Saturday, June 09, 2007


It's been a long time since my last post.

January, huh? Wow.

A lot has happened. Sometime in late January I put up EXPERIMENTAL I on an Ubuntu 6.04 VM I had on my desktop system. It ran surprisingly well. I had a couple of goals in mind:
  • Re-write Robo-Hinky to use a common code base across all running games
  • Implement a snort-based anti-cheat of my own design
  • Make a wireless UT server that I could toss into the garage, basement, attic, whatever, if and when I wanted.
This worked so well on the VM that I bought an ancient (circa 1998) IBM NetVista at a computer junk store (for about fifty bucks), installed Slackware 11.0 on it and moved EXPERIMENTAL I to its new home.

There were a few bumps in the Robo-Hinky transition but it went well, so I bought a Hiro H50069 802.11g Wireless Adapter from TigerDirect for the wireless part of the project.

After that, everything started to go to Hell.

I never really had any complaints about TigerDirect until I bought that card. Real tech specs are hard to come by, and many manufacturers will ship a variety of hardware products under a single model number. You never know what's under the hood until you rip it off and look.

BUT, at the time (they're out of stock now) TigerDirect had a "photo gallery" on this... thing... and the photographs clearly showed it was based on a RaLink chipset, which is A Good Thing™ for Linux tards such as myself. Native RaLink drivers exist, work well, and are under active development. I was looking for a RaLink card. And I thought I had found one. After all, there was a picture! And it showed the right chip!

caveat emptor

What I got was a card, same make and model number as the one advertised, but with a Marvell Libertas 88w8335 chipset.

WTF? Those bastards!

Don't get me wrong. It turns out Marvell makes marvelous (heh) wireless chips. Absolutely the lowest power consumption on the planet. In fact, a Marvell chipset has been chosen for use in the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project.

But there weren't any Linux drivers (not exactly true, but the drivers were only available to the OLPC development team - something to do with the proprietary ARM OS burned onto the chips).

So after a lot of bad feeling, negative reviews, support calls, RMAs, etc., etc., I said my final farewells to TigerDirect (sorry, fellas but someone else is getting my money from here on out) and bit the bullet.

I decided to keep the card because I couldn't find a RaLink card. I chalked the TigerDirect fiasco up to experience.

I used the NDISwrapper driver, which is a Linux user's driver of last resort. Through a bit of serious programming wizardry NDISwrapper allows you to use any network card you can find an... ugh... Windows driver for.

And it "sort of" worked for about six weeks. But I got tired of the hanging and the core dumps so I put it back on the wired network.

And the problems didn't go away.

As it turns out, Slackware 11.0 itself is a pile of crap. And I hate to say that because:
  • Slackware was my first experience with Linux (way back in 1994)
  • Slackware is blessed by (PRAISE HIS SWEET NAME!) Bob
In time it was also evident that using a wireless router as an access point is not a good idea. It "appears to work, but is not a good solution" (as they used to say in the Microsoft certification tests). My wireless router, a NetGear WGR614 sucked ass as an access point. It probably sucks as a router as well, but I use Linux and iptables for that anyway. It has since been retired (that is, trashed) in favor of a real access point, in my case a TrendNet TEW 430-APB.

In the middle of this entire driver/access point/OS fiasco I made a fatal error with fdisk (long story) and wiped out the BOT House server in the process. Since I had backups I put the whole shebang on the NetVista until I could rebuild the BOT House server. Performance was painful.

I thought I was going to rebuild with Ubuntu because it is a very, very slick Linux distro, but I have some serious problems with their basic philosophy (otherwise, if you can buy that drivel, I highly recommend it... not the drivel, the OS... Mrs.HinkyDink runs Ubuntu 6.04 and loves it). But Debian 4.0r0 came out in April, so I figured I'd give it a shot (BOT House was on an aging Debian Sarge distro before I trashed it).

And, as luck would have it, I found a GigaBit RaLink-based wireless NIC (VERIFIED!) at NewEgg.

Once BOT House was back on Debian I threw EXPERIMENTAL I on it as well, gutted the NetVista, wiped it, and replaced Slackware with Debian 4.0r0. The RaLink driver worked as expected (I never had any doubts about that) and the TrendNet access point proved to be rock solid (oddly, it too is powered by a Marvell Libertas chipset on an embedded Linux OS - go figure). I retired EXPERIMENTAL I and put EXPERIMENTAL II on the NetVista. I moved the NetVista to its new resting place where it is now doing double duty as a wireless print server. And a damned good wireless print server as well!

Everything works great now. It took six months and a lot of pain, but it works great. But what the Hell, I have too much free time as it is.


  1. I almost bought that H50069 card. I decided against it after reading this. thanks.

    P.S. the pictures on TD still show the RaLink chipset... 2 1/2 years later

  2. I'm glad you got some mileage out of that article. I really love those RaLink wireless cards (and the USB derivatives). If you find one somewhere let me know!

    I have gone as far as to take them out of the box at the store to check the chipset. All I can find are those worthless "Marvel" cards.

  3. Anonymous10:03 PM

    You can find several PCI and USB cards with Ralink chipsets (which is what I am trying to avoid, btw, since I have a win xp system on AMD 64 and it keeps showing me the BSOD blues) if you go to newegg site and type 'wireless network adapters' and then sort by most rank or review etc..
    examples I found are Edimax 7128G, Gigabyte, Zonet z2500p, Encore, Rosewell etc and some more obscure names but they all have rt61 chipset. Ok GLTY