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Issue #383: Nov 23-29, 2014

Q: I’m running Windows 8.1 on an Asus N53S laptop. During a recent trip after several days of no problems I tried to access the internet via the motel’s WiFi and found the laptop’s WiFi adapter turned off and the WiFi switch greyed out. The [fn]+F2 key combination has no effect. Attempting to fix it by troubleshooting the network adapter in Network and Sharing Center in the Control Panel was unsuccessful, as was plugging in an Ethernet cable from the router. Now no WiFi networks show as available and I am unable to access the internet. This happened close to the time of a windows update, but I can’t say they’re related. Any suggestions on how I can turn my WiFi back on without internet access? Thanks.

– Keith N.
Niceville, Florida

A: This kind of a problem is usually best solved with hands on the machine, Keith. Barring that, I’ll take my best shot for you. It sounds more like your adapter has been disabled, rather than turned off (yes, there’s a difference). Before we go there, I want to clear the air for readers not familiar with the key sequence you cited. The method for turning WiFi on and off varies from laptop to laptop. Some machines have a dedicated switch or button that does it. In Keith’s case, his laptop has this task linked to a secondary function of the F2 key. That function is accessed by using a special key labeled [fn] the same way you’d use [Shift], [Ctrl] or [Alt] to modify the action of other keys. Almost all laptops have such a key, although what it’s used for varies. It is very rare for a desktop’s keyboard to have such a key.

So, Keith, [fn]+F2 is actually attempting to toggle the power to your system’s WiFi transceiver. That’s the “turn WiFi on or off” part. But a WiFi device can also be enabled/disabled at the Windows level. If it’s disabled, trying to turn it on will fail. For some reason (thanks, Bill) Windows acts like it doesn’t even know that the function can be disabled until you go in and re-enable it. You can check if it’s disabled by going to the Control Panel and visiting “Network and Sharing Center”. From there, click on “Change adapter settings” in the left-hand navigation bar. Even though this page represents each of the network adapters in your system, it refers to them as “Network Connections”. Find your wireless adapter among those listed. If it is disabled, it should say it right on the icon. You can also try right-clicking it, and if it’s disabled, an option to Enable it will appear in the menu.

It bothers me a little about your question that you said that you tried a wired connection, and it still didn’t work. I’m assuming that you plugged in to a working port on the router, and that the laptop’s Ethernet connection is properly configured. WiFi is a completely separate function from the wired network, so even with WiFi being off or disabled, the wired network should work. Either your system has a deeper problem, or your wired adapter is also disabled. You can check it the way you check the wireless adapter.

One other thing to check is to ensure Win 8’s Airplane Mode isn’t accidentally enabled. This special mode is designed to halt all radio emission from your laptop, so as not to interfere with aircraft operation when you’re travelling.

It frustrates me to not have a more definitive answer for your specific problem. To make it up to you, I dredged up a couple of articles that might be of some help with network-related problems. Here’s a link to a Microsoft article on “Wired and wireless network problems”: Here is an article on how to enable and disable Airplane Mode: Good luck, and Happy Computing, and to all my beloved Geeks out there, have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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