- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Not everything that you can add to a computer system, or to a personal device such as a smartphone, is a “big” improvement. Sometimes, small enhancements can make a big difference.

Take the Actiontec Wireless Broadband Router that the folks at Verizon gave me for the fiber-optic Internet service (FiOS) at La Casa Kellner. The router in and of itself isn’t at all bad: It provides a connection to the FiOS service, a direct connection to the router for a desktop computer and up to three other devices, and a wireless Internet signal for the rest of the house.

At least that’s the theory: In practice, the Wi-Fi signal didn’t reach from the basement, where my office is, to the second-floor guest room where my spousal unit (as the Census Bureau would call her) does her thing.

What to do? My first try was an Apple Inc. wireless AirPort device that should have grabbed the signal in an appropriate strength. Its performance wasn’t great, though I don’t think this was Apple’s fault. In fact, I can assert it wasn’t because of the one thing I’ve tried: adding a $150 ANTBOS-24-UN 500mW Booster Antenna from Luxul Corp. of North Salt Lake City, Utah (www.luxul.net).

I was skeptical about the Luxul booster before I tried it: Could switching antennas on the router for one that has 500 milliwatts of extra electrical power do the trick? Well, it seems it can, because I now get a sufficient Wi-Fi signal. The firm also makes a one-watt amplifier that I plan to test shortly, but this might be more than we need.

Getting a Wi-Fi signal through the house is sometimes a challenge; the previous users put their router on the first floor, and the signal was fine on all three levels. In my case, it’s imperative that I have a direct connection to the highest speed available at my desk, so the location of my home office dictated placement.

The Luxul product seems a good one, and although the price may equal that of some routers themselves, if you need the power, you’ll find this a good buy. The mail order firm of Tiger Direct is the best retail source for the Luxul Wi-Fi line, although the firm is said to be working on other retail options.

Another small improvement is also wireless related, this time for the iPhone. Griffin Technology has come out with ClearBoost, a $29.95 antenna and case for the iPhone that claims to boost signal strength.

The concept is simple: Put the phone in the casing, which also helps protect the device, and you’re able to get better cell phone reception. Griffin claims the copper-based antenna, which includes a “stub” at the top of the case, is tuned to work best within the 824-894 MHz band that AT&T; Wireless uses.

I field tested the ClearBoost recently on a trip that took me through Denver and the state of Washington, specifically the southeastern city of Walla Walla, and College Place, a nearby suburb.

In those places, and on a Sunday afternoon drive south to Pendleton, Oregon, I had excellent cellular reception, and I can only credit the Griffin product; similar trips in equally nonurban areas weren’t as pleasant. The ClearBoost gives an iPhone a real boost, and for not a whole lot of money.

It’s spring, so perhaps it’s time to add memory to your computer. I remain a fan of Crucial Technology, one of the best suppliers of RAM, and now at very reasonable prices. Adding more memory to most computers is easy, and the performance boost will make you wonder why you didn’t do it earlier.

Read Mark Kellner’s Tech blog at https://video1.washing tontimes.com/technology.

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