I’ve upgraded a few key parts of my laptop. I have a somewhat ageing Dell Inspiron 5150, which has some nice features (1400×900 screen resolution, 3GHz P4 CPU) and some not-so-nice ones: it weighs a ton, it gets really hot because of bad thermal design, and its fans are way too loud.
I purchased a new hard drive (7.2k rpm, 100GB Seagate Momentus), a stick of 1GB ram, and a new mini-pci wifi card (MSI MP54G4).
Obviously, the upgrade from a 4200 rpm drive and 512MB of RAM has made the machine a lot faster.
The most interesting part of the upgrade, though, is the $20 MSI card. It replaced a Broadcom BCM94306 card that came with the machine. Broadcom does not release GPL’d GNU/Linux drivers for its wifi cards. In fact it does not release GNU/Linux drivers for its cards, period. This means you have to use ndiswrapper. Ndiswrapper kind of works but was never very reliable for me. What’s worse, it always made my machine run really hot and therefore loud – remember, crappy thermal design.
The MSI card is Ralink-based. It uses the GPL’d RT2500 driver, which is based on a GPL’d driver that Ralink released. A real company, releasing GPL’d drivers for it’s wireless hardware? Hey Broadcom, look here, maybe you can learn something from Ralink.
The card works wonderfully. It doesn’t drop its connection every 10 minutes (there are a lot of wifi networks fighting for spectrum around here). It does not make my machine get hot – presumably because ndiswrapper introduces quite a bit of overhead. And it works with Kismet.
I love it. Suddenly I have wireless I can actually depend on. If you have a crappy Broadcom wifi card, consider spending the $20 to replace it. But beware if you have an HP or IBM laptop – their machines will actually refuse to boot with a non HP or IBM-blessed wifi card. Dell does not do this. But that’s another issue, more about that in a later post, maybe.
Oh and Broadcom, get this – I’m recommending your competitors’ hardware because you don’t release GPL’d GNU/Linux drivers. I’m filing you and your hardware under ‘completely useless’.