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List of PC Card WiFi adapters that work with Free Software (work in progress)

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List of PC Card WiFi adapters that work with Free Software (work in progress)


Post by MX-16_fan » Thu Jun 27, 2019 2:03 pm


WiFi adapters that come as "PC Cards" (sometimes, and often wrongly, referred to as "PCMCIA" cards, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PC_Card#Card_types) still can be a very good choice when it comes to retrofitting old notebooks.

This is an attempt to create a complete list of PC Cards that work with free drivers and comply with modern WiFi standards.

Mind that this list as of now is work-in-progress, i.e. as of now it is probably incomplete and has errors. Any comment and/or correction will be greatly appreciated.

Please also mind that "works with free drivers" doesn't necessarily mean that this is hardware that would be able to get the Free Software Foundation's "Respects your Freedom" certification stamp (cf. https://libreplanet.org/wiki/Group:Hard ... n_criteria; https://www.fsf.org/news/endorsement-criteria; https://www.fsf.org/resources/hw/endors ... ur-freedom). In case you find any card among the list compiled here that might meet their criteria, please note that in this thread. Hardware that respects your freedom has become scarce, and it probably would be of general interest if there was any corresponding hardware available here.

I. Sources employed for creating the following list:
  1. Wikipedia:Comparison of open-source wireless drivers / Driver capabilities (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compariso ... pabilities) (apparently not completely up to date);
  2. Wikipedia:Comparison of open-source wireless drivers / Status (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compariso ... ers#Status) (apparently not completely up to date);
  3. Debian Wiki: WiFi -> PC Card (PCMCIA) Devices (https://wiki.debian.org/WiFi) (apparently faulty in details);
  4. ubuntuusers.de / Wiki / WLAN / Karten (https://wiki.ubuntuusers.de/WLAN/Karten/);
  5. a few individual websites when it came to specific hardware (see below).
Please feel free to look into information given in sources 1.), 2.) and 3.) and to correct information there where appropriate.

II. Criteria for hardware that currently is to be on this list:
  1. Hardware doesn't require loading of any non-free firmware.
  2. Hardware supports WPA2.
  3. Hardware supports Master (Access Point) mode.
  4. No special prerequisites necessary (e.g. no "Requires station firmware 1.7.4 or later" kind of restrictions).

III. Future criteria:

Future criteria are to be applied once this list has grown.
  1. Supports 5 Ghz.
  2. Has socket for external antenna.
  3. Has LED that signals function.
  4. Has on/off hardware switch.
  5. Doesn't tend to overheat.

IV. Hardware list (draft)

Apparently the criteria defined in II.) leaves only the following hardware, with the following drivers:
  1. Atheros Communications chipsets AR5210, AR5211, AR5212, AR5213, AR5414ath5k driver: TP-Link TL-WN310G, TP-Link TL-WN610G (apparently with issues sometimes, see https://wiki.ubuntuusers.de/WLAN/Karten/); 3Com 3CRPAG175 [note: has a built-in pull-out antenna, and can do 5 Ghz; Belkin F5D7015; D-Link DWA-645; SMC 2335W [note: can do 5 Ghz]; SMC 2335W EU (168c:0012) [note: can do 5 Ghz].
  2. Atheros Communications 802.11n chipsets – ath9k driver: Belkin F5D8011.
  3. Ralink chipsets RT2400/RT2460, RT2401/RT2460 – rt2400pci driver: mentioned in the Debian Wiki (https://wiki.debian.org/WiFi), but I couldn't find any corresponding card.
  4. Ralink chipsets RT2500/RT2560 – rt2500pci driver: Asus WL-107G; Conceptronic C54RC; Edimax EW-7108PCg; Edimax EW-7128G (until 2005); MSI CB54G2; Sitecom WL-011; Sitecom WL-112; Sphairon Turbolink CB801R.
  5. Realtek chipset RTL8180 – rtl8180 driver: Netgear MA521.

V. Hardware that has been excluded from the hardware list:

  1. Hardware employing Intersil Prism 2 and Prism 2.5 chipsets (cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prism_%28chipset%29): It seems to possible to make them work, using the hostap_cs driver, but this at first glance appears to be somewhat difficult. Apparently there is some free firmware available, which would have to be installed. However, I didn't understand which is free and which isn't (https://wireless.wiki.kernel.org/en/use ... 4#firmware). Don't know if the hostap-utils package that's in Debian's repos is of any use. Whether you'd be successful in the first place seems to depend on the model (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compariso ... tap_wpa-32). Might be worth checking out hardware based on these chipsets, however, as they seem to have been common in some high-quality cards. There's a list of available devices here: https://wireless.wiki.kernel.org/en/use ... 54/devices. While we are at it, Wikipedia still refers to prism54 driver, which is of no use, as that driver is deprecated (cf. https://wireless.wiki.kernel.org/en/users/drivers/p54).
  2. Hardware employing the Intersil Prism 3 chipset: Apparently there's no way "Prism 3"-based devices can be put on the list, as they seem to require non-free firmware from userspace (cf. https://wiki.debian.org/WiFi#fnref-a35f ... 3ddff8df00).
  3. Hardware emplyoing any Broadcom chip: I excluded anything based on Broadcom chips, as I once got the advice from dolphin_oracle to generally avoid Broadcom-based WiFi hardware if you seek to not run into trouble.

Greetings, Joe

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