Thursday, January 26, 2012

Finding a WiFi Adapter for a New Linux Box

Given the mysterious boot failures of the last few weeks, I need regular and reliable access to my laptop. Yet since the Mac Mini failed last summer, the laptop has been commandeered for streaming video in the living room. It seems the time had come for (the cheapest possible) Mac Mini replacement. I found a refurbished desktop without an OS at, and while it had an Ethernet adapter, I thought I'd like to have wireless capability. (There's just no convenient way to run Ethernet cables between the "office" and the living room.)

Now, I knew installing wireless drivers in Linux has a painful history, so I the first thing I did was check out what wireless devices are Linux-compatible.

I looked up all sorts of wireless adapter cards and USB adapters, and got very confused. However, provides information I haven't seen anywhere else: For each Wireless adapter, it lists what operating systems the device will work with. I picked out a Linux-compatible one and made my order.

I was able to install Debian testing using a netinstall CD and the Ethernet connection, and when that was finished, I modified the /etc/apt/sources.list to include the contrib and non-free sources. (I always do that anyway.) Then, of course, at the command line, I typed aptitude update

From there Debian Wiki had everything I needed to know to go wireless. The wireless USB adapter had the RT3070 chip, so that meant I needed the rt2800usb driver. The driver is installed by aptitude install firmware-ralink Because I'd already installed the KDE desktop environment, there was a WiFi interface waiting for me. It detected the wireless device and set things up without a hitch. (I had to give it my password, that's all.) If it had not been that simple, the Debian Wiki had WiFi--How To Use. (I read it anyway, and found it informative.)

It was quite a treat to have something work easily and as expected.

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