26 Apr 2011

Linux Mint XFCE Roller Coaster

I have been trying to use Broadcom 4311 WiFi card on most Linux distro I have tried so far. This card is built into my Compaq C300 laptop. I think it became my idee fixe at some point. Especially when I was taking Debian-based systems for review.
Just few days ago I wrote about my happiness after achieving my long-term desire with Linux Mint XFCE. This distro is based on Debian Testing. I managed to activate and use Broadcom 4311 there in Live mode!
Did it make me stop?
I have another laptop at home - Toshiba L500. It has Realtek 8191SEvB WiFi card. I know that Linuxes based on Ubuntu 10.10 are working correctly with this WiFi card. I have written about this already (1, 2, 3). As long as I had USB stick with Linux Mint XFCE on it, I decided to give Debian another go.
USB stick is in the port. Reboot. Choose to boot from USB.
Let's go!

What did I get right after boot? Of course, there was no connection established. Moreover, Network Manager in Linux Mint XFCE even does not see presence of WiFi card.
Can Software Manager help here? Let's see. I typed in Realtek into search box. There is one package in the list, and it's name looks promising - Realtek firmware. But details are disappointing: it's not for 8191 cards.
Next step. LAN cable still can be plugged in. Now Toshiba laptop runs Linux Minxt XFCE with LAN connection, which means I can download software from Internet, browse forums etc.
Googling did not give me any positive results. While doing it, I found 2 interesting bits of information.

  • Realtek 8191 is supported from kernel 2.6.32-10. What does Linux Mint XFCE 201104 have? 2.6.32-5. Oooops. This is not promising at all.
  • There is manufacturer's driver on their web site. But it is supplied as source code.

Can I manage to get driver working from source code? Let's try. Archive is downloaded and source code folder unpacked. Now it's time to make the driver. Make works fine. Then make install works fine. But afterwards... reboot is required! This would effectively destroy all the changes in my Live run.
Anyway, bad experiment is still an experiment.
Now I can be sure that Linux Mint XFCE does not work with my Toshiba laptop in Live mode, but there are good chances to make it working if I wished to install Linux Munt XFCE there.

Do you have issues with Realtek 8191 WiFi card? Is it working correctly in your Debian-based system?


  1. When testing a new distro I opt to use a spare HD in my machines keeping my standard/everyday system on a different HD. That way I can install fully a test system rather than relying on a live CD/USD or a virtualised solution and, when done, swap the HD's back again thus having no effect on my main system. Perhaps this method would better suit the testing you are doing?

  2. You could also just try installing a Liquorix kernel. These kernels are specifically created for Debian and the current version is 2.6.38-3. You wont be able to do that in Live mode of course.

    I am running Linux Mint Xfce Debian on my Dell Inspiron 11z with broadcom wifi and it is working well. It took a while to get everything just right for me, the main problem being the track pad. I had to make manual entries in xorg.conf to make the trackpad work. I also have an old EeePC900 and Linux Mint Xfce Debian worked perfectly on first install on that older hardware.

  3. Just one comment on your quest. While you insist on running Debian in live mode you are always going to come up against the issue of Debian's insistence on free and propriety firmware and drivers. Pick the right hardware and it is not a problem, pick the wrong hardware and it may be impossible to overcome. But that does not really mean much. With a real install to your hard drive, if ethernet works, then you can always install and then add what you need to make it work. Where you can really come unstuck is when the Debian installer refuses to run at all due to some hardware issue. That is where Mint Debian can come to the rescue. I cannot see Debian reversing their "free only" decision just to make Live CD and USB installs work on all hardware.

    The live USB stick I carry is an Ubuntu one even though I am otherwise a Mint Debian user.

  4. Saline OS might be the right answer: It is Debian STABLE with non-free & backports enabled, plus Xfce... It looks like the best one today, see it here: http://www.salineos.com/

  5. DD, if the Linux you're in recognizes the wifi device, then I recommend trying a very cool network manager app called wicd. I even using it on my wired machines to handle my networks.



  6. Testing distributions using a live-cd session is limiting and generally a bad practise. You could use a separate hdd for your distro-hopping/testing, and to avoid editing your existing grub setup, you could install the testing distro's grub on the separate hdd and change the hard disk sequence from BIOS.

    I prefer to just use a separate partition for distro testing, I don't install a boot loader, so I add a new entry in my existing /boot/grub/menu.lst. And also... grub2 sucks big time...

    PS. +1 for wicd, lightweight and effective.

  7. @Gladys:
    I only have laptops, and swapping HDDs there is definitely not the best and fastest option.
    I do not want to install distros on my HDD for several reasons:
    1) I am not always sure that installation will go correctly and other partitions remain untouched. Somebody posted such a bad experience in comments to my OpenSuSE 11.4 review (http://linuxblog.darkduck.com/2011/03/4-disappointments-from-opensuse-114.html)
    2) Comparing Live version allows to check hardware support Out of the Box. If something is not supported, this can easily be checked in Live version.
    3) Every system will run smoothly after fine tuning in installed version. But how smooth is it in "boxed" solution? How well did authors polished it to be easy-installable? Only Live version can answer this.
    4) Running Live versions only, I put everyone in same conditions: nothing get fine-tuned unless I definitely want to do this myself (as I did with Linux Mint XFCE on my Compaq laptop: http://linuxblog.darkduck.com/2011/04/9-steps-to-happiness-in-linux-mint-xfce.html )

  8. @Greg:
    Running system with different kernel requires installed version. I don't want to do this because of reasons mentioned just above.

  9. @Anonymous:
    I already wrote about SalineOS http://linuxblog.darkduck.com/2011/02/easy-as-mouse-quick-as-thought.html

  10. @noctslackv1
    AFAIK, there are several steps between turning the WiFi card ON and connection to the network:
    1) Recognise the hardware. Most linuxes do this well.
    2) Find and apply firmware / drivers. This is the issue for many systems unless they include restricted/closed source drivers into distributive
    3) Connect to network using Network Manager/wicd/etc. Maybe wicd is good, I've never tried it. But it is useless unless firmware is found.

  11. @Anonymous:
    see above my reply to Gladys' comment.

  12. Since Linux Mint Debian editions are based on Debian testing they change very quickly in the few months after a new stable version of Debian is released (about once every 2 years, the last one was in February or March as I recall). So if you'd installed it and then done an update you'd now have version 2.6.38.x which would have probably solved your issue. But it might have introduced new issues since this is still early days of the post-stable thaw. Much as I like LMDE I think introducing it last Fall just before the testing branch went stable and scads of new packages were released to testing was probably rash.

  13. Installing that driver just creates a kernel module. You can just use the modprobe command to activate the new kernel module, it is not like you just recompiled the entire kernel.

  14. I am not sure what your goal is here. Are you just stating that Linux Mint XFCE as a live CD/USB supports wireless on one of your laptops and not the other?

    Or are you saying you want to find a way to run LM XFCE on a live session AND have it support wireless on this desktop?

    Because if it is the former. You are correct. Wireless is not supported out of the box. The next time the LM XFCE team produces a new live CD, you will have out of the box support.

    If it is the latter, and what you really want is a Live CD or USB stick that has wireless support it should be possible to remaster LM LMDE to use a newer kernel. Or if there is a driver you can manually install with the current kernel, a USB stick with persistance will allow you to load the driver and preserve it between uses.

  15. @Anonymous:
    I tested LMDE in Live mode, without installation.
    But even newer kernel would not necessarily solve the issue since there is also firmware requirement. I am not 100% sure Debian team (hence LMDE) would include nos-OSS drivers in distro by default.

  16. @swiftfall:
    Good clue. May be use it in the future.
    But documentation for the firmware clearly says "reboot".

  17. @id:
    I say that drivers for Broadcom 4311 are in repository. Yes, they are in restricted repository. But I can download them and use straight away.
    On another hand, drivers for Realtek 8191 can only be found on manufacturer's web site as source code. Compiling and activating them required reboot, which effectively eliminates possibility to use them in Live mode. But this gives you a hope that installed system will be OK.
    From my perspective, Live systems are created for users who want to try system and interface before installing it. In this case Linux Mint XFCE is promising for users who have Realtek 8191 card.

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