Best Free Wi-Fi Network Finder Utility

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Introduction

The most normal use of a WiFi network is probably your personal wireless network at home. You set up your router, assign a wireless SSID and the encryption and you know what to configure on your computer. Those more mobile computer users, however, will often run into locations where they would like to see what wireless networks are available. Some Hotels for example provide several access points depending on the size of their premises. Which one has the strongest signal? Or you may wonder what is the SSID of the access point in the coffee shop that just opened around the corner? Wirelss monitors can also help to identify competing networks on the wireless channels so you will be able to make a more educated decision about changing your channel.

A WiFi network finder software will answer these questions. Compare it to a radio that is receiving all wireless signals and displays that information to you. There are some good commercial products out there, many laptops come with an OEM product, but there are also some free contenders in this category.

Discussion

xirrus Xirrus Wi-Fi Inspector: Xirrus might be known by many for their sidebar gadgets for wireless networks. What some of you might not know (and I didn't either until recently - thanks, Jonas) is that they also offer a full local Wi-Fi finder utility as well. And it is good. I actually liked it that much that I made it the new Top Pick in this category.

It was not that it offers better or more features that made me change my pick, it was more the fact that the features it offers and the GUI they are presented in are so well done that I think it will be favored by most users trying both, Xirrus and inSSIDer. inSSIDer's concept approaches the more techincal oriented user while Xirrus Wi-Fi Inspector uses a more general approach addressing the majority of users.

Of course, what hits the eye first is the beautifully animated radar screen in the upper left corner displaying the strength of the visible Wi-Fi networks in your vicinity. The closer the dot to the center, the better the signal. But don't mistake this radar animation as a Wi-Fi locator. The position of the dot in the radar does not represent the physical location of the hotspot. I assume the dots are just placed randomly on a circle around the center. However, it is very nicely made.

The upper right window area shows the most important information about your current connection, the wireless network and your local IP settings. In the middle the available networks are listed in a grid, just like in inSSIDer. You can sort the list by each column and read signal strength, encryption, channel etc. of those networks near you. The lower part of the window shows a history graph of the signal of your current network. All of these areas can be easily selected to full size by the Office like menu on top of the window. The usabilility of this application is simply great. You can even disconnect/connect to a network as well as enable/disable your adapter. I think it is a worthy successor as the Top Pick Wi-Fi finder.


NetSurveyor NetSurveyor comes in second in my view but is close to inSSIDer. The layout is similar, a network list on top and graphical representations at the bottom. Also, when selecing a network in the list, the corresponding lines in the graphs are thickened to display the correlation. When NetSurveyor starts it takes about 10 seconds of scanning until the first result is presented. Continuous rescanning makes sure the list and diagrams are updated constantly. NetSurveyor offers six different diagrams concentrating on any focus you want (signal strength, channel usage, etc.).

NetSurveyor works in 32Bit environments only. Even though it offers more graphical representations I must say that the GUI implementation has room for improvement. I found it very annoying that the application is set to fullscreen mode only. I also could not see any column labels in the top list. The screenshots on the home page show the labels so I assume it is a matter of how the GUI API is used. The setup suggests a restart, however, I could not find a service or logon programm that was added. But at least I found that suspicious.

Related Products and Links

You might want to check out these articles too:

Quick Selection Guide

Xirrus Wi-Fi Inspector
4.5
 
Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Great GUI, great features
Large size - No option to configure fonts and colors
1.2.1.4
27 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows XP SP1, Vista, 7 (32 and 64 bit)

You need an enabled wireless card and wireless networks in your reach

NetSurveyor
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Several graphical representations
GUI needs improvments - only fullscreen mode
2.0.9686.0
5.8 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows XP, Vista, 7 (32bit)

You need an enabled wireless card and wireless networks in your reach

Author

This article is maintained by George

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Comments

by BrollyLSSJ on 13. February 2014 - 23:07  (114467)

Yeah, I do not like the ads also. I found the last official version though. If you google for "inssider 2.1.6.1394" you will find it.

Xirrus has a bug for me. While clicking on the x in the right upper corner to close the program I am getting a fatal error. Another alternative called fing does not seem to see my wireless card and is console based only. Maybe Vistumbler is another alternative, but I guess I stick with inSSIDer 2.1.6.

Edith says: Someone please move this as a reply to george on my other post. I clicked the wrong button I guess.

by Joe A.TT on 14. February 2014 - 0:12  (114469)

You can get version 3.1.2.1 of inSSIDer here: http://www.softpedia.com/get/Network-Tools/Network-IP-Scanner/InSSIDer.s... I don't understand why Softpedia still has that version but you shouldn't really complain - just get it fast.

by BrollyLSSJ on 12. February 2014 - 22:29  (114436)

Maybe Amped Wireless Wifi Analytics Tool could also be tested. http://www.ampedwireless.com/wifianalytics/

Edith: It seems to be a rebranded version of metageeks inssider. Also inssider 3 itself is still available for download, but not developed anymore.
http://www.metageek.net/support/metageek-software-archives/

by George on 13. February 2014 - 21:29  (114461)

Thanks for the note. Indeed it is a fork of the MetaGeek tool. I tried both, on Android and PC and was not convinced by it. The wireless information might be useful, after you find it between all the advertisement. Too much for my taste. On Android it does not support landscape format. Not sure why. On PC half of the screen is cluttered with ads. Not a tool I want to review here for that reason.
Best regards,
George

by Dragonscribe on 10. January 2014 - 2:58  (113503)

Maybe I have missed something -- not an uncommon occurrence. but...

I went to the inSSIDer link above and they have relocated. The new site has a one paragraph blurb followed by a "Buy Now" button. If they are still providing freeware, it doesn't seem to be via this link.
I went to the Xirrus link and there is download link but it's blocked until you fill some info including your company name. Perhaps I should have made up a company name but I got the feeling that as an individual consumer, I'm not in their target clientele.
The NetSurveyor link goes a a series of seven screens that pump their product and offer technical information before you finally arrive at a download link. It does download and install easily. Perhaps the reason for burying the link so far down is they want you to read the material and have some vague notion of what you're doing before you run the tool. On that theory, I will read it before actually using it. I'm not complaining since they are the only one of the three who appear still to be providing freeware.

by George on 10. January 2014 - 7:19  (113508)

Thank you, Dragonscribe for spotting this. In fact, inSSIDer went commercial now is not available for free anymore. The guys at Metageek decided to switch to a paid product. See also this forum post about it:
http://forums.inssider.com/showthread.php?7463-InSSIDer-no-longer-free&p...

And right you are as well that NetSurveyor changed their website. You can find the download link at the bottom of the home page or on the product's page itself. I updated the links to it in the Quick Selection Guide.

Best regards,
George

by ElRicou on 6. March 2013 - 21:01  (105996)

Please excuse my ignorance, but I don't understand the benefit these softwares give compared to the standard built-in windows Wi-Fi network finder/manager...

by George on 6. March 2013 - 21:07  (105997)

Hi ElRicou,
in fact, if you are just interested in the broadcasted SSIDs around you to find one you want to connect to, then Windows built in network list will show you those. The benefit of these programs here lies in the additional information of such wireless networks that might be interesting to you for quite different reasons. Information like channel, MAC address, encryption and other details will be shown by these programs. E.g. how many networks are already operating on channel 11? It came in handy for me once when I had to find possible reasons for interferences in my network connection. I ended up using a different channel after that. Signal strength is also shown more granular than Windows displays it. But it surely is an advanced application of network information that you barely need on a day to day basis.
Best regards,
George

by ElRicou on 6. March 2013 - 21:29  (105998)

Hi George
Thanks for this swift and clear answer, I get the picture ☺
keep up the good work!
Best regards
Ricou

by Anon101 (not verified) on 25. November 2012 - 1:59  (102857)

Nothing will EVER come close to NetStumbler, the sound level that matches the signal strength, the scan speed, the simple and easy to use GUI, dang I miss it.

by George on 25. November 2012 - 11:03  (102877)

I agree. I used NetStumbler too for quite a while in those days. Too bad it was not further maintained.

by Darkfred62 (not verified) on 14. July 2012 - 23:25  (96189)

Does this software detect non-broadcast SSID AP's

by George on 14. July 2012 - 23:42  (96191)

Unfortunately I cannot disable my SSID broadcast on my router but I think only broadcasted networks are traced.

by Rhett25 (not verified) on 11. April 2012 - 20:36  (91928)

Thanks again, George, for your tips. One less program I need to stress over. You are awesome.
Everett

by Rhett25 (not verified) on 10. April 2012 - 16:38  (91850)

Hi George,
I did some research and I think I understand about the difference between a WiFI network and a wireless network. My question is Do I need a WIFI sniffer if I stay at a campground that has WIFI connectability?

by George on 10. April 2012 - 18:42  (91857)

Hi Rhett
in this context WiFi and wireless is actually the same. You dont need a sniffer. The programs in this article will show the available networks that your wireless card is receiving.

by Rhett25 (not verified) on 9. April 2012 - 17:44  (91813)

I am taking my laptop on the road for the very first time. I am illiterate concerning WiFi and "open" internet sites at campgrounds. Do I need a "sniffer" on my laptop (Windows XP, but upgrading to Win7)which has a wireless router connection at home? If so, what is the simplest "sniffer" program that I could use.

by George on 9. April 2012 - 19:09  (91815)

Hi Rhett25
you can use one of the above mentioned programs to see what WiFi networks are available. If your laptop is receiving a wireless signal these tools will tell you about it. You don't need to be connected to a network to receive its signal. You can try it at home. It will probably show more networks than the one you are connected to.
Best regards,
George

by babbo (not verified) on 27. February 2012 - 5:11  (89557)

Check out Vistumbler. Works on Vista and Windows 7. Open source
Similar to inSSIDer with GPS capability.

http://www.vistumbler.net/

by Hayatullah (not verified) on 24. February 2012 - 21:33  (89404)

tnx

by xray5483 (not verified) on 30. November 2011 - 7:44  (84156)

WeFi should be also mentioned!

by George on 30. November 2011 - 16:29  (84180)

Thanks for the tip. I tried to check it out, however, I could only find a CNet download of the program which we are reluctant to promote here since CNet is wrapping the setup into an own executable file with ad ware in it. The setup executable of WeFi is producing a realtime protection alert claiming that it contains a Rootkit.Agent/Gen-Local Process. This might be a false positive but all in all reasons enough for me to stay away from it.

by MidnightCowboy on 30. November 2011 - 18:18  (84182)

I found a link for it at Softpedia.

http://www.softpedia.com/get/Internet/Other-Internet-Related/WeFi.shtml

Having downloaded the file, I emailed it to VirusTotal and the return result was completely clear.

by cmac (not verified) on 25. October 2011 - 0:45  (82073)

Love xiirus - I was able to identify wireless conflicts at home in minutes. Thank you for the reviews.

by Tam (not verified) on 30. September 2011 - 22:56  (80664)

Inssider doesn't seem to make a Connection when I click on one of the Discovered Network (AP).

Does anybody know one that allow: Click on a AP (from the Scanned List) to Connect to the AP (I enter login/password after the click).

Thank you.

by George on 1. October 2011 - 10:05  (80687)

Hi Tam,
try the Xirrus Wi-Fi Inspector. You can Connect/Disconnect and Enable/Disable from it.
Best regards,
George

by Martijn Weisbeek (not verified) on 20. September 2011 - 3:44  (79929)

Ehrm, why isn't NetStumbler not listed in this list anymore ? Did I miss something ?

I read in the comments that the download-page has been down (in 2008), but I seem to be able to go to the download page and download the program. Is anything wrong with it ?

by George on 20. September 2011 - 7:08  (79936)

Hi Martijn,
that is correct, I recently took out NetStumbler from the review since it was not further developed for a while now. The current release 0.4.0 is dated to 2004. It does not identify vendors anymore, nor does it identify the network encryption correctly anymore. The product is just outdated and compared to the other contenders in this category it just does not fulfill the requirements anymore.
Best regards,
George

by Martijn Weisbeek (not verified) on 21. September 2011 - 16:10  (80050)

George,

Thanks for your reply. There had to be a good reason for not including NetStumbler anymore. And apparently there is ;-)

by mmseng on 19. September 2011 - 22:50  (79919)

In regards to the new top pick, I would be interested to know if it has any kind of comparable functionality to inSSIDer's geomapping. I personally never got it to work with my dollar-store GPS unit (thought I probably didn't give the full college try), but inSSIDer can supposedly hook up to a GPS unit and output data into Google Maps- (and other-) readable format.

I know this isn't a common usage, but I feel like it should be included in reviews.

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