About a month ago, I have to turn in my Dell C840 for a new Dell D600. There was good and bad in that. The good was that it’s smaller and lighter, with a nicer keyboard. It has a cd-rw/dvd combo, and came with a 64M memory stick. The bad is that it only does 1024×768 on the desktop, there’s only space for one battery, and the internal wifi card is a broadcom card which defies Linux.

The only thing I could do about any of that is get internal wifi working. I tried everything. The Linuxant drivers didn’t work, and the ndis drivers didn’t work. The ndis drivers came closest, with it recognizing the card, but it always told me to check the cable. ????? I tried several different distributions of Linux, and when none worked with the wifi, I decided on Fedora Core 2, since it seemed to work the best of any of them.

So, the internal wifi didn’t work. What to do? The guys in IS, who are certified to tear these things apart (and do so frequently) said it’s just a mini-pci card under a flap on the bottom. I’d never heard of mini-pci, but I opened the flap and there was a nic slid into a little slot. Off to ebay I went.

I eventually found one with a “buy it now” of $33, with a Lucent Orinoco chipset. How could I go wrong with that? It came in the mail today.

I called the guys in IS (several have been my students, all are my friends) and asked if I could put it in in close proximity to them, so that I could ask questions if need be, and they said sure. One important point in this process is that last year’s D600’s had a different nic with a single antenna point. This years have 2. The card I bought has two.

So I went over, popped the back open, took the old card out, paying attention to the fact that the white antenna wire was plugged into a spot labelled “primary” and the black one to “aux”. I popped the new one in, plugged the white one in, and grabbed the black one and tugged. That’s when I realized the fatal flaw; it wasn’t long enough. It just plain didn’t reach. At the time I didn’t know for SURE that the wires were just antenna. I pulled on the wire to see if there was any slack, to no avail. Andrej was helping me, and he said that maybe if we took the case apart, we could get some more. I told him if he wanted to, he could, but I wasn’t doing it.

He grabbed a screwdriver and started taking screws out. The screen came off. Then a strip above the keyboard. Then the keyboard. Then the top of the case. We still couldn’t get in there. He said “We could take the motherboard out, but Jason’ll have to do it, since I’ve never done it.”

Keep in mind that school is starting this week, and these guys were handing out new laptops to freshmen during this. They still took the time to help me out, and I appreciate it.

So Jason came over and started in on more screws. Pretty soon he was prying on plastic. The thing that scared me most about the whole process is how cavalier they were about twisting and prying on things. Nothing broke, they knew what they were doing, but I would have quit a LONG LONG time before we got to that point.

We got the mobo out, and realized that the black wire was already stretched as far as it could possibly go. There just wasn’t any more to give. So we put it all back together.

The only wifi around was the campus network, and it’s got a WEP key. I took my laptop to an office with wifi in it, and booted into windows. It took a while, but it found the card. I think it took about 9 minutes to boot that time. It immediately saw the network, but oddly enough it didn’t know the WEP key, even though it had been entered in with the other NIC. That was fine with me though, I never use their wifi, and I had a meeting to get to.

Tonight at home I turned it on, and let it boot to linux. Fedora paused at the “Searching for new hardware” line like it always does, but didn’t say “Hey, you have new hardware, would you like to configure it now?”. That made me a little nervous.

I logged in, started X, and gkrellm popped up like it always does, but there was the wifi monitor, with a better connection than I’ve EVER gotten at home! I didn’t have to do a blessed thing. Fedora saw the card and just started using it.

So now I have internal wifi working, for about $45 total cost. All the hardware wrangling I did was totally unnecessary, it works fine with just the one antenna plugged in. In fact, it works better than my c840 ever did. I wonder what would happen if I tried to extend that one wire? hmm…

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