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#1 2013-05-11 09:57:10

Loser777
Member
Registered: 2011-05-12
Posts: 28

Preparing for a wireless adapter upgrade

Long story short:
I'm replacing the wireless adapter in my laptop and I'm wondering if netctl and its friends will react sanely to the change--will the appropriate kernel modules be loaded, and if not, what steps need to be taken?
The upgrade is from a Realtek 8188CE -> Intel Centrino 6205.



(If you're bored and feel like reading a rant, otherwise don't read this part)
A little under two years ago I was shopping for laptops and chanced upon what I thought to be a good deal from the Lenovo outlet store. The fact that I was buying from the outlet store meant that instead of the usual way of ordering laptops from Lenovo (customized), I would buy a new laptop that someone else had pre-customized.  This was likely because that person's order had some trouble going through so the laptop was built but ultimately never sold. In this process I picked whichever laptop fit my requirements the best and I thought I had lucked out as this machine had pretty much all that I needed. Unfortunately, I had glossed over the details (wireless adapter), and failed to realize that the 8188CE and its drivers are horrific piles of manure that do not deserve to be associated with modern computing. After years of dealing with horribly spotty connectivity and keyboard pounding fits of rage, I realized that none of my friends and colleagues who had this model of laptop had this problem (also GNU/Linux users). 5 Minutes of looking up specs later, I had found an FRU and placed an order on eBay (really hoping that this isn't a fake Lenovo part, as BIOS whitelisting is another can of worms).

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#2 2013-05-11 10:39:46

Strike0
Member
From: Germany
Registered: 2011-09-05
Posts: 1,277

Re: Preparing for a wireless adapter upgrade

In theory you only have to ascertain, if the new card comes up with a new device interface (check iw or iwconfig for the wireless adapter) and adapt any profiles accordingly.

The "iwlwifi" module will be autoloaded and plug-n-play for most wifi options. Some users recently experience problems with 5GHz, but that seems to be a more general kernel problem. In my own practise that chip/module combo is by far the best I have ever used for a Linux client PC. Good luck with the can.

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#3 2013-05-17 01:54:47

Loser777
Member
Registered: 2011-05-12
Posts: 28

Re: Preparing for a wireless adapter upgrade

An update for the sake of posterity:

Upon first boot, I tried to use wifi-menu before going into X. The wireless indicator light was on, but something broke and didn't work. Then I ran an lspci to verify that the correct card was detected and started X. I used ip link show to check if the interface name had changed--though my wireless interface remained the same. I tried wifi-menu again, and this time everything was fine--I guess some module didn't finish loading or something last time?

Immediately I'm getting > 100mbps in speedtest when I used to be getting ~30mbps, though the real test will be if there's improved reliability--more results to come.

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#4 2013-05-17 04:02:12

WonderWoofy
Member
From: Los Gatos, CA
Registered: 2012-05-19
Posts: 8,412

Re: Preparing for a wireless adapter upgrade

Just in case an unsuspecting fellow Lenovo owner comes stumbling upon this thread thinking they want to replcae their Thinkpad b/g/n card (realtek RTL8188CE), it should be noted that you have to get a card that is compatible with your machine.  Lenovo whitelists their own cards meaning that there are probably a very select few cards that will work with your machine.  So make sure you fine a compatible FRU for your machine.  Don't go and just buy any old card all willy-nilly.  It will not work... worse, your machine won't even boot until you remove the offending HW.

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#5 2013-05-17 19:27:39

andrekp
Member
Registered: 2012-06-07
Posts: 112

Re: Preparing for a wireless adapter upgrade

I've heard they ALSO do this with their hard drives.  (maybe all their hardware)

I want a Thinkpad, but it makes me wonder...

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#6 2013-05-17 20:35:15

WonderWoofy
Member
From: Los Gatos, CA
Registered: 2012-05-19
Posts: 8,412

Re: Preparing for a wireless adapter upgrade

They only do it with their wireless cards.  Though they mark all their hardware with FRUs as this is how they identify the needed replacement parts when you have service.  The only reason I mention the FRU code is because it is a nice way to determine whether the card you are looking at is exactly what you need or not.

In fact, I believe (not certain) that the whitelist actually identifies the wireless card by its FRU and acts accordingly.  So it really is this code that is central to the whitelisting setup they have in the bios.  I remember reading somehwere that one can actually flash a new FRU onto an existing wireless card, and have it pass muster against the bios whitelist.

In my machine, I have a stick of Corsair Vengance DDR3 RAM as well as a Samsung 840 250GB SSD, a Samsung 830 128GB SSD, and a Mushkin Atlas mSATA 128GB SSD.  None of those things have FRU codes, and they all work just fine.

The reasoning Lenovo gives for their whitelisting of wireless devices is that their approved devices are gauranteed to pass in accordance with FCC regulations (at least in the US).  Personally I find this a load of BS, but it is what it is.  Their Thinkpads are amazing devices, so a single flaw in an otherwise amazing machine I find to be acceptable. 

FYI, when I got this machine, it had the Thinkpad b/g/n (Realtek RTL8188CE) card.  I got that card because around the internets I had read that it was a broadcom that worked with brcmsmac.  I never thought there would be a day when I wished I had gotten a Broadcom device instead.  Since then, I had removed the bios whitelist and reflashed, allowing me to use an Intel Centrino 6235 for a while.  Then I had to have my motherboard replaced, which provided the new windows 8 ready bios (version 2.* for the E430).  Since there is a new peice of HW that checks to ensure any flashed bios is RSA signed by a secret Lenovo key, I couldn't reflash the non-whitelisted bios.  So I went and found, and ebay, the Intel Centrino 2230 that was offered with this machine.  Every so often I check for the other FRUs that are listed as compatible with my machine, and a couple weeks ago, I came across the Broadcom 2x2 dual-band + BT 4.0 that is offered with this machine.  This was also on ebay, and I just got it in the mail some three days ago.  It is a BCM943228, which is actually just a BCM43228 and the preceeding 9 before the rest of the number means that it as bluetooth.  It works very well, but sicne it is still a newer card, I am forced to use the broadcom-wl package (wl module) to make it work.

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#7 2013-05-17 20:40:36

Loser777
Member
Registered: 2011-05-12
Posts: 28

Re: Preparing for a wireless adapter upgrade

andrekp wrote:

I've heard they ALSO do this with their hard drives.  (maybe all their hardware)

I want a Thinkpad, but it makes me wonder...

I think the idea of a hard disk/SSD whitelist is just FUD. I have a friend who has the same model Thinkpad and just dropped in an aftermarket SSD. The only issue he ran into was because he decided to put the SSD in the ultrabay with a third-party ultrabay to 2.5" adapter that doesn't quite fit right. Functionally there's no problem.

Update 2:
Wi-Fi reliability is unprecedented with the adapter upgrade. Not only has not a single connection been dropped yet (by this time of day I usually will have tried to reconnect dozens of times), but I can connect to APs that I wasn't able to connect to with the old adapter. I have also yet to see a failed to connect from wifi-menu... I usually had to attempt to connect about three times with the 8188CE. This is possibly the best upgrade I have ever done for $13. If you can find a source for this component that you trust (that has the correct FRU), then I highly recommend it.

I will go as far as to say that 8188CE => any other card is probably a substantial upgrade.

EDIT [For reference in case only this post is seen]
Laptop is a Lenovo T420 (4177-CTO)
Old adapter was Realtek RTL8188CE
Replaced with Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6205 (FRU: 60Y3253)

Last edited by Loser777 (2013-05-17 20:42:40)

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#8 2013-05-17 20:44:41

WonderWoofy
Member
From: Los Gatos, CA
Registered: 2012-05-19
Posts: 8,412

Re: Preparing for a wireless adapter upgrade

Loser777 wrote:

I think the idea of a hard disk/SSD whitelist is just FUD.

Yes, I totally agree here.  FUD plain and simple.

Loser777 wrote:

Update 2:
Wi-Fi reliability is unprecedented with the adapter upgrade. Not only has not a single connection been dropped yet (by this time of day I usually will have tried to reconnect dozens of times), but I can connect to APs that I wasn't able to connect to with the old adapter. I have also yet to see a failed to connect from wifi-menu... I usually had to attempt to connect about three times with the 8188CE. This is possibly the best upgrade I have ever done for $13. If you can find a source for this component that you trust (that has the correct FRU), then I highly recommend it.

I will go as far as to say that 8188CE => any other card is probably a substantial upgrade.

When I changed the wireless card in my machine, I had been using the Realtek for about a month.  I had gotten kind of used to the latency in connections and all the other crap that came long with it.  When I slapped that new card it, it was like night and day.  I thought "How the hell have I been putting up with that crap for so long?!"

Glad it was a $13 well spent.  I'd say if you can find a source for the component that you can kind of trust, and it is only $13, hell, do it!  I continually wonder how it is that the rtl8192ce module made it into the mainline kernel when it is so obviously not okay.

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#9 2013-05-17 20:53:50

Loser777
Member
Registered: 2011-05-12
Posts: 28

Re: Preparing for a wireless adapter upgrade

WonderWoofy wrote:
Loser777 wrote:

I think the idea of a hard disk/SSD whitelist is just FUD.

Yes, I totally agree here.  FUD plain and simple.

Loser777 wrote:

Update 2:
Wi-Fi reliability is unprecedented with the adapter upgrade. Not only has not a single connection been dropped yet (by this time of day I usually will have tried to reconnect dozens of times), but I can connect to APs that I wasn't able to connect to with the old adapter. I have also yet to see a failed to connect from wifi-menu... I usually had to attempt to connect about three times with the 8188CE. This is possibly the best upgrade I have ever done for $13. If you can find a source for this component that you trust (that has the correct FRU), then I highly recommend it.

I will go as far as to say that 8188CE => any other card is probably a substantial upgrade.

When I changed the wireless card in my machine, I had been using the Realtek for about a month.  I had gotten kind of used to the latency in connections and all the other crap that came long with it.  When I slapped that new card it, it was like night and day.  I thought "How the hell have I been putting up with that crap for so long?!"

Glad it was a $13 well spent.  I'd say if you can find a source for the component that you can kind of trust, and it is only $13, hell, do it!  I continually wonder how it is that the rtl8192ce module made it into the mainline kernel when it is so obviously not okay.

Haha, I used the 8188CE for two years. After the first few months I always used an ethernet cable when possible. Funnily enough, wireless problems actually motivated me to perform several distro-switches, thinking that the unreliability was somehow associated with connection management systems and not drivers/bad adapters. The source I trusted was an ebay seller with 100% positive feedback wink

The rtl8192ce module doesn't actually make it into a vanilla debian release because it's a binary blob--you have to add the nonfree repo to get it. Binary blob drivers in GNU/Linux, in my experience, are usually never production quality.

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#10 2013-05-23 14:33:56

andrekp
Member
Registered: 2012-06-07
Posts: 112

Re: Preparing for a wireless adapter upgrade

Loser777 wrote:
andrekp wrote:

I've heard they ALSO do this with their hard drives.  (maybe all their hardware)

I want a Thinkpad, but it makes me wonder...

I think the idea of a hard disk/SSD whitelist is just FUD. I have a friend who has the same model Thinkpad and just dropped in an aftermarket SSD. The only issue he ran into was because he decided to put the SSD in the ultrabay with a third-party ultrabay to 2.5" adapter that doesn't quite fit right. Functionally there's no problem.

Maybe, maybe not.  I don't know firsthand.

However, more detail is that they whitelist certain commonly available hard drives, so if you happen to buy and replace with one that is OK, it works just fine.  You just can by ANY sata drive, pop it in, and expect it to work.

I've heard this more than once, so I wouldn't dismiss it out of hand...

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