A wireless solution

For the past month or so Chelsea has been complaining that her built in wireless antenna has been on the fritz, working sporadically and most noticebly not working when she needed it.  I always thought she was exaggerating the problem, and being a little dramatic in hope that I would help fix it.  After some searching of online forums I found that many people had the same problem she did in the same iBook G4 style laptop.  Most of them just recommended checking the contacts of the network card to make sure all electical signals can be transmitted appropriately.  So we popped it open:

If you look carefully you can see the network card.  Actually that is a lie.  On some of the earlier models of this computer, where you see the grated metal (labeled A) above is where you would see the network card, and it would be really easy to plug back in.  Lucky for us she bought the upgraded model with an integrated wireless / bluetooth card, which was conveniently located below the letter B. This means in order to fix it we had to basically crack open the case and check the contacts, or replace the card.  Since neither of us wanted to deal with that we were between a rock and a hard place.

Chelsea borrowed my computer for a couple days, (which I think she did to emphasize how frustrating it is to have a non-reliable internet signal when you need to mine genome databases) and of course I had about enough of the problem myself.  More research into the online communities found the problem is a general design flaw, it pretty much comes down to the computer getting hot when the battery charges or during heavy use of the processor and melting the glue holding the card in place.  The only solution I could think of is one of those USB wireless adapters.  They seem cheap enough and would definitely be preferred over buying a new computer at this point.

More research.  Only this time I found out that most of the USB wireless b/g/n adapters are PC only, and their manufacturers don’t like to create drivers for Apple’s OSX.  There is one company that makes an adapter and supports both Mac and Linux, but it was a little too pricey for my taste.  Luckily, I stumbled onto a website detailing the chipsets for each of the adapters from big name companies (Belkin, Linksys, etc) and there was my solution.

The Linksys WUSB54GC uses the same chipset at the company I referred to just a minute ago (Ralink), I just need to change the driver to recognize the re-branded adapter.

Here is how it went (for anyone who wants to use this for a failing Airport or old mac without a wireless card):

Download the driver from Ralink here.

Install as usual.  Open Terminal.

change directory to /System/Library/Extensions/RT2500USBWirelessDriver.kext/Contents/

enter: sudo pico Info.plist

scroll down with the arrow key to the first second key (should look just like the one below) and change the values to these:


Depending on when the device was made you may have to change the name to LINKSYS instead.  Look it up in the system profiler to be sure.

Then save the file by pushing ctrl+O or F3. The file name should be Info.plist by default, so just hit enter. Now exit by pushing ctrl+x.

next, type: /usr/sbin/kextcache -k /System/Library/Extensions

then type: sudo kextload /System/Library/Extensions/RT2500USBWirelessDriver.kext

If you don’t get an error you will see “Loaded Successfully.” If you don’t see a wireless utility appear, unplug the device and plug it back in.

That is it.  Of course I should mention there is no way I would have been able to figure any of this out on my own, I credit the forums over at macrumors for this one.

Chelsea’s new wireless adapter works beautifully (actually faster than my Airport) and was a cheap ($24) solution to a big problem.  Up next – trying to figure out the power management system on my Powerbook, and why it randomly shuts down only to have the date and time to be reset to December 31, 1969.  Seriously.

8 thoughts on “A wireless solution”

  1. Yeah, this little problem really should have been addressed on Dave’s site a couple weeks ago. MAC laptops are essentially the Fort Knox of computers. They are difficult to open up, frustrating to get to the useful parts, and almost impossible to put back together correctly. This of course weaves into their AppleCare package that any MAC user should invest in. They really want you to take it to a service center to get it worked on. The last couple of Macbook generations also tend to get at least 10X hotter than 80% of PC laptops. Maybe a fan that actually has a dedicated exhaust would help that.

  2. Thanks Zane – but now I’m confused…I thought these Macs were indestructible. Ed’s is toast and Chelsea’s wireless doesn’t work. So I guess that makes it 50% of my Mac-using friends have broken Macs. But they’re indestructible.

    I did find the new Macbook ‘indestructible’ series…but they cost 25% more than regular Macbooks.

    Just kidding folks. Not really, but don’t get mad and throw apples at me!

  3. Oh, you can also put Jenn’s Macbook on the list since her optical drive crapped out over a year ago. You can forget trying to replace that without having a few extra screws at the end. End users should be able to replace something that simple without any problems.

  4. well, when you consider that my dell’s hard drive took a crap less than two years after i bought it AND the “e” key inexplicably stopped working (try typing an A-exam with no “e”‘s), i am pretty happy with my mac and its $24 fix.

    P.S. this is chelsea. i’m on nick’s computer in his lab while i wait for him to finish his 1,000th western of the day.

  5. Hard drives don’t have E keys.

    There simply has to be a Mac teamsters union that I haven’t uncovered yet. I’m gonna start researching: the unwielding support that Mac users have for the product despite all shortcomings is like what a parent would display towards a child. A very expensive, exclusive, child.

  6. David, David, David. This may come as a shock, but I do know that hard drives don’t have “e” keys. These were two separate problems. The “e” stopped working first. Then the hard drive followed shortly. It was horrible. Luckily, I got my A-exam off of there before it started refusing to turn on at all!! So far, my Mac both types all keys and turns on. So, I am happy.

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