Thu, 04 Nov 2004

Finding my way through the Wireless maze

We've got a cool new Linksys wireless router at the flat, so I started looking for a PCI wireless adapter. This kind of hardware is that kind of stuff you've really want to be sure about before buying, because Linux support for the different chipsets varies a lot depending on minor details. Unfortunately, the boxes of the products in the stores never give specific details and you never know what you've got until you get home and stick it into your computer.

Nearly three weeks ago, after having waited for over two weeks to get a Conceptronics card in my usual computer store, I went to a big electronics shop and got a D-Link card. Of course, there was no indication of what kind of chip this would be, and I didn't carry a printed list of supported stuff with me, so I decided to buy it and try my luck. When I got home, I discovered in horror it was a Broadcom, and quickly went back and got another one, as these cards only work with evil binary-only drivers.

The second try revealed an Atheros chip inside. Even if this was looking better, the available Linux driver doesn't seem to be included in the stock Debian kernel image. Probably because there's some non-free/binary part to it.

At this point, the local show finally got stock of the Conceptronic cards, which besides being very cheap, were reportedly working for most people. The one I got, a new revision, had a RaLink chip, which at first sight appeared to be supported for Linux by upstream directly. Too bad: the current 2.6 kernel froze my box everytime I started pumping some traffic through the card. Argh!

Two days ago I went to the big store again to return the second card, and saw they had new stuff, including SMC2802W. After assuring this couldn't fail (Prism logo in the box and high success rate from other users), I decided to have another go. GAH! Sure, the card is a Prism, but it's not the same SMC2802W everyone's using. Those are V1, while mine is V2:

0000:00:09.0 Network controller: Intersil Corporation Intersil ISL3890 [Prism GT/Prism Duette] (rev 01)
0000:00:09.0 0280: 1260:3890 (rev 01)
        Subsystem: 1113:ee03

The driver loads, but when you configure the interface, the kernel starts spitting stuff and you get no link at all:

eth1: mgmt tx queue is still full

Oh well. At this point, I'm considering conceeding a little bit to ugly solutions like using ndiswrapper for a while, as people report that more or less work, while the prism54 driver is fixed or enhanced to support this new hardware. I'm open to suggestions and advice too, as I'm a bit fed up of all of this story. Does anyone know if it's a safe bet to wait for a better driver? Should I expect for this to take a long time? If I need to return the card to the store, I should do it at the end of next week, so I have a bit of time to decide still. TIA!