Wednesday, June 11, 2008

EEE PC - Replacing the WiFi Card

Over the weekend I went onto eBay and bought myself a Dell TrueMobile 1390 b/g wireless card for my eee PC. I am out to replace the Atheros that comes with it, which just doesn't seem to cut the mustard when it comes to wardriving. I bought the card Sunday night for $15 (shipping and all) and it was in my mailbox Tuesday morning. Thanks US Postal Service! :-)

Back at work I got out my set of screwdrivers and went to work. Installing the card was not difficult, but it was time consuming and a little tedious. As you can imagine, everything in the eee PC is small and fragile. I found this particular forum post to be most helpful in determining how to get the lid off and expose the bottom of the motherboard. With everything back together, I booted it up.

I didn't get the "blue light" on the eee PC which was a little concerning. I hadn't thought of how I would get the card to interact with the buttons or quick keys on the eee PC. Once booted I could see that I had ... no wireless card. Not that I expected the driver to load and for everything to work that simply, but it sure would have been nice.

The first thing I tried to get it working was to look for drivers to install. I ran an apt-cache bcm43xx and I found a utility of sorts which helps to load firmware onto a Broadcom card. Why would I want to play with firmware? It seems you have to. The way this card was designed you have a file available which is used to load the card every time it comes up. This is done pretty simply in Windows using Broadcom drivers. Linux it seems, is another story.

There also seems to be a newer style and older style driver. There have been two projects over the years to make these cards work. The old bcm43xx drive has been written off as a "legacy driver" and everyone seems to be using the new b43 driver instead. All sorts of good information on the topic can be found here. I dove feet first into the instructions on the project page and about midway through realized that while I was not getting any error messages, I was having zero success in getting this to work. Additionally, I was skimming through the instructions and really had no idea what I was doing.

Also I noticed I still had no blue light. I wondered if my "hot key" still works. I did a Fn+F2 - and the light came on. Hooray! But that means all the screwing around I had done trying to load drivers was in vain, because my card was turned off the entire time. Duh. Rather than continue on with my path of driver destruction, I opted to back up my home directory to an SD card and re-install the operating system. My hope was that in reinstalling eeeXubuntu the card would be magically detected and the driver would be loaded for me like the Atheros card was when I installed the first time.

And the survey says ... NO DICE.

A fresh and clean Operating System would not find it. Perhaps an up to date Operating System would find it and use it. Next I performed a "dist-upgrade" knowing that I would probably break a ton of other stuff in the process. The dist upgrade took the better part of four hours. Yes, FOUR HOURS. When it was done, I had new versions of everything - but none of my hardware worked any more, not even the on-board wired NIC. Downer.

After having no luck getting drivers to work I began to wonder if the hardware was even being detected. After all, loading the driver didn't give a single error. I ran an 'lspci' and compared the results with what would see with an Atheros card installed. No wonder, the Dell Broadcom card wasn't being picked up at all by the BIOS. This whole thing had been a waste of time, and $15.

With that, I went downstairs, got out the screwdrivers, and put the Atheros card back in. Then, I reinstalled the eeeXubuntu OS to put me back to ground zero. Ugh.

I am not ready to give up, but whatever I come with is going to have to be external. I did some searching around for information on using the Intel 3945 in the eee PC and I was brought right back to the forum to find some more bad news. That slot it seems, will not detect anything but an Atheros branded card.

For my next trick ... I am thinking of getting an external USB wireless card and making it part of a cantenna. Then the antenna connection would go right into the can - and a single USB cable would come down to the laptop. More on this revelation later.


  1. good tutorial v usefull. is there any way to connect say the spare mini pci express card to usb for use on any machine

  2. Good tutorial, saved me some time. I saw a writeup on an external antenna jack on just search for eee.

  3. absolutely no help

  4. Wasted 240 seconds of my life.