Welcome to LinLog (and the world of WiFi)

Welcome to LinLog, my Linux-related weblog. I've read on web forums that many people keep record of all the tips and tricks they pick up in their adventures with Linux. That's what this is.

Of course, I've been using Linux on my home workstation for five years, but there's no time like the present, right? Plus this is public and in more of a narative format than most people probably use, and I have no intention of describing the minutia of configuration or the basics of UNIX. So maybe that's not such a good reference point.

Anyway, I just recently joined the Wonderful World of WiFi. That's right, I sent NewEgg $120 and they sent me a box with a wireless LAN in it. I would have stuck with wires, but Sarah (my wife) and I just bought a new house, and since her office is downstairs and mine is upstairs, it was either a wireless network or start pulling cable. Needless to say, wireless was cheaper an easier.

So, for my $120 I got a D-Link DI-524 802.11b/g wireless router and two Edimax EW-7128G 802.11b/g wireless LAN PCI cards. I got the D-Link router because most home routers are pretty much the same and it was cheap. The network cards were a different story.

Being a knowledgeable Linux user, I did some hardware research before purchasing my LAN cards. It turns out that driver support for wireless cards under Linux is somewhere between "pretty bad" and "terrible." Most of the in-kernel drivers are for old cards that aren't manufactured anymore, and support for cards with a PCI interface seems to be pretty crumby in general. There's always NDISwrapper, but I like to use native drivers, preferably in-kernel, when at all possible.

So, with the help of Google and this page, I discovered the Ralink RT2500 chipset, which is what the Edimax card uses. It not only has a native driver, but Ralink released the driver under the GNU GPL! Yay, open-sourced drivers! Plus, the Edimax card is listed on the NDISwrapper site as being supported and it was only priced at $26, so I figured it was hard to go wrong.

Well, I got the driver working, but it was a somewhat harrowing experience. See, the RT2500 driver version 1.0.0 has some serious stability problems, particularly on 2.6 series kernels. By "serious stability problems," I mean causes kernel panics when you try to use it. Fortunately, there is also a 1.1beta version, which is fairly stable. Of course, it still causes a kernel panic if I try to use the driver configuration file, which it appears is the only way to enable WPA-PSK support (the iwconfig man page says it doesn't do passphrases), but that's not the end of the world. Maybe I should e-mail the RT2x00 guys about that some time....

One cool thing about this driver is that it actually comes with a Qt-based graphical configuration utility. Unfortunately, it doesn't really do me any good because it works by saving the configuration to the driver config file, which, as I just mentioned, causes my system to crash. Also, for some reason the program segfaults when I try to look at the statistics tab. I don't know why....

So, if you're looking for a wireless card, the RT2500 chipset is definitely feasible. It might not be painless and it definitely won't be as simple as it should be (the configuration utility should work), but it'll work. The RT2x00 developers are hard at work fixing and integrating the drivers, so hopefully things will only get better.

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