Monday, September 22, 2008

Wireless on a Toshiba Satellite A215-S7413

David took advantage of my offer in the sidebar to do the leg work for his problem:
Hey, I have an ubuntu question - I have a A215-S7413 toshiba notebook and I'm trying to get the wireless card to work in it. People are throwing words like ndiswrapper and stuff around and I have no clue how to make it work. Can you email me a step-by-step how-to?
I'm going to start by explaining how difficult finding this information was, not to complain, but to show why David had such a hard time solving his problem. It took me a few days' casual Googling in my spare time to get what I needed. (The websites referenced are at the bottom of this post.)

Because I didn't have the laptop to work on, my first search left me with no specification information at all. The only lead took me to LaptopKing [1], a parts vendor, which implied that the laptop might have an Atheros AR5BXB72 PCI mini wireless network car, which should work with a recent MadWifi driver. I asked David to try to enable the driver in the Restricted Drivers dialog.

David sent me an e-mail back pointing to the Ubuntu Forums [2], which didn't help because the card doesn't show up on the PCI bus, which is very weird. David told me that it's on the USB bus instead.

Widening my search took me to a couple of lists and forums [3], which showed that some of the Toshiba Satellites had a Realtek card on the USB bus. It sounded good, so I went with it, and turned up a driver download site [5] which confirmed that David's model uses that driver. Really, I'm lying. David's model comes with one of two cards, either the mentioned Atheros or a Realtek. Talk about screwed up!

Finally, I hit paydirt and wound up over on Data North's description of Ubuntu on the S7407 [6], which has the same card. It's quite detailed. There's also an Ubuntu Forum post [4] about the S7437 and the Linlap entry for the A215 series in general [7].

While I can't be completely sure that David's problems will disappear, the final verdict is that there's a native driver for the Realtek wireless card that's probably on his A215-S7413. Run
lsusb | egrep '0bda:81(87|89|97)'
to check if you have this card.

David needs to download the modified driverfrom the website [8]. There are two "modified" drivers available, and I'm not sure which one he needs. I'd try the more recent one first if I were him. Next, unpack and run
 Configure wlan0 from there. To make it automatic on bootup, edit /etc/networking/interfaces to look something like this:
iface wlan0 inet dhcp
   wireless-essid       my-network
   wireless-key1        s:mykey
   wireless-mode        managed
   wireless-channel     6
pre-up               /root/rtl8187b-modified/wlan0up
   post-down            /root/rtl8187b-modified/wlan0down
Point the pre-up and post-up to wherever you unpacked the package. It only works in managed and ad-hoc modes. This information is available in the FAQ.

I hope this works for you, David. Let me know. It turns out that there's a more wordy explanation on an Ubuntu Help page [9], if you need it. It has a little different method, too, if mine doesn't work for you. Anyway, you should be on the right track now.



This post has been removed by the author.

This is David - I'm trying to follow the instructions, but ./wlan0up doesnt do anything.

Also, if anyone is getting stuck at the ./makedrv step, change the permissions to allow it to run as executable.

I opened a new terminal tab and ran ./wlan0up and it says file already exists and yadda yadda yadda. I don't see wireless as a choice on my network list


wlan0 may already exist. Try typing
sudo ifconfig wlan0 down
before running ./wlan0up

I don't have this hardware, so you may want to take further questions over to Ubuntu Forums with the information I gave you. You may also want to try the directions on the Ubuntu Help page referenced.

Sorry it didn't work for you out of the gate.

p.s. make sure that you are running kernel 2.6.24 or greater, which means Hardy in this case.


This particular problem is a perfect example of the only major thing holding Ubuntu back: difficulty of installing hardware that Just Works under Windows.

Ubuntans, and Linux-folk in general, tend to dismiss such problems. But they are the nub and the key as to why Windows still dominates.

Solve this stuff, so that hardware installation is a trivial mouse-click or two at most, and Ubuntu/Linux will own the OS market.

It's really that simple.

-- stan



This glitch was later fixed. It's automatic now. If the laptop had come with Ubu804 pre-installed by an OEM, this issue wouldn't have existed. Installing an OS on random hardware without checking compatibility first is a recipe for disaster.

Every OS has driver bugs. Ubuntu (and Linux in general) has a sh*t-load of them since almost all of the work is done by developers unrelated to the hardware vendor.

For perspective on the driver problem, I left dual-booting with Windows in 98 after my Via 4-in-1 driver (made by Via for Windows 98) refused to work with my ATI driver (made by ATI for Windows 98) and would cause immediate blue screens on boot. Those were the latest supported drivers. Such conflicts still exist in Windows, which is why OEMs need to do extensive testing when they put together a new hardware configuration. Apple's pretty sharp in keeping their line limited and refreshes rare.

Drivers are messy. Sometimes they don't work together. Sometimes even the "clicky-clicky" method fails and you have little recourse.

I agree with your basic premise that Ubuntu has a long way to go:
* Pulse needs to be ironed out.
* Pidgin needs to be ejected for Empathy with Telepathy as the ubiquitous communication back-end.
* Avahi (ZeroConf) needs to be integrated with everything.
* Evolution needs help.
* GNOME needs a good alternative to Firefox that's native GTK2.
* Same goes for OO.o.
* There needs to be automatic setup of on-line services with PIMs, IM, and desktop integration.
* Documentation needs to be written.
* Translations need a lot of help, too.
Those are just the desktop-oriented ones. Servers? Don't get me started.



Hi Daeng

Thanks for the detailed careful response.

I spent a month or so getting Ubuntu 6 running on a Toshiba Satellite A105-2031, googling a few hours a day til I found all that I needed.

Then came Ubuntu 7. The upgrade nuked my sound and networking (both wired and wireless), which had been the biggest problems to get working. I chose not to spend any more time re-doing what I'd already done for Ubuntu 6.

The interesting thing is that Ubuntu has had a great window of opportunity on the desktop during the Windows Vista debacle. Windows 7 may or may not extend that opportunity. If Microsoft were smart, and wanted to stop desktop Linux in its tracks, they'd open source XP. But they won't do that; they've lost the strategic daring that they had in their early years.

I've always wished that Linux had just adopted the Windows driver model, since that would give them drivers for much less effort, but I've always realized that it's psychologically out of the question.

Well, EVENTUALLY Linux will get all this stuff right. It evolves more quickly than Windows in many areas, and has a fundamentally sounder base architecture. Once installation/setup becomes an automatic no-brainer, it'll roar. It's just too bad that hasn't happened yet.

-- stan


Ubuntu has a bad track record with regressions. Hardware that worked with one version will suddenly stop working in the next because a driver didn't get packaged properly. This is a huge problem with the 6-month release cycles, and I wanted to scream at Shuttleworth when he suggested that it's the best model and that every release-based distro should get on the same 6-month schedule.

Me? I'm happy (not ecstatic) with Debian. My desktop runs Debian Lenny (it's still fresh -- I'll probably move to testing later), my server runs Mythbuntu 8.04, and my gal's computer runs Ubuntu 8.04 on the desktop. I've got other old lappies running various stuff, but it's almost all Debian-based, both because I like the philosophy and because the tools are familiar. Out of the Debian box, I think Slitaz and Geexbox are ones to watch.

Linux will get all this stuff right when it gets significant pre-installs (and therefore support from OEMs), which started happening this year, but which will probably take a dive when 7 is released and come back in the ARM netbook war in 2010.

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