Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Installing OpenSUSE 10.2 on an aging IBM A21p ThinkPad

I have a decommissioned IBM A21p laptop from my workplace. It has been used occasionally to browse the Net in one of our bedrooms via wireless broadband connection through a PCMCIA Cardbus interface D-LINK DWL-G650. There were a few free hours in hand during last weekend, so I thought it might be a good idea to turn this into a Linux based thin client with the intention to be used as a web surfing machine.
We have a few Red Hat and Fedora installations in our workplace, so I decided to give OpenSUSE a shot. This is a short replay of the installation experience. Since there are a number of good tutorials already on Linux forums and OpenSUSE web site, I am not simply repeating the whole procedures. My intenstion is to document a couple of small glitches I have encountered for any future reference.
OpenSUSE offers two types of the installation: 1) Local installation, 2) Internet installation. Since we have 4Mb broadband connection at home, I choose the internet installation to avoid burning all the 6 installation CDs needed. With the internet installation, all you need is a boot CD which you can download from OpenSUSE. A simple mistake I made there was burning the CD as a normal data CD which can be used as bootable CD. This is partially due to the fact I have a standard edition of Sonic RecordNow on my home PC which does not have "burn as image" feature. Solved the problem by using my laptop from work which has professional edition of the RecordNow installed. Burned the openSUSE-10.2-GM-i386-mini.iso as a CD image, and kicked off the installation process immediately. I found it is much quicker to download from the UK Mirror site than OpenSUSE itself. For the same reason I also used the mirror site address for the rest of the installation. Followed the procedures documented on OpenSUSE Documentation, it was a very straight forward experience indeed. The whole installation of the OpenSUSE completed after around 2 hours. I guess most of the that time were spent on downloading the CD images.
With the OpenSUSE working happily as a web surfing machine view wired Ethernet connection, I moved onto the task of installing the wireless PCMCIA cardbus card. Due to some vendors do not release specifications of the hardware or provide a Linux driver for their wireless network cards. Ndiswrapper project implements Windows kernel API and NDIS (Network Driver Interface Specification) API within Linux kernel. A Windows driver for wireless network card is then linked to this implementation so that the driver runs natively, as though it is in Windows, without binary emulation. OpenSUSE offers ndiswrapper as part of its standard distribution in 10.2 to avoid everyone having to compile the ndiswrapper from the source. Unfortunately the ndiswrapper install comes with OpenSUSE 10.2 did not work for me. I completed all the necessary steps documented on OpenSUSE without any errors. But the iwconfig does not show any wireless interfaces such as wlan0, and dmesg|grep ndiswrapper indicates ndiswrapper failed to initialize the windows driver neta3ab. After tried various steps found on Linuxforums without any success, I followed the steps contributed by Andrew18 to download the latest ndiswrapper from Sourceforge to compile and make install the source directly. The newly compiled ndiswrapper worked straight away.
Here is a summary of the configured components:
1. IBM A21p laptop;
2. DWL-G650 High Speed 2.4GHz (802.11g) Wireless 108Mbps Cardbus Adapter.
Software and Drivers
1. OpenSUSE 10.2;
2. ndiswrapper 1.34;
3. DWL-G650 Windows XP driver version 3.4 -- NetA3AB.inf and A3AB.sys.

Have fun and Go OpenSUSE...openSUSE.org



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