Simple fix for MK802 IV Android mini PC WiFi performance

Over the past year Android TV sticks have gotten more and more powerful, while prices continue to drop. These days you can get a device that fits in the palm of your hand, has a quad-core processor, and lets you run Android apps on a TV for well under $100.

But one problem that plagues many of these little devices is poor WiFi reception. Some models are better than others, but I got so tired of testing Android mini-computers that didn’t work in my office that I recently invested in a WiFi range extender for the house.

Fortunately some device makers have been paying attention and adding features such as external antennae to improve performance. Sometimes there are easy ways to fix models without an external antenna though.

The folks at Rikomagic, for example, noticed that you can dramatically improve WiFi performance on the MK802 IV just by moving the antenna inside the case.

mk802 4

Retailer W2Comp sent me an MK802 IV demo unit a while back, but I’ve been a bit too busy to test it. Incidentally, W2Comp sells the device for $88.

It’s a small Android device with a Rockchip RK3188 ARM Cortex-A9 quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, 8GB of storage, an HDMI connector, USB 2.0 port, and 2 micro USB ports (one of which is used for power).

Today I finally followed Rikomagic’s advice and cracked open the case to see if moving the antenna really does help improve WiFi performance. The short answer? It does.

The first thing I did was to plug the MK802 IV into my monitor, hook up a keyboard and mouse, and install the Network Signal Info app. I did this before moving the antenna.

At first, I saw signal strength of 60 to 70 percent. Then I unplugged the WiFi range extender in my office and watched the signal strength plummet down to 36 percent.

wifi_before

It didn’t stay there — that’s about as high as it got, but the signal occasionally dipped lower and from time to time the MK802 IV simply disconnected itself from my wireless network.

I didn’t have much hope that moving around the antenna would change things. But Rikomagic had assured me it would. So I unplugged the device and pried open the case (it’s tough to do this without breaking off some of the plastic — but basically if you run a fingernail, credit card, or other thin (and preferably not sharp or metallic) item along the edge of the case you should be able to do this without causing serious damage.

This is what my device looked like with the case open.

mk802 4 open_01

But my contact at Rikomagic said it should look like this:

open_02

It took me a little while to figure out exactly what the difference was. At first, I thought she simply wanted me to shift the position of the antenna a bit to the left. But upon closer inspection I discovered that she actually wanted me to was attach the antenna to the other half of the case.

If you look closely, you’ll notice that the markings on the black plastic case where the antenna is attached in the first picture are different than the markings in the second picture. That’s because in the first picture, that’s the bit of case hanging out underneath the circuit board.

So I carefully picked up the piece of sticky tape holding the antenna in place, put it on the other part of the case, and closed everything back up.

This time when I booted into Android and ran the Network Signal Info app, I was pleasantly surprised to see a signal of 56 percent.

wifi_after

While a 100 percent signal would be even more exciting, this is a strong enough signal to stream videos, surf the web, make video calls, or do just about anything else without fear of losing the internet connection.

Not bad, considering my WiFi router is on the first floor of the house and my office is on the third.

This solution clearly won’t work for every Android TV stick. But if you happen to have a Rikomagic MK802 IV and you have trouble holding onto an internet signal, you might want to open the case and try moving the antenna.

There’s one interesting side note to this story. Rikomagic also recently issued a software update for the MK802 IV that upgrades the device from Android 4.1 to Android 4.2.2. It’s also supposed to optimize WiFi performance and offer a few other improvements — but I find that my signal strength is actually weaker after the upgrade.

I wrote most of the above article while running Android 4.1. After updating to Android 4.2, my signal strength dropped to about 51 percent.

  • ne-yo-gabba-gabba-hey

    what a great hack. i love these small reminders that wi-fi really is just a specialized radio application — with all the quirky/mysterious antenna behavior that hams have learned to enjoy!

    • Michael Thompson

      You pegged it, at least for me.
      Having a background that includes amateur radio has made a huge difference as radio has grown to include the wireless modes we’re so familiar with today.
      73 de N2NLQ!

  • Conception

    Curious…what’s the range with the wi-fi extender on too and the antenna moved? I have a cheap Chinese wi-fi extender (Win-Star WS-WN518W2 Rev A ranges from $17-20, I paid $18) and it makes a huge difference in my house (once you can figure out how to get it configured right).

  • Michael Thompson

    I dunno, I’d be just as inclined to mount it externally given the length of cable available.
    Maybe a piece of heat shrink tubing over the antenna itself or a wrap of electrical tape in a pinch, but the further away from that circuit board the better IMO.

  • SeanKPS

    who would trust a company that didn’t test this before manufacturing and distributing?

    • Michael Thompson

      This is absolutely typical if you research these types of devices.
      They are produced on the cheap which leads to QC-related issues.
      Part of playing with these things is the understanding that they are fiddly.

  • tom

    Great job by rikomagic. They at least tried to fix it much better than before.

  • alexxx

    there are two easy methods

    first one :
    The “quick fix” is to disconnect the shield ground of the antenna wires
    to the circuit board. What is happening, is the manufacturer is shorting
    the sheild ground to the internal antenna wire when they solder the
    wire to the board. The heat from soldering the ground shield is melting
    the internal insulation and shorting the wire. And isolate the wire with nail polish.
    see here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G3j6rOp0lvY
    the second one:
    you can simply reposition the wireless antenna inside and you will get a much stronger signal. Experienced by brad.

    see here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=00RgupfdgJk

  • Alexxx

    Now that we are discussing the hardware of the HDMI sticks. I want to ask if someone knows a HDMI Stick with a rockchip RK3188, 2gb of ram, 1 microsdxc card slot and no nand flash solder to the board but a MicroSDXC or TSD (a TSD is storage chip with SDIO interface, it looks like a nand flash chip. you can use it as a SD card. see HIAPAD hi-802 board) or eMMC Connector (see Hardkernel ODROID-U2 and ODROID-X2).
    The purpose of this removavel storage in the HDMI STICKS YOU CAN UPDATE FROM 8GB TO 128GB no questions asked…..

  • feelys2010

    I’m not good at electronics new things, I will try to finish like you once.http://www.batterysale.net.au/

  • LoneStarNot

    Streaming YouTube was completely dead. After moving the antenna … no problem. Thanks!

  • Grigory

    The only difference between the pictures is that the lid is rotated in the wrong direction. The antenna position is the same.

    • Senator S

      You’re right. The antenna is only moved a little bit towards the end of lid (away from the HDMI end) Can’t see why this should make such a big difference. I moved my antenna outside of the case, works like a charm. (MKIV 4.2.2)

      • nivloc

        Thanks! I just taped the antenna to the outside (using the original tape that was used inside). I couldn’t get a stable conection and it was less than 1mg when I did. After moving the antenna I’m testing at 20mg. Huge difference. Thanks again!