A few recommendations for network cards

I don’t make much note of my network connections on my hardware page, and that’s usually because it changes fairly frequently. Depending on its guts, its proclivities and even its location in the house, a computer can get a whole different network attachment at the spur of a moment.

I do have a couple of suggestions for die-hard, tried-and-true network connections for older machines, for the people who ask. The first two are wired, and the last is a wireless card.

What’s important isn’t really the name or the brand. It’s the chipset — the innards of the thing — that determines how useful or friendly it is with your computer. For example, I keep an IODATA-branded PCET100-CL as a dongleless network card for this Pentium.

It uses the pcnet-cs module, so its compatibility with Linux is practically guaranteed. But even better than that, it predates the shift to CardBus technology, which means machines even older than this one can probably get it going. It’s an issue of compatibility again really: An old, old card like this will work in newer PCMCIA ports and older PCMCIA ports, so that’s the one I keep. Simple as that.

If you prefer a dongle (I can’t imagine why), I also have a Planex ENW-3503-T that uses the ne2000 module — and again has support in the kernel and predates CardBus changes. So yes, it’s at least a decade old, but it requires no effort whatsoever in configuration.

Network speeds on both cards are satisfactory, with neither being a speed demon. They will both break 500kbps from a fast host, but to be honest, I don’t recall either one of them peaking much beyond that. I think they will, but I just don’t ever remember seeing it. Maybe I should try. …

For wireless, I rely on a trustworthy family heirloom — a Linksys WPC11 Wireless-B card that dates back almost to 2000. Again, it works fine in old, old machines, has kernel-complete driver support with the orinoco-cs module, and while it’s not the fastest card out there (I know for a fact it will break 1Mbps … sometimes), it does the job plenty fast and doesn’t complain.

In fact, one of the nicest things about that card is its ability to function on an open (meaning keyless) network without the omnipresent wireless-tools package. It is normally assigned as an ethX connection, and simply charging at it with dhcpcd usually works fine. Usually.

But other than that I have no real recommendations. I strongly discourage anything axnet-based because, as I mentioned even just a few days ago, I have yet to see an axnet-driven card that didn’t sputter and pop when put to work. For onboard connections, I say go with Intel; I have very good experiences with the PRO/100 cards and they too are very easy to configure.

Of course, it’s completely random and totally unpredictable that you’d be able to get your hands on any one of these cards, and then once you had it, it’s likewise a possibility that it wouldn’t satisfy you. Be that as it may, if you want a name and want my meager seal of approval, those are the ones that get it. 🙂


8 thoughts on “A few recommendations for network cards

  1. poss

    I recycled an intel pro 2200W (mini pci) to give my T23 Thinkpad wireless. I attached an antenna to the top end of the lid above the LCD, and also installed a u.fl socket (after reading about people making directional antenna’s out dog food tins and pringles cans!) normally attach a little router to the u.fl socket for pretty strong signal. From what i’ve read older thinkpads have a metal composite casing that somewhat smothers wifi signals thats why i had to suss an external option. Probably PCMCIA card would’ve been much easier and averted pulling the thing apart but it was fun. and like you said, it comes down to the chipset – intel pro well supported even an arch wiki page! all up bit of a hack job but effective and cheap.

  2. Prinzzchavo

    Nice Post, actually I was one of those looking for brands instead of chipsets…for years(now you get to figure my skills out).

    One question:

    What sort of ultra-productive-but-versatile formula are you using for managing (wireless) connections?

    I am trying netcfg+bash scripts, but the fact that my laptop “automagically” switches the name of my wireless from eth1 to eth0 and back(under Arch) makes the bash scripts a little bit unstable…

    Actually, I guess a good post regarding console-based software for that purpose would be nice… Just imagine old Pentiums becoming the ultimate cool-tool at Starbucks around the world…

    1. bryan

      I’ve been using wicd recently. yes it pulls in some GTK deps, but it also provides the wonderful wicd-curses interface.

      1. Prinzzchavo

        I discovered wicd some time ago (obrigado, dreamlinux) and I totally agree with you, but since Kmandla said he uses netcfg, I am curious on what he can throw at us this time…

    1. poss

      Thanks for that link i have the exact same problem on a computer with an archbang! setup – another thing for the todo list!

  3. Foz

    Chipsets are the key. That is a fact.

    The biggest issue is trying to find out what chipset is in the card in front of you without plugging it in and finding out (the key problem when you need to buy one from a shop).

    Unless there is a database somewhere of makes/models/versions to chipsets you are really screwed. Your only hope is to google it (not guaranteed to get you the info you need) or to try it and hope for the best that it contains a chipset that can be used.

    Case in point – I bought one the other day, and in the reviews it was “oh yes, xxxx chipset, works immediately in Linux.”
    So I bought it. Only to find that the chipset had *changed* to something that was similar to the DM9601 chipset, but the driver source had to be recompiled with some minor modifications (which was supplied on the cd, with another 10 drivers for other cards) before it could be used.
    Oh and no instructions on what to do. So I went and re-read the review… posted 2005! >_<
    The most recent reviews said "Doesn't work in Linux, Windows 7, or Mac Leopard".

  4. Pingback: Two new wireless cards « Motho ke motho ka botho

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