[Assist] wireless drivers

Binh-Khoi Nguyen khoi at bknguyen.be
Sat Jan 3 10:15:13 GMT 2015


Thank you so much for your reply! It is very helpful!

Unfortunately, I'm very bad technically. Fortunately, my main computer 
runs Libreboot with an atheros wifi card, I was just talking about my 
work computer which is connected by cable anyway.

Thanks again and happy new year everyone!

On Sat, Jan 03, 2015 at 11:07:14AM +0100, Denis 'GNUtoo' Carikli wrote:
>On Mon, 29 Dec 2014 09:08:25 +0000
>Binh-Khoi Nguyen <khoi at member.fsf.org> wrote:
>> I already use a USB one, I was just wondering whether I could replace
>> the Wifi card. I'll do my own research then :)
>If you're very good technically you may be able to do it.
>There are two approaches:
>1) Flashing a patched BIOS: This is very risky: Often the flashing
>   utilities are non-free, and they differ from flashrom in what they
>   do. So the risk of bricking the laptop is very high.
>   Once bricked you have to dissemble most of the laptop, and reflash
>   the BIOS chip with an external programmer, you need another
>   computer, the flasher, and something like a pomona clip.
>   Of course you'd have to look if the requirement above match your
>   case, some laptop have different chips formats.
>   I tried this approach on my x60 in order to be able to keep using
>   my ath9k with the BIOS: I needed it to spot some differences
>   between coreboot and the BIOS. It ended up with a brick because
>   the proprietary flashing tool was assembling BIOS pieces together,
>   and instead I used flashrom's as-is. I recovered from it of course.
>2) Making the wifi card give PCI ids that are in the whitelist.
>   I looked rapidly at it for someone else's laptop.
>   On the internet, many people reported some success with this, but
>   with intel wifi chips(sic).
>   Now we don't care about intel wifi chips, instead we want to
>   use the atheros ones.
>   Now I didn't find a way to do it from GNU/Linux.
>   Example with a pc-card ath5k that I have available right now:
>   > # ethtool -e wlan3
>   > Cannot get EEPROM data: Operation not supported
>   I can't even read the eeprom data, because the kernel driver doesn't
>   support that. Reading and writing the eeprom trough ethtool does work
>   with some other wifi drivers. Here what the driver needs:
>   static const struct ethtool_ops foo_ethtool_ops = {
>     [...]
>     .get_eeprom_len = foo_ethtool_get_eeprom_len,
>     .get_eeprom = foo_ethtool_get_eeprom, // probably for reading
>     .set_eeprom = foo_ethtool_set_eeprom, // probably for writing
>   };
>   On the 3.18 (retrivied with git grep inside drivers/net/wireless):
>   Wifi drivers having the set_eeprom: ipw2200
>   Wifi driver having the get_eeprom: ipw2200 ath9k libertas
>   Now I didn't investigate other means:
>   2a) I didn't look if some specific eeprom driver was used or could be
>   used to do that.
>   2b) I didn't try dumping the eeprom, modifying it and writing it
>   back with an external flasher.
>   3b) Using other internal connectors than the usual mini-pcie
>   connector reserved for the wifi card. Maybe extra mini-pci connector
>   or internal usb connector could be used to avoid the BIOS whitelist
>   issue.
>   However you should also consider the antenna: if you succeed
>   to connect to the antennas that are in the screen, you should be
>   good.
>Since having an internal wifi card is very convenient, it may be worth
>investigating it more.
>Advantages/disadvantages of internal(PCI) and external(USB) cards:
>USB wifi cards have more probability to break:
> * You may forget it on the laptop and it can break during
>   transportation.
> * If the card is big and that you move with the laptop around in
>   buildings or outside, it may break due to a collision with
>   something stripping it out of the USB port, and breaking or the
>   card, the USB port or both.
>Internal cards takes no space outside and usually have a very good
>With USB cards:
>-> or you choose a small one and it doesn't have a good signal
>-> or you choose a big one with a good antenna and you do look strange
>   with a big antenna:
>   For instance when you are at a bus stop, with a wifi cards and a
>   huge antenna, using the shell when trying to download and compile
>   some software, and that you listen to some electronic music, people
>   look at you very strangely, trying to figure out what you are doing.
>However with an USB card, you can know for sure that the wifi is off by
>removing the card, it also produces no heat inside the laptop.

Binh-Khoi NGUYEN
khoi at member.fsf.org
GPG Key: https://bknguyen.be/gpg.html
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