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Problems with Your Intel Wireless Drivers? Try Ubuntu

When it’s compared to Microsoft Windows on the subject of driver support, Linux is generally perceived as lacking, although far less so in recent years thanks to the efforts of Intel and others. But in at least one case, Linux was the solution to a bizarre and as yet unsolved driver issue.

While I’m on a Thinkpad X301 at the moment, which coincidentally also runs Linux, the machine that it replaced – a Thinkpad X40 – is still kicking around. Limited by an anemic processor and a tiny 40 GB hard drive, I thought it would potentially still be useful as a netbook-style machine: handy for internet usage and the occasional work maintenance when my primary work machine was unavailable (like this past Saturday, when we were hacked).

Because my fiancée would occasionally be using it as well, I opted first for Windows XP, which would be most familiar to her. That installed seamlessly on the machine, and all the hardware – the wireless included – worked just fine, with one exception. Oddly, the Intel wireless on board refused to connect to the brand new Cisco (Linksys) access point we’d set up at our apartment. Absolutely refused. The same hardware would connect to any other network – even the pointless WEP secured one at the office – but it would not under any circumstances associate with the home network. It could see it, but simply not connect. At first I thought it was the WPA2 security, but that didn’t seem to make any difference: even completely unsecured, the network would not cough up an IP.

This not being the first time I’d experienced some wireless wonkiness from XP, I decided to abandon it in favor of its newer cousin, Windows 7. When the RTM build I applied finished installing, however, neither the sound nor the wireless worked. After Googling for a solution, I applied the Windows Vista drivers for the wifi hardware and it worked perfectly…except on the home network.

At this point you might be thinking it might be the home network, rather than the computer. That’s what I would have thought, except for the fact that both of our iPhones and my X301 running Ubuntu could connectly easily. So the problem, whatever it was, lay within either the machine or Windows. Or more accurately, the Windows drivers. Both the XP and the Vista flavors.

With no real requirement for Windows other than my fiancée’s convenience and familiarity, then, I decided to give Ubuntu a shot at the job and see if it was the hardware that was the problem. Having come off some separate Intel driver issues with Jaunty, I skipped the current production release and went to Karmic. The verdict? Works flawlessly. I’ll be damned if I know what the problem was with the Windows drivers, but with a working alternative I doubt I’ll ever try and find out. I’ll wait to see if Windows 7 drivers are released, and if they are, I’ll see how they fare.

Until then, how is the fiancée adjusting to Linux? “I kind of like it,” she says.

Maybe I won’t swap it out.

Categories: Desktop, Linux.