4 Jun 2013

Debian Wheezy vs Intel 4965AGN: flop-flop

Installing Debian may be a trivial task for someone.

It has never been so easy for me.

To start with, my first attempt to install it failed epically. Installation of Debian 6.0 Squeeze without a network connection was a serious mistake.

Has installation improved in Debian 7.0? It was my task to study this.

What do I have now on a hardware side? Since my old laptop died and I got a new one, I wrote a new post about "Tux moving house". You can get technical specs of my new laptop Sony Vaio VGN-NR21Z there too.

I downloaded and burnt onto a DVD+RW drive the Live Xfce version of Debian 7.0 Wheezy. So, disk is in the drive. Reboot. Let's go!

Attempt number one

The first task was to re-partition the disk. Since my "move house", the hard drive underwent serious work, and only 2 partitions were left: one for the Windows Vista installation, and one for "DATA". Of course, it was the "DATA" partition that had to be squeezed to accommodate some more neighbours to WinVis.

I successfully booted Debian Wheezy into the Live mode. To my (almost) surprise, Debian did not include drivers for my wireless card: Intel 4965AGN. Wow! I had to move my laptop closer to the router and plug the LAN cable in.

Once that was done, I started the installer. No issues were found prior to the moment of disk re-partitioner. Of course, the Debian installer and its partitioner are not the best graphically enhanced software. It's almost text-based with a few bits of "eye candy" on top.

Nevertheless, I managed to resize the partition and create three new ones for future system installations (one of them being Debian) plus a SWAP partition.

All the remaining steps of the Debian installer also went fine, and I eventually was asked to reboot.

First boot

First boot was uneventful. I booted into the Debian 7.0 Squeeze Xfce and was greeted by a usual login procedure. The first thing I did was to start the Iceweasel browser and search for the method of getting my WiFi card Intel 4965AGN working. It was not difficult to find the relevant Debian Wiki page.

Following the advice, I installed the recommended package and ran the modprobe command. Then I was able to connect to my home wireless network.

I don't know at which moment everything went wrong, but the wireless network misbehaved. Sometimes it refused to find the DNS server. Sometimes it worked with DNS and could connect to remote servers, but could not see and ping the devices in the local network (even the router itself!)

After a number of tries, no two of which gave repeatable results, I gave up.

The second attempt

After few hours spent with such "fun", I decided to give Debian yet another chance. Another boot into the Live session of Debian 7.0 Wheezy Xfce, and another attempt to install it.

To my surprise, this time round Debian installer refused to mount my supposed-to-be root Ext3 partition! After few attempts to solve this, it refused to see that Ext3 partition at all, and could only re-format it to JFS of some other "non-ext" filesystems. The same for other partitions on the drive.

Ok, let's try JFS, told I myself, and then installation went on uneventfully.

Second boot

This was a quick boot, I need to say.

Debian refused to boot without prior checking (fsck) of my newly formatted partitions, but for some reason it forgot that fsck.jfs is not in the standard installation image. It was a vicious circle. I could not boot into the operating system, because it wanted to have a package, which I could only obtain once fully booted.

Yet another flop!

The third attempt

Don't give up, DarkDuck! I wanted to have Debian installed on my HDD, whatever the price!

That time round I decided not to boot into the Debian Xfce Live session, but started the graphical installer right from the boot menu.

The sequence of steps in that installer is very close to the Live installer, although there were some differences. For example, the installer asked me whether I had a driver for Intel 4965AGN on an external drive. Sorry, I did not have.

This time I was able to re-format the partitions back to the Ext3 filesystem, and install Debian 7.0 Wheezy Xfce normally.

Third boot

Once booted, I followed the advice from the Debian Wiki page to install and to modprobe the driver.

But, learning from the first run, I decided to switch off the computer straight after that, without immediate connection to my wireless network.

Instead, I unplugged the network cable and let the laptop cold-boot with a new wireless driver installed.

It worked. The wireless network was listed. I successfully connected to it, and was able to browse both Internet and local net.
Debian 7.0 Wheezy Xfce
after installation

It's the time to relax now.

What's next?

I thought you might be curious what are other systems I am going to install on this new laptop.

Stay tuned!

And, if you want, feel free to give your suggestions in the comments box below!


  1. I never had problems with Debian, and I had been running Wheezy for a while before release. On release, the updates prevented me from mounting an external NTFS drive that had worked fine up until that point.

    I'm running Xubuntu now, but I really miss the stability of Debian, because Xubuntu feels buggy as hell by comparison, though it is a nice distribution otherwise.

    I will try Wheezy again when it's had a few update releases.

    1. I like Debian too. But I think that's a karma, I was never able to install it from the 1st go. :)

  2. An unfriendly wireless card made problems for me but none like you just described. Networking was much better without it,

    Life is too short for non free hardware and fooling around with drivers. Here's a good wirless card that respects your freedom,


    I've got a collection of older devices that work with free software. It took me about half an hour to sift through a pile of cards and fobs at a friendly hardware store. Today, I'd just buy the nice new card.

    1. Will, I usually expect a good support for Intel hardware in Linux. This is not the case for this particular device.
      Also, replacing the wifi card is not something you usually do with laptops. I also tried the same device in some other distros - and they support it OOTB. Only Debian is "special".
      Thanks for you useful links!