Wireless cards and Linux

or, how I learned to stop worrying and love 802.11


The short answer to getting wireless working under Linux is to buy a card with a supported chipset. Prism and Atheros chipsets seem to be well supported (I've had success with Prism 2.5 chipset- see below), but as always, Your Mileage May Vary.

Handy links:

  • Start here. This is the hands-down best, most exhaustive list of wireless cards and their chipsets. These guys rock, plus they sponsor the linux-wlan project.
  • The Linux Wireless LAN Howto. The home of the Wireless HOWTO, plus many many other wireless links. A good jumping-off point for research.
  • Wireless Tools for Linux. Get iwconfig, iwlist, iwspy, and iwpriv here.
  • MADWIFI. If you've got an Atheros chipset, you want to check out the Multiband Atheros Driver for WiFi. Here's their unoffical FAQ.
  • Don't know if you've got an Atheros chipset? Look it up!

Once you've got your card working, the /proc/net/wireless tree has lots of under-the-hood info you probably want to check out.


The Good, the bad, and the Ugly

Below, you'll find stories of success and failure. Feel free to add your own, but make sure you attribute your story! Also, try to keep with the format as established- it'll make it easier for others to find information.

Good Experiences

Netgear MA311MischaKrilov

I've successfully had this card working under both Red Hat 8 and Fedora 1. For the card that I had, (Hardware Rev 2.0, firmware 1.3.6) it literally was plug-and-play under Fedora. Fedora detected the Prism 2.5 chipset without prompting. After setting up the encryption, I was good to go with no headaches.

There were a few more hoops to jump through under RH8. Basically, there seems to be a bug in the chipset detection. I was able to get it working with /sbin/modprobe orinoco_pci, then ifconfig eth0 up then worked through iwconfig to test settings. To get the box to always do this, I edited /etc/modules.conf and added alias eth0 orinoco_pci. I also checked /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts/ifcfg-eth0. Don't forget to set ONBOOT=YES!

Specific links for this card:

D-LinkMischaKrilov

Dlink provides a handy list showing which of their cards have Linux drivers available.

http://support.dlink.com/faq/view.asp?prod_id=357&question=General%20Wireless

Bad Experiences

SMC SMC2602WMischaKrilov

Allegedly will work with the latest version of PCMCIA Card Services, but more importantly is which version of the card you've got. I wasted a great deal of my time talking to less-than-helpful SMC reps, but I'll relate the info I found in the hopes that it will help other folks.

There's at least three versions of this card. Before you buy the card, check the on-the-box part number. v1: 99-012004-000, v2: 99-012084-025, v3: 99-012084-214. There's some evidence that these cards use the ADMtek chipset, but SMC tells me that only versions 1 and 2 will work with Linux, and they had no chipset info for the v3 card that I had purchased. I was really less than thrilled with SMC support (odd, since I've gotten really good support from them in the past). My favorite quote from my SMC ordeal is as follows: "Did I cross-check with the vendor to see if the card was compatible with Linux?" When I asked them which SMC card I should buy, I was told to return the card I purchased and check the shelf at the store to see if they had a v1 or v2 card.

Specific links for this card: