The Pain

diffs

This post provides information on how to make an Ralink wireless card on Linux work with an old Netgear router. It’s also a bit of a rant, so if you’re not into the details skip to the end.

So I’ve got some old hardware. A Compaq PC, heavily upgraded to 512MB RAM and running Ubuntu, but still well over a decade old. A Netgear WGT624 V3 router, which is pretty old, but not a decade ancient. And a pretty close to a decade old laser printer. They’re all in the second bedroom and most of the house runs off the wireless (two phones, three laptops, roku) but the PC is still wired via a long-ass CAT 5. The printer is connected to the PC, which acts as a print server. It’s all ancient, but the house can print so all is good.

Nearly two years ago, the wife asks me if I can get rid of the long-ass CAT 5 snaking through the second bedroom and I say “No problem.” Thusly, my journey to hell begins. I bop off to the local computer mart and purchase a PCI wireless card for $10-15 – making sure the box says it’s Linux compatible. I install it, boot the PC, and – nothing.

Now, I’m used to this. I’ve become increasingly impressed with Linux distros. Back in the day, you had to install them with a blow torch and Crazy-Glu, but no longer. Mint and Ubuntu have made me soft. I remember when getting video going on the simplest install meant hours poking in /etc. But, as I say: no longer. So I was pretty confident I could make this work.

The first weekend pretty much resulted in finding this post.

http://www.hyperborea.org/journal/2010/08/wifi-ralink-3062/

That was a big step forward. I’m in shock that I’m compiling drivers, but what-the-hey. However, still no connection. I give up for a month or so. The CAT 5 lives on.

So I get pissed off and decide to burn another weekend. I manage to connect to a nearby ‘open’ wifi connection. (It’s low strength and intermittent, so I can’t really use it ‘for realz’.) But it tells me that the problem is the combination of my wifi card and my router. All my other devices connect to my router fine. And my wifi card connects to the nearby open wifi fine. This is awkward.

Any normal person would at this point:

  • Buy a new network attached printer.
  • Buy another network card that actually works with Linux.
  • Buy a real PC that can connect wirelessly natively.

As an alternate tactic, I installed wireshark on one of the laptops and started analyzing wireless frames. This is crazy talk. I know next to nothing about networking and absolutely nothing about wireless networking. Nonetheless I figured out the router was not responding to an ‘Association Request’ frame, which resulted in this exchange.

http://forum1.netgear.com/showthread.php?t=64067

Well. So much for that. A year and a half passes. The CAT 5 lives on.

We recently buy a new bed, which results in a bedroom swap and a requirement to have the PC move into a different bedroom from the router. So I can string CAT 5 through the two bedrooms and across the hall in front of the bathroom (i.e., get divorced), resort to one of the cop-outs above, or make the damn wireless card work.

Having said that, I’ve got another option. I’ve got a Windows 7 (Starter) netbook that I don’t really use so I decide to use that as a print server. I quickly find out that BillG has intentionally crippled it so I’m screwed. I look into installing something else on it (Jolicloud, apparently) but that looks as evil as what it would replace, so I’m back to square one.

I start reading the wireless driver source this morning and realize that the ‘Extended Capabilities’ section in the Association Request should only be sent in 802.11n, which I think I’ve disabled in the make settings (in the usual random attempts to get things to work.) However, after some poking, it turns out that ‘make clean’ doesn’t actually clean and leaves settings detritus around. I’m well on my way now.

A fresh install of the driver source code, turn off the 802.11n defines and I’m ready to roll! Except it won’t compile. The source seems to want 11n to be turned on. With much trepidation I start ‘ifdefing’ the source. An hour later and it compiles and – lord be praised – it works.

Nearly two years in and the network card and wireless printer sharing work.

So who should I blame for this abomination? Well, partly me. I could easily have bought newer hardware which would have almost certainly worked. Netgear? It certainly would be nice if their routers had some log level that wasn’t ‘fail silently’. Ralink? Absolutely! That’s the last thing I buy from them. I have to modify their drivers to get the card to connect to a standard (albeit somewhat old) router? Give me a break.

TL: DR

If you have an old router (802.11n incompatible) and want to connect from Linux via an Ralink card, read the hyperborea link above and apply the attached patch to the 2.4.1.1 driver source. (Rename .xls to .patch. WordPress hates me.)

Good luck. It seems you’ll need it.

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