WiFi Problems on Surface Pro 4 – Check your USB Drive

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WiFi Problems on Surface Pro 4–Check your USB Drive

People have discovered that plugging a USB 3.0 drive into their Surface Pro 4 may result in losing WiFi connection. For some, this has been a deal breaker and has resulted in more than one SP4 being returned to Microsoft.

However, it turns out that this issue may NOT be a Surface problem, per se. It could be a known but underdocumented issue with USB 3.0 and 2.4GHz WiFi routers.

WiFi Problems on Surface Pro 4: What Causes It?

The short answer is interference. Basically, USB 3.0 devices operate with a 5GHz signaling rate and they tend to be made very cheaply which can result in signal “leaking”. These leaks can interfere with the 2.4GHz wireless signal. Here’s an article from PCMag that was written in 2013 which explains the problem fairly well (albeit from the POV of the Wi-Fi router manufacturers).

So, you might be asking yourself, “if this problem is that old, why haven’t I had it before?”

Well, you might have. Just not as bad as with the SP4. In the past, I know you’ve suffered occasional WiFi drops that were annoying, but you chalked up to glitches, right? It’s possible that some of those drops were the result of this very issue.

WiFi is designed to deal with random interference and can usually overcome it but, since the components in the SP4 are packed so closely together, the interference may simply be too strong to be filtered out. The result is that a USB 3.0 device plugged into your SP4 might result in WiFi dropping much more frequently than you may have suffered with other devices.

WiFi Problems on Surface Pro 4: How Can I Fix It?

If this problem has been affecting you, unfortunately, it’s no fixable without overhauling how USB 3.0 works (which isn’t going to happen). However, there are options by which you may be able to work around it fairly easily:

  • Use USB 2.0 Devices: USB 2.0 devices may leak interference, but the interference doesn’t interfere with 2.4GHz WiFi signals. At least not as much.
  • Give your USB Drive a Tinfoil Hat: If you have a drive in a non-metal (plastic/wood/etc.) case, you can try to shield your USB drive by wrapping the plastic/wood/etc. part in aluminum foil. The foil may act as a shield and prevent your USB drive from leaking. If you try this, DO NOT let the foil touch the metal connector. Unfortunately, if the interference is originating from the connector, this may not help.
  • Get a New USB Drive: If you have an older USB drive, try using a new (higher-quality) drive. A new drive might be better shielded and not leak as badly. I’d try one with a metal casing like this one: SanDisk Ultra Fit 128GB
  • Get a 5GHz Router: In theory, a 5GHz router will not be subject to the interference from a leaky USB 3.0 drive. However, due to the expense and potential pain of installation/configuration, I’d recommend testing on a 5GHz WiFi network before laying out the cash for a new router.
  • Plug the USB 3.0 drive in slowly: This sounds weird but some folks have reported that it works. I haven’t found a definitive explanation as to why, though.

While we’re talking about USB drives, if you’re looking for a last minute gift for a geek in your life, the Pentode Radio Tube USB Flash Drive would be a great choice. If you’re in the US and have Amazon Prime, you can still get it before Christmas day with next-day rush shipping (believe it or not).

At least, I know I’d like one (hint, hint Joanna).

Tim


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is a professional geek with over 23 years of experience working in Information Technology and dealing with everything from large-scale storage to remote systems management and automation for organizations such as Texas Instruments, Mobil Oil, and the University of Michigan (where he was an Academic IT Director). He co-founded JTRTech along with Joanna to realize his long-time dream of working for himself.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Tim,

    big thanks for this tip!
    Using a short-cabled unpowered usb3-hub with usk-key and mouse killed my wifi instantly. I was on the wrong track suspecting over-tuned energy options of the SP4. Since switching to 5Ghz connection no problem anymore.

    Greetings from Germany

  2. Wrapping the plastic part of the USB drive in aluminium worked fine. As Marcus mentions it, rebooting also can help. Thanks for the article 🙂

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