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bcm43xx is now deprecated (Woohoo!)

December 17, 2007 2 comments

Although the celebration could potentially end there. Every few months I google my laptop’s wireless card (a Broadcom 4318) to see how much further (sic) native linux support has progressed. This is a time honoured ritual I began when I first started taking an interest in running Linux as my main OS on my laptop a few years ago.

Broadcom are a company who seem to care very little about supporting their end users. I have never had to deal with them directly, however and I am basing this statement on their website which seems far more geared to ODMs and OEMs rather than the end user and the fact that they have point blank refused to release source or any useful technical documentation to allow the F/OSS community to make a native driver.

The problem with Google based searches around this problem is that they generally provide links to pages based on Google’s page ranking / relevancy algorithms which do not (for the purposes of this discussion) take page age into account. This means the majority of the results are either wrong or woefully out of date. Up until recently, the main way in which the cards could be made to (sort of) work was through the bcm43xx project. This utilised a reverse engineered framework which required the firmware from the windows based drivers. This was achieved through a sister project – bcm43xx-fwcutter.

While this supported a healthy number of cards, the 4311 still had power issues which would make it very unstable to the point where a hard reset would be required after 15-35 minutes use in order to re-enable the wifi card. So today I began searching again to see what progress had been made and was pleasantly surprised to find that, as the title suggests, bcm43xx the cumbersome behemoth has been depreciated. However the reason I said not to celebrate yet was because it has been replaced the the b43 project. Proudly displayed on the main page under supported devices is the 4318! This hopefully now means that I and other Fujitsu Siemens a1650 owners can now use their laptops as portable devices whilst using a F/OSS operating system!

working

* Station mode
* Access Point mode (although not tested very well).
* Ad-Hoc (IBSS) mode
* Monitor and Promisc mode.
* “Monitor while operating” and multiple monitor interfaces.
* In-Hardware traffic de/encryption (relieves your CPU).
* LEDs to signal card state and traffic.
* In-Hardware MAC address filter.
* Probably something we forgot to add here.

not working yet

* Interference mitigation.
* Bluetooth coexistance (most code implemented, but untested)
* Probably something else that’s not listed under “Works”.

The manner in which it works however is the same, a basic framework is installed with b43 and coupled with the corresponding Broadcom proprietary driver;

“The Broadcom wireless chip needs software, called “firmware” … (T)his firmware is copyrighted by Broadcom … and it must be extracted from Broadcom’s proprietary drivers … you must download the driver from a legal distribution point … (then) you must extract the firmware from that Broadcom driver and install it in the special directory for firmware – usually /lib/firmware.”

Not only has the project been given a new lease of life, the new code is reported to be more stable and resolve the power issues as experience on the Fujistu A1650. It should be noted, however that Acer_Acpi will still be required on this laptop to initialise the hardware but this is beyond the scope of this post.

I will be moving from my “build-and-held-together-by-ducttape-and-a-stern-look” Ubuntu 7.04 build to either 7.10 or Kubuntu 7.10 soon and I shall test this and report back my findings.

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