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!

If you're considering using ndiswrapper you may as well get that Atheros card back and use madwifi with it, which does require a binary blob - non-free because releasing the source would violate some sort of FCC regulations, since Atheros hardware is capable of accessing radio frequencies outside of the 802.11 range (I believe.) Their website tells all -

Posted by Joshua Kwan at Fri Nov 5 01:34:39 2004

Hi Josh!

I'm only considering it if I get some impression that the bug is going to be fixed sometime soon.

The thing is I need to get something working the sooner the better, because the flatmates don't really enjoy this network cable going across the dining room.

People keep telling me to look at a pcmcia adapter. It might be the solution, in the end, seeing how much the situation sucks in PCI...

Atheros: yeah, but I'd really appreciate if I didn't have to compile stuff myself: I want to stick to the Just Works stuff. I can deal with firmware uploading, but that's all.

Posted by Jordi at Fri Nov 5 01:49:58 2004

Jordi:  Get a Netgear WG511.  They use the Prism54 Duette chipset.  But make sure you get the v2, which is "made in Taiwan".  The v3 "Made in China" doesn't work, it has the same problem as your other Prism54 card, the mgt queue thing.  The reason is that these new cards are dumber, do more stuff in the driver, and don't use the older OID hardware interface.  I guess they are working on that though.

Posted by Dan Williams at Fri Nov 5 06:04:44 2004

Oh, if you're looking for PCI, go Netgear MA311.  Orinoco/Prism 2.5-based card, works fine with in-kernel drivers.  Its a bit out of date though.

Posted by Dan Williams at Fri Nov 5 06:06:23 2004

I have a SMC prism54 pcmcia that don't work on my laptop (i get the same error as you), but worked instantly on other computers with the same distro (ubuntu/debian). I'm starting to think that is a bug on the pcmcia drivers for some hardware.

Anyway, I changed the card with an Atheros (using the package linux-restricted-modules in Ubuntu) and I'm happy with it.

Posted by Alberto at Mon Nov 8 23:42:16 2004

I'm stuck in the exact same situation, exact same error. Sigh. ndiswrapper does indeed work fine, though it is of course evil. Still, I'd had enough of the Great Future Shop Wireless Card  Merry-Go-Round, so I gave up and am using it.

Posted by AdamW at Wed Nov 10 00:49:34 2004

I think your card a rev. 2 SMC2802W, which is reputed not to work with the prism54 driver.  Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

ndiswrapper should still work, from what I gathered.

Check the thread at

Posted by Etienne Goyer at Tue Nov 23 22:51:45 2004