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The New Laptop Has Arrived (aka, More Wireless Problems)

with 4 comments

It’s been too long since my last blog post. I’m afraid the time and motivation had temporarily escaped me. But I am back now, with what I hope will be some handy information for someone out there in cyberspace.

I recently ordered a new Toshiba laptop, an L305-S5933, from newegg.com. It was really a great deal; I couldn’t pass it up. Upon initially recieving the laptop, I spent a few hours removing all of the pre-loaded crap software (and let me tell you, there was quite a bit), preventing annoying things from running on startup, and installing the latest and greatest Windows updates. After that, I promptly installed Kubuntu 8.10. I have to note, I found it quite humerous that there is now a Windows installer on the Ubuntu install CD. My what a long way we’ve come from the earlier days of RedHat 5.x when I first got started with Linux.

Actually, I lied, I promptly booted into the Kubuntu live CD so I could give things a go before committing to this distro. And of course, without fail, I immediately noticed my lack of an internet connection (so I guess, more appropriately put – with fail?). Anywho, this is a sticky situation I’ve found myself in a number of times before. I’ve discovered Linux + wireless = a recipe for disaster. That’s one formula I’ve had no problems remembering. There are often issues with proprietary drivers/firmware, etc… So we end up with terrible incarnations like the ndiswrapper and so forth. In this case it turns out the currently released version of the wireless driver for my wireless card was not up to date enough to handle my card. This laptop has an Atheros wifi card, identified as AR242x by lspci, which has the AR5007EG chipset. The driver for this card is the madwifi driver. The project seems to be in a chaotic state, with the stable madwifi driver lacking resources, and apparently two newer versions in the works (ath5k and ath9k, neither of which are stable).

Fortunately, the good folks at #madwifi on freenode tipped me off to a newer version of the driver. Unfortunately, this “newer version” has never been released and therefore must be built from source. You can either get the source of this driver from git (which I’ll leave to you to figure out), or you can find the most up to date snapshot here. I’ll first mention, this process involves a reboot, so it is not possible to get wireless working in the live CD environment. Before we begin, you’ll need to make sure you have both the “build-essential” and “linux-headers” packages installed on your system. Start off by extracting the driver files from the archive:

tar xzf madwifi-hal-0.10.5.6-r3931-20090125.tar.gz

Be sure to substitute the correct file name here. Next “cd” into your newly extracted directory and run:

make
sudo make install

When you “make install”, this should remove the old drivers from your system and install the new drivers. Once you reboot, assuming you are running NetworkManager, you should be good to go. If you ever get a kernel update available via adept or apt-get upgrade, you may want to consider not installing it. If you do, you will have to rebuild this driver in the new kernel.

Do not blacklist the Atheros driver that comes with kubuntu, or you will find your computer will lock up during boot. If this happens, simply use the switch on the front of the laptop to disable the device until you have installed a new driver.

Hopefully I will be back soon with a review of KDE 4.2, which releases tomorrow.

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Written by Kris Wong

January 26, 2009 at 5:04 pm

4 Responses

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  1. Hi, Kris. So, you didn’t have any display problems running off the “Live CD”? I am. Differences between my set-up and what you describe:

    Same computer (nominally): a Toshiba Sat. L305-S5933 w/ Vista Home pre-installed, backed-up w/ Toshiba’s Recovery Disc maker App, not removed

    Kubuntu 8.04 downloaded, burned to DVD (a friend indicated problems w/ 8.10 and a mouse driver, but was having no probs w/ 8.04…)

    Booted off DVD, selected “Try Without making changes” (or what ever it says), get the KUBUNTU splash screen and the loading kernel dialog (with no errors reported) then a varying sequence of vertically lined & dotted screens, ending w/ the disc spin stopping and a blank black screen.

    I checked my monitor type and display adapter – resp., they’re “Generic PnP Monitor” & Mobile Intel(R) 4 Series Express Chipset Family.

    You sound like you know a thing or two ;-) any suggestions?

    Thanks!

    David G.

    February 26, 2009 at 2:10 pm

  2. David, I actually do have some display problems. It isn’t just with live CD, it happens with a full blown installation too. I have no idea why, probably a flaky driver or cheap graphics hardware. Anyway, sometimes when I boot my laptop, it will try to load X, then just go to a blank screen. I know the OS is loaded, because if I hit the power button, it will power down as normal (i.e., the display comes back). I’ve found that rubbing my finger on the touchpad just as X is being loaded usually prevents the blank screen. No idea why. If that doesn’t work, rebooting a couple times will usually get you there.

    Kris Wong

    February 27, 2009 at 3:07 pm

  3. Thanks, Kris. I’ll try what you suggest, but unlike you, I’m unwilling to “go all the way” until it works from the Live CD (and even then, I’m reluctant to do it until I’ve found a fix). Any ideas where else we might post for help – I haven’t Googled simply “kubuntu forum” yet… Thanks again,

    DG

    David G.

    February 27, 2009 at 3:28 pm

  4. Also, is there a way to disable X as one boots up (since I’m booting up from the Live CD)? Thanks!

    DG

    David G.

    February 27, 2009 at 5:07 pm


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