... Here is my questioin, both out laptops have built in WiFi receivers. What can we add to increase the signal strength from the local WiFi router/antenna?
Jack, lots of good answers here, and I think Steve has the most complete:http://www.busconversions.com/bbs/index.php?topic=16252.msg174703#msg174703
However, there are a couple of things that are assumed there and I would like to make them explicit, for anyone following along. These are things I cover in my seminar on mobile Internet access.
Generally speaking, laptops with internal WiFi cards do not have any way to affix an external antenna. In other words, the range of the internal card and its built-in antenna is what it is, and can not be improved. That leaves you with two options: one is to get an external WiFi adapter, which can be a PC-Card device if you have a slot for one, or more commonly a USB-2.0 device. By itself, this will do little, if anything, to improve range, but you can choose one with an input for an external antenna, and then a whole range of antenna options opens up to you, as others, including Steve, have already discussed.
One problem with this option is that you have two laptops, so for both of them to use this method simultaneously, you will need two external WiFi adapter, two antennas, two cables, etc. etc.
The other method is to use a "repeater" device, and I put that in quotes because some WiFi repeaters are actually routers, which in IP-speak is a different animal. With this method you are not really extending the range of the internal cards, but rather taking a WiFi signal from outside on one channel, and creating a different WiFi signal inside on a different channel. Your laptops connect to the inside signal, and the device "repeats" the information in both directions to the outside signal. This method allows you to use any number of devices inside with only a single repeater device, which usually has two antennas (an inside one, and an outside one, either of which might be built into the device itself).
Again, others have described this method well and I will not, umm, repeat it here. Just wanted to clarify the distinction.
... I have the wireless I think Dell calls a G card and have no need for a booster and will pickup signals better than the wife's card and a lot faster. ...
Jack, you will find that Windows 7 with the new G wifi cards will reach out pick the siganal up ... whats up with the letter G I see in the links those gadets use the letter G wifi.
Wireless-G is a transmission standard that uses different radios than older WiFi standards. While it is true that the -G standard is faster, many if not most public WiFi hotspots are still using the older Wireless-B standard. (Newer -G cards are backwards-compatible.) So it is not necessarily the case that a -G card will either get you faster access or better signal strength at any give location -- a lot depends on the hot spot itself. If you are at a location with a Wireless-B hot spot, upgrading to a -G card will not help.
The good news here is that almost everything made today supports both -B and -G, so as hot spots are installed or upgraded, they will support the faster standard.
Make no difference what you use you put your personal info on a air card or wifi you are asking for problems.We have one phone in the house we order from it has a cord we never order from a cordless or cell phone only problem is you never know what they are using on the other end so we ask if it goes by air some one is smart enough to intercept
Clifford, the prevailing thinking that I have encountered is that aircard is much safer than a public network.
As you point out, no system is perfect. The research I have done suggests that the most critical part of the transmission is how you get your data into the "pipeline". Once in the pipeline most folks feel it is secure if you are careful to make sure the site is secure.
Open WiFi networks are dangerous, there is no doubt about this. However, this principally relates to email passwords and file server credentials that are sent in clear text. My advice here is to either use IMAP or HTTPS to access your email on public WiFi networks, and secure your home network if you use file service.
"Closed" WiFi networks are not much better. I can crack into any WEP network in a matter of seconds; WPA takes minutes or maybe hours but it is trivial.
But as you note, once it leaves your end, you don't know how it will travel to the other end. For this reason, you should make sure that all transactions you conduct on the Internet with sensitive data such as credit card numbers, passwords, SSNs, etc. are using secure protocol, HTTPS. All browsers have easy-to-recognize iconography to tell you when you are on a secure connection.
Bottom line: you should never rely on the supposed security of the local network to protect you. And remember, the good 'ol US government is watching everything you say and do in clear text on the Internet.