim - Re: your point 1). Yes agreed. The only reason I mentioned it was to indicate that the MacBook is getting reasonably close to the bandwidth available over my particular broadband connection.

Re: your point 2). If the broadband connection is the bottleneck, then why are the results so different for the EeePC and the MacBook. The available broadband bandwidth was a constant in my connection - both machines ran the tests in parallel at exactly the same time and placed as close together as possible. The only variables in the experiment are the wireless card in the machines (and the associated embedded antenna) and the way the software network stack has been implemented?

I'm not sure if you are simply clarifying my discussion of available bandwidth over my ADSL connection or suggesting that something is wrong with my experiment and/or conclusion?

I've played with an original ASUS EeePC, running linux. Was generally unimpressed (though with high expectations, as the concept sounded great).

Wireless very crap indeed. Both losing connections and just not connecting to ones it had happily done so five minutes a go.

I've used Linus a fair bit but this seemed like Linux ~2001! Example, it had a 'networking' utility and a wireless networking utility, both did wireless, but differently, and one would sometimes work and not the other.

I would guess that wireless networking depends as much on the hardware, as much as the software, so a good quality PC will probably be better (it just so happens that the best quality laptop is a mac!).

Aside from networking, main gripes about Eee:
- poor quality build, esp mousepad button.
- poorly setup apps, eg thunderbird had been set up with large text and large icons, not good on a small screen, and did we really need a large application bar across the top, showing nothing but a minimise button.
- updating and applying updates was unstable and slow, often a confusing 'wait' box would show but no progress bar or idea what it was doing, updates would often fail.
- though in theory this was a linux box, and we could install anything, felt restrictive and not designed to install anything that was not pre-installed.
- poor battery
- even though a high profile item, user community didn't seem to be there.


@Chris - hi. I didn't want this to turn into an anti-EeePC thread, not least because I'm very happy with mine and, as I say several times above, I have no reason to think this is an EeePC-specific issue.

Comparing reviews of the early EeePCs with the current generation (coupled with my direct experience so far) leads me to conclude that the kinds of issues you raise above have now been addressed to a very large extent.

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