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Macintosh OS X has improved it’s built-in Wi-Fi client over the years. This latest improvement was to the included Wireless Diagnostic Tool that is included in the 10.8.4 update.
First go to the Apple Menu and choose Software update and follow the directions to update your copy of Mac OS X to 10.8.4 – this will require a restart.
After installing the updated OS, you can access the new diagnostic tool by holding down the Option key when clicking on the Wi-Fi icon. This will bring up more details about your Wi-Fi connection. Including the current MCS index and the BSSID of your associated Access Point. This alone is a useful set of information. You’ll also see here the channel, type of security as well as RSSI and Transmit rate. If you go to the bottom of this screen you can choose the ‘Open Wireless Diagnostics…’
You’ll be first greeted with a description of the tool and what it can do for you.
If you touch the ‘continue’ button, the tool will then do a set of diagnostic routines on your current Wi-Fi connection. This takes a little while to complete. If everything is working fine, you’ll get a confirmation your wireless is working as expected. At this point you can just have it continually watch your Wi-Fi connection. (This is pretty boring… just sitting there…)
Or you can produce a set of log files with details about your network connection by clicking on the ‘Continue to summary’ button.
The tool will not generate a diagnostics report and save a .gz compressed file with a bunch of log files to your desktop. These include some detailed information on the state of your Macintosh computer. Here’s an example of one of these reports. This is the wireless-diagnostics-XXXX.log file
The tool also makes the following recommendations for your Wi-Fi network. Take these as advice, coming from Apple that is. They obviously can’t know your specific situation, but these are useful nonetheless.
That’s enough with the automatic stuff – lets move to the parts of the Wireless Diagnostic tool that can be run in live mode to get more information on your Wi-Fi connection.
To get to these Utilities, you can click on the Wireless Diagnostics – Window – Utilities from the menu bar.
You’ll be taken to a page with a couple of options… OK, I’ll stop here and make an observation. I don’t think the normal Apple User Interface folks had much to do with this diagnostics tool. It is functional, but not in the normal ‘Apple look and feel’.
The Info tab will take you to a dialog showing the current Wi-Fi and network information. I’m not sure I agree with their recommendations for channels however!
The next tab will start a dialog where you can set some basics, then start a packet capture. You will not be able to see anything happening during the packet capture. The frames are all being saved in a file until you click the ‘Stop’ button – then the file is saved as a .wcap file to your desktop.
This file can easily be opened in Wireshark for detailed analysis. No packet decode tool is included with the Apple Wireless Diagnostics tool.
The logging function allows one to choose some options, then save these specific logs into a .gz file saved to your desktop.
The Wi-Fi Scan tool works a lot like other scanning tools available for free or low cost in the MacApps Store. But it is included with this free utility. I still like using the dedicated tools like inSSIDer, WiFi Scanner, or WiFi Explorer – they all contain more information.
The final utility shows historical and real-time information on your current connection. Showing SNR, RSSI, and Noise floor. The current Transmit rate is also shown, but not graphed.
My overall impression is Apple has continued to add small improvements to this built-in utility. As Wireless LAN Professionals we need to be conversant and understand as much about the client utilities as possible. This is a great start to giving us information on how the Mac OS X Wi-Fi NIC sees the world.
I’d like to see more roaming information and perhaps historical graphing of how/why/when the NIC roamed. This current iteration is good step towards having a professional tool from the client’s perspective.
Keith R. Parsons
Wireless LAN Professionals, Inc.
Wireless LAN Training/Consulting
281 South Vineyard Road – #104 Orem, UT 84058-2005