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Wireless Reviews

MetaGeek inSSIDer Wi-Fi Helper product shot

At a Glance
Product MetaGeek inSSIDer Wi-Fi Helper [website]
Summary Windows-based Wi-Fi analyzer that recommends the best channel to use
Pros • Easy to use
• No tech expertise required
Cons • No save or print feature
• You have to scan all locations before verifying any of them
• If you can't change to the recommended channel, you can't verify and get results summary
• No user or quick start guide

Introduction

MetaGeek's inSSIDer is one of the most popular tools for determining the signal strength and channel use of Wi-Fi networks. While this can be useful information for someone who knows what to do with it, folks who aren't familiar with Wi-Fi basics may end up even more confused about the best channel to choose for their wireless router.

inSSIDer Wi-Fi Helper is a Windows application that can survey, test, analyze and make settings recommendations using virtually any wireless adapter in a Windows PC or Pro tablet. Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8 are supported.

Like original inSSIDer, Wi-Fi Helper is not free, however. You have options of a $9.99 30 day license or $69.99 1 year license. Neither free trial nor permanent license options are available.

inSSIDer Wi-Fi Helper is extremely easy to set up and use. Just download the product, install it and enter the registration information and license keys emailed after you purchase a license. Upon launching the program, Wi-Fi Helper will scan all channels and present you with a list of available networks. You should be attached to the network you want to test (your own network) before starting the test, as you'll need a connection to verify (performance test) the link. Finding the best solution is a five step process:

  • Select - Select the network to test. If you're connected, a link will appear next to the network (SSID) name.
  • Scan - In this screen, you can pick a name from a drop-down list or enter a description of your own. You also select the type of network usage for the location you are testing. Your choices are shown in the screenshot below. They type of usage you select is used in identifying any problems you might encounter and are shown on the summary screen. The scan only takes 10 seconds.

MetaGeek inSSIDer Wi-Fi Helper usage selection screen

MetaGeek inSSIDer Wi-Fi Helper usage selection screen
  • Recommend - This screen shows your current settings and recommended settings. If Wi-Fi Helper recommends a different channel, you'll need to log into your router and make the change before you can continue.
  • Verify - In this step, inSSIDer Wi-Fi Helper runs a series of up and download tests to determine Wi-Fi performance. It's important to note that in many cases, the performance numbers generated by Wi-Fi Helper will be different than what you might expect out of Speedtest.net or other performance measurement sites. Speedtest.net defaults to the closest server. MetaGeek uses servers on the west coast to measure performance. So those of us on the east coast are likely to see significant differences in results. On the other hand, depending on the time of day, I've seen tests results from Wi-Fi helper that are fairly close to Speedtest.net.
  • Summary - This screen summarizes the results and recommendations for the location(s) tested. It also shows the MAC address of your router/AP, the manufacturer and the Wi-Fi adapter used for the test.

The gallery below shows each step in the wireless network evaluation for a single location.

Hands On

For a single location, the total time to scan, and verify your connected network runs between one and two minutes. Depending on the time of day and the traffic between your location and MetaGeek's west coast servers, the time could be a little shorter or longer.

In addition to checking just a single location, you can also evaluate multiple locations - each with a different Wi-Fi usage profile. You could, for example, test your living room for Web + Audio + Video + HD Video since you're likely to want all of those capabilities. Similarly, you could set your dining room for just Web + Audio since you might not anticipate streaming video to your dining room.

Based on the performance determined by the "verify" step, the summary screen will let you know if you can expect each of the Wi-Fi services to work in each location. If your throughput is too low, inSSIDer Wi-Fi Helper might advise that you could have problems streaming HD Video or maybe HD Video and Video to a particular location.

Evaluating multiple locations takes a little bit of extra work. As with evaluating a single location, you start by selecting a network, entering in a location name and the Wi-Fi usage profile for that location. Then you click on Scan. To scan multiple locations, you move your notebook/tablet to a second location and repeat the scan. Only when you have finished scanning and moving to each location can you click on Recommend. Assuming that the Wi-Fi Helper doesn't recommend that you change channels, then you can verify.

To verify, you have to move back to each location and click on Verify until you have verified all locations. It might have been easier if you could have scan and verified each location before moving to a next location. However, I can understand that MetaGeek probably wanted to create a profile for each location before making any recommendations.

This screenshot shows that five locations are ready to be verified.

MetaGeek inSSIDer Wi-Fi Helper locations ready to verify

MetaGeek inSSIDer Wi-Fi Helper locations ready to verify

This next screenshot shows that all five locations have been verified and that I shouldn't have any problems with my planned Wi-Fi usage in any of the locations.

MetaGeek inSSIDer Wi-Fi Helper locations verified

MetaGeek inSSIDer Wi-Fi Helper locations verified

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