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Wireless How To

{mospagebreak toctitle= Introduction}

Introduction

Revised February 22 2005
Revised January 28 2005

I recently selected a Fujitsu Lifebook S2020 as my new travel companion. I got a great price because the one I purchased didn't come with the internal wireless LAN option, but I figured that I could always send the notebook to Fujitsu to be upgraded.

But it seems that I thought wrong, since the response from my query to Fujitsu Tech Support was that "the Lifebook S2020 does not have the option to install the wireless system after the original purchase". Some further Googling found a Fujitsu service center that came back with essentially the same response.

I found this odd, since any notebook manufacturer would be crazy to design a product that couldn't be equipped with internal wireless. And why would a company want to turn down the prospect of lucrative service revenue for performing so simple a task?

But I knew that somewhere in that packed little chassis lay integrated antennas and an empty mini-PCI slot just waiting for a WLAN card to fulfill its promise of untethered networking. And so I set out to do it myself, since I wanted the convenience (and robustness) of not having to insert and remove a PCMCIA WLAN card. Although the actual installation process that follows will be specific to the S2020, the other info I'll provide should help owners of other notebooks who find themselves in a similar pickle.

NOTE!Disclaimer: Since Fujitsu or any of their authorized service centers won't do what I'm about to tell you how to do, it's obvious that doing it will void your warranty.

SmallNetBuilder, Pudai LLC and I are not responsible for any damage or loss of warranty that the information in this article may cause to your notebook or anything else you may happen to open up!


Choosing an WLAN card

The first step in doing the upgrade is to visit your notebook manufacturer's website to find out what flavors of wireless LAN cards are supported for your notebook and to download the drivers for them. In my case, I visited Fujitsu's PC support site and found downloadable drivers for both Atheros and Broadcom-based cards (Figure 1).

Drivers for the Fujitsu S2020

Figure 1: Drivers for the Fujitsu S2020

(click image to enlarge)

Tip TIP: Since Intel was so late coming out with an 802.11g Centrino, most notebook makers were forced to turn to other makers for their internal 802.11g WLAN boards. Broadcom was there to capture much of that business, with the result that you're likely to find that your notebook has a Broadcom-based 802.11b/g WLAN option - even if they don't identify it as such.

In my case, I downloaded both Atheros and Broadcom drivers since I had harvestable products with both flavors of cards.

Revised January 28 2005

A helpful reader had the following to share regarding sources of drivers for mini-PCI cards:

For the MiniPCI card used in the [Linksys] WAP and WRT, one should use the driver for the WMP54G PCI card as that card too uses the same MiniPCI card (again, first revision, later revs used the integrated chips). The latest driver for that can be downloaded from Linksys. In fact, the MiniPCI card will be detected as a Wireless-G PCI card, and it works beautifully!


Getting the Hardware

If you go into your local electronics retailer, it's unlikely you'll find mini-PCI wireless cards on the shelf next to the other wireless client adapters. But a Froogle search for mini-PCI 802.11 brings up plenty of options, although at prices much higher than you'd expect (or want) to pay.

An alternative to paying top price for a mini-PCI card is to "harvest" one from a product that uses one internally. I compiled Table 1 by digging through my past product reviews and you can use it as a starting point in your hunt for less-expensive wireless mini-PCI cards.

Product Card FCC ID
Belkin F5D7130 802.11g Wireless Network Access Point Broadcom BCM94306MP QDS-BRCM1005
Buffalo Tech WBR-G54 802.11g router Broadcom BCM94306MP QDS-BRCM1005
Buffalo Tech WLA2-G54 AP/Bridge Buffalo Tech WLI-MPCI-G54 (copy of Broadcom BCM94306MP) QDS-BRCM1005
Buffalo Technology WLI-USB-G54 AirStation 54Mbps Wireless USB Adapter Buffalo Tech WLI-MPCI-G54 (copy of Broadcom BCM94306MP) QDS-BRCM1005
Buffalo WZR-RS-G54 AirStation 54Mbps Wireless Cable/DSL Router-g with AOSS Buffalo Tech WLI-MPCI-G54 (copy of Broadcom BCM94306MP) QDS-BRCM1005
D-Link DI624 Atheros-based 11g KA2DI624SA1
DrayTek Vigor 2900G Broadband Security Router Based on Conexant's 802.11g PRISM GT chipset N/A
Gigabyte GN-A17GU 802.11g Access Point GIGABYTE GC-WIAG-101 (Atheros' AR5002G chipset) JCK-GN-WIAG
Linksys WAP54G (original) Broadcom BCM94306MP PKW-WAP54G
Linksys WRT55AG Atheros-based 11a
Broadcom-based 11b/g
PKW-WRT55AG
Linksys WRT54G (original) Linksys WM54G (copy of Broadcom BCM94306MP)

- PKW-WM54G (original)

Linksys WRT54G (variations) Revised January 28 2005
None. Radio integrated onto main board

- Q87-WRT54GP2
- Q87-WRT54G11
- Q87-WRT54GV2
- Q87-WRT54C

NETGEAR WG602 Zcom XG-600 (PRISM-based)

- PY3WG602 (original)
- PY3WG602V2
- PY3WG602V3

SMC SMC2870W AirVast Technology WN360g (PRISM-based) QDWWN360G
USR 5450 AP GlobalSun (based on Texas Instruments' TNETW1130) 07J-GL2454MP-0T
ZyXEL ZyAIR G-2000 ZCom XG-601 (Conexant PRISM-based) M4Y-XG-600
ZyXEL HS-100W HomeSafe Gateway (w / wireless) ZCom XG-601 (Conexant PRISM-based) M4Y-XG-600
Table 1: Products using mini-PCI cards

An 802.11g wireless router is a good choice for harvesting, since it will still function as a non-wireless router when you remove the card, or even just an extra switch if you don't need a router (just disable its DHCP server). But you may have to search on eBay to get older versions, since current versions of popular bargain-priced routers such as D-Link's DI624, NETGEAR's WGR614, and Linksys' WGT54G all have integrated radios (part of the reason why they're so inexpensive).

Tip TIP: Vendors usually add a version number (example: WGT54Gv2 or similar) to the product's model number when they make a significant design change. However, retailers generally only stock by base model number (example: WGT54G), so if you're buying on-line, you won't know what you're getting until you receive it. Fortunately, manufacturers usually do show the version number somewhere on the product box. So if you make your purchase at a brick-and-mortar retail store, you can verify that what you're buying is the model you need.


Getting the Hardware - more

Your safest bet for making sure that a product has a mini-PCI board is to look up the FCC ID of the product you're thinking of using by using the FCC's Equipment Authorization System Generic Search page. Just enter the FCC ID number obtained from a label on the product (unfortunately not on the product's box, however) and click on the Detail link in the Display Exhibits column of the search results. You then want to download or view the Internal Photos file (you'll need an Acrobat viewer for the PDF file), which will quickly tell you whether the product has a mini-PCI card.

If you're thinking of attempting this hack, you should know what to look for. But in case you don't, the two pictures below show examples of products with on-board (Figure 2) and mini-PCI (Figure 3) radios.

On-board radio

Figure 2: On-board radio

mini-PCI radio

Figure 3: mini-PCI radio

If you don't have the product in hand, try a Google search using the model number of the product you're considering using along with "FCC ID". A search for wrt54g +"fcc id" in both Google Web and Groups comes up with the FCC ID of the original version - PKW-WM54G - in the first page of search results in both cases


The Install

So with both mini-PCI card (I chose Atheros-based) and driver in hand, my next step was to figure out where the mini-PCI connector was located in my S2020. I started by looking in the obvious places - the two removable panels on the bottom of the notebook. But, of course, it wasn't that easy since I found only the spare memory slot under one and the hard drive under the other.

The other place that notebooks tend to hide slots is under the keyboard, so that was my next place to look. But the problem here was that the method for removing the keyboard wasn't obvious. Since neither the user documentation supplied with the S2020 nor the Fujitsu support website was any help, I once again turned to Google.

It took me a bit of digging and trying many different search combinations, but I finally found the info in this thread on LeoG.net. What follows below is essentially an illustrated version of the instructions posted at the top of that thread.

Step 1:

Remove the two indicated screws that secure the keyboard.

Also don't forget to remove the battery.

Keyboard screw locations

Figure 4: Keyboard screw locations

Step 2:

You'll need to carefully pry the two hinge covers (one shown) off. All you need to do is lift the bottom edge so that the slot in the cover clears the dark-colored tab.

You can do this with two thin-bladed screwdrivers (one on each side of the tab), but a single-edged razor blade might be easier.

Either way, slow and careful is the way so that you don't break the cover!

Hinge cover closeup

Figure 5: Hinge cover closeup

Step 3:

Once both hinge covers are loose, carefully open the notebook and tilt the display back all the way flat.

Then lift the hinge cover / speaker panel. It's attached via a cable, which doesn't need to be removed, since it is long enough to allow the panel to be set on the folded-back screen as shown.

Hinge cover panel swung out of the way

Figure 6: Hinge cover panel swung out of the way

 

Step 4:

The keyboard is held in place with two pieces of sticky tape that are at the back of the keyboard.

So gently pry up the back of the keyboard and swing it out of the way to reveal the WLAN mini-PCI slot.

Keyboard up and mini-PCI slot revealed

Figure 7: Keyboard up and mini-PCI slot revealed

 

A close-up of the mini-PCI slot shows two antenna leads secured by a piece of electrical tape.

Empty mini-PCI slot close-up

Figure 8: Empty mini-PCI slot close-up

 


Install finish and Closing Thoughts

Step 5:

All you need to do now is slip the mini-PCI card into the slot and attach the antennas. Yes, those really are teeny-tiny connectors, which require patience and care when connecting. Make sure that the cable and board connectors are aligned and parallel before you push them together.

Card installed

Figure 9: Card installed

I was a little paranoid and put insulating tape on the area where the WLAN board could possibly touch. I also supported the board while pushing the connectors together because the board wasn't otherwise supported from below and I didn't want to stress the connector.

Close-up of installed card

Figure 10: Close-up of installed card

By the way, don't worry about which color antenna cable connects to which connector on the card. With the diversity antenna system used by all wireless LAN cards, it doesn't matter!

With the card install completed, I carefully lowered the keyboard into position, but didn't button everything up yet. Instead, I reinstalled the battery, booted up and was pleased to see the Windows hardware install wizard detect the WLAN card. All I had to do was answer the wizard's prompts and was rewarded with a successful install.

Tip TIP: Be sure to read whatever README or documentation that comes with your downloaded driver, since some adapters want you to run a program before installing hardware that puts the drivers in their proper place and usually installs a client program.

With the card up and running, all I had to do was open the client application (or use Win XP's Wireless Zero Configuration utility), scan for my LAN's access point and associate with it. Fortunately, all this went without a hitch. Once I knew the card was running, I shut down and put everything back together. Mission accomplished!

While things went pretty smoothly for me, your experience may not go as well. I've seen reports of some manufacturers allowing only specific WLAN cards that they have tested to be used in their notebooks, while others may not make drivers readily available. And then there's always the challenge of figuring out how to get at the WLAN card mini-PCI slot, which manufacturers tend to not make as accessible as memory and hard-drives.

But if you didn't like a challenge, then you wouldn't be thinking of doing this anyway!


Revised January 28 2005

A helpful reader submitted these links to an HP support article and support forum thread that provide information on some HP notebooks (nc6000) that are picky about the WLAN cards that they allow to be installed. He also reported that the nc8000 has the same problem.

Revised February 22 2005
Engadget pointed the way to a couple of articles that have more details on notebooks that are fussy about which mini-PCI WLAN cards they accept. This article has info on X40 and R31 IBM ThinkPads and contains info describing how to hack the BIOS to get other cards to work. This article is a shorter summary of what needs to be done, but has no details. Note that these procedures assume you are comfortable with hex editors and could leave you with a dead notebook!

Another helpful reader offered this tip for Toshiba notebook owners:
I recently tackled adding a wireless mini-pci card to my notebook. I found an Intel 2200BG mini-PCI card on eBay and installed it in my Toshiba Satellite 1905. It turns out that pins 11-16 of the mini-PCI spec are user-defined (hardware on off, activity, etc.) Although card and slot were mini-PCI, Toshiba uses the pins differently and I could not get the radio turned on. Covering pins 11 and 13 with tape solved this.

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