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Gigafast WF721-AEX Wireless card setup under Linux

Disclaimer
Gigafast has been shipping a number of totally different cards under the same model number (at least 4 different chipsets identified as of November 2005).
I guess their catalog is simpler that way, even if customer service is not. Maybe they just bought a LARGE number of labels and they try to use them all :-)

Brian Schank and Jim Brown (see links below) pointed out the different chipsets are identified by the serial number, not the model number, and provided links to build process for other chipsets. Many thanks to them.

Here is a picture of my card.
Here is a picture of the same model number card, but notice the interface is actually a true PC Card type 2, 32 bits (a clue is the gold plated contact spring on the connector). The antenna cover also looks different. A completely different card (thanks jing for the link.)

The information below will ONLY work with the Atmel chipset version of the card. Even if your card looks EXACTLY like mine, if it has a different chipset, all bets are off.

Feel free to send me links to other cards pictures and/or chipset information with the same model number.

FCC ID number information would be very useful also.

General
The Gigafast WF721-AEX card recently has become available at low cost. I bought one to try it and found out the one I got was actually a 16 bit PCMCIA card, perfect for older laptops I have been using on my home network. These older laptops do not support the more recent, and widely available, 32 bit PC Card format.
My intention is to setup one laptop as a gateway for another laptop currently hooked up to my ham radio station. In doing so, the station laptop will have no direct connection to the rest of the network (except through power line), reducing the risk of damage in case of lightning hitting the ham radio antenna tower.

Drivers
I did some research to find out the chipset used in the card. The Gigafast website lists drivers, including "Linux" drivers, which are for the Realtek RTL8180 chipset. However, the card's FCC ID: IIO-0236WLPC, when plugged into the FCC search page reveals that the card is in fact made by CNet, a Taiwanese company. On the FCC's web site, internal pictures of the card show that it has an Atmel AT76C502A chip.

I found Atmel driver version 2.1.2.2 on the Atmel Linux sourceforge project home page.

The Atmel driver comes with a ncurses based, console configuration tool (lvnet) which has no advantage over the Wireless Tools. I have not used it, except to see what it does.

Configuration
Here are the hardware and software used to test the Gigafast WF721-AEX card under Linux: Alberto Riva has some changes he had to make to the Atmel drivers to get them to properly compile. Alberto's page is for the SMC 2632W card, which is not identical to the Gigafast, and Alberto's page refers to an older, unspecified version of the driver. PS: Thanks to Alberto for the formatting of his web page which I shamelessly lifted :-)

Compile:
I installed everything under /usr/src.

I first compiled the kernel and kernel modules (with all pcmcia and wireless options turned on) and installed them. A reboot is required at that point of course.

IMPORTANT NOTE: I have learned since writing this page initially that this step is very important, because if the kernel was compiled with a different version of gcc than the one used to compile the driver, the driver will probably not work. This is not unique to this driver, but it is so for all drivers.

I then compiled and installed the Atmel driver. Finally, I compiled and installed the wireless tools.

At that time, you can plug the card and run "cardctl ident". On my machine, it returns the following:

Socket 1:
  product info: "OEM", "11Mbps Wireless PC LAN Card V-5"
  manfid: 0x0000, 0x0000
  function: 6 (network)
  
Please note the plain vanilla setting, probably as shipped by CNet. It seems that CNet ships the cards with a default plain jane configuration, and it's up to the retailler to put their version info and manufacturer ID codes, something Gigafast elected not to do.

I would not be surprised to find exactly the same card under different brand names.

Setup:
I added the following in the /etc/pcmcia/options file:
device "pcmf502rd"
  class "network" module "pcmf502rd"

card "OEM 11Mbps Wireless LAN PC Card V-5"
  manfid 0x0000, 0x0000
  bind "pcmf502rd"
At that point, you want to restart pcmcia services with (for Slackware): /etc/rc.d/rc.pcmcia restart. The card should be recognized.

You can verify it is there with iwconfig.

I then created a startup script (giga-work) for my company's wireless network (uses a D-Link wireless router) as follows:

#!/bin/sh
iwconfig eth1 key XXXX-XXXX-XXXX-XXXX-XXXX-XXXX-XX
iwconfig eth1 key on
iwconfig eth1 essid xxxxxx
dhcpcd eth1
Replace xxxx-xxx... eth1 and xxxxxx as needed (get those from your network admin).

Operation:
To start networking:
  • plug the card
  • restart pcmcia (/etc/rc.d/rc.pcmcia restart) (that could be done before 1)
  • check the card is there by running iwconfig, update startup script as needed (eth0 vs. eth1)
  • start the card (startup script: giga-work)
  • check ifconfig to make sure the card is there and configured with an IP address.
  • happy wireless networking

Notes:
1. I had an error compiling the 2.4.20 kernel modules, maybe because of an unusual combination of options I had selected. I ended up having to add ip_conntrack_ftp.o to the export-objs declaration of /usr/src/linux-2.4.20/net/ipv4/netfilter/Makefile
After making that modification, I had no problem recompiling the modules.

2. On July 15, 2005, I received the following email from Brian Schank:
  Hereís a page http://mypage.iu.edu/~bschank/wl-1102/gigafast.htm I wrote explaining how to get the card working under Slackware (minislack) with NdisWrapper. The Linux driver that you can get from the Gigafast website doesnít work with newer kernels, so for now this is the only way.

There is however an experimental Linux driver available on Sourceforge for the Realtek 8180 chipset.

Also, Iím not sure how long its been this way there may have been a recent update to the Gigafast website but the chipsets are identified by the serial number not the model number.

The model number is indeed the same for all of the cards (different serial numbers) Rxxxxxwl-1102 is the Realtek chipset and Axxxxxxxxxxxxxx is the Atmel chipset.

Great work on your page and the info was useful in my hunt for the truth.

Brian Schank

3. On November 15, 2005, I received the following email from Jim C. Brown:
  As you have noted, the Axxx is the Amtel chipset and the Rxxx line is the Realtek chipset. There are two others: Txxx and Cxxx.

I bought a used WF721-AEX, and it turned out to be the Txxx kind. It is really a TI ACX100 card. I managed to make the card work by following this guide:

http://www.houseofcraig.net/acx100_howto.php (note: I used the version with 57 fixes instead of 51 fixes).

Works perfectly.

As for the Cxxx chipset, I read that it was based on the Prism chipset but I don't know anything else about it.

Interestingly, Gigafast only has Linux drivers for the Amtel and the Realtek cards - and these are the closed source versions. Seems they don't trust open source wireless drivers.


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