Monday, June 05, 2006

Linux, gentoo, amd64, and 802.11g wireless: Ugh.

I'm building a MythTV box, using the Gentoo distribution running the 64 bit AMD kernel (aka amd64, aka x86_64). Everything has gone pretty well so far, except for getting the wireless connection working. I'm posting this so that some other poor soul searching google can benefit from my experience.

It's not Linux's fault; most wireless device manufacturers simply don't bother with any sort of Linux support. Lazy bums.

A lot of 802.11b devices have homebrew device drivers that work under Linux, but I want to use an 802.11g device. It's a faster protocol, but since it's newer, the drivers typically aren't as mature, or are early in development.

It doesn't help that I want to use a 64 bit kernel: drivers aren't as well tested in that environment. Also, I can't cheat and use ndiswrapper to just run the existing Windows drivers--almost no Windows wireless devices have 64 bit drivers.

Also ugly is the fact that network companies obsolete their products quickly, so web posts listing "supported cards" are quickly obsoleted--none of the products listed are available anymore! (Even worse: many manufacturers change which chipset (and thus driver) they use in their device without changing the product number. Bastards.)

However, not all is lost--although most devices are big trouble, if you carefully choose which card you buy, you can save yourself a lot of pain. The wireless chipset manufacturer Atheros does support Linux (by giving source code to the madwifi project). All I had to do was find a card that uses the Atheros chipset. I bought the D-Link DWL-G520, and am in fact posting this using my new wireless connection.


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