Belkin Wireless G Desktop Card offers Plug and Play Linux support

Having grown up with Windows as my primary operating system, I've taken for granted how easy it is to find compatible hardware. Recently, I learned that life isn't as user-friendly for Linux users. After migrating one of my computers to Linux, I noticed that the operating system wouldn't detect the machine's Microsoft PCI Wi-Fi card. After scouring the Internet, I found instructions for making wireless cards work with NDIS Wrapper and similar applications, but no references to a card with Plug and Play Linux support. It took hours of effort and several trips to local hardware retailers, but eventually I found a Linux distribution and Wi-Fi card combination that worked-SUSE 10 and a specific version of the Belkin Wireless G Desktop card.

I performed a fresh install of SUSE 10 on my machine and went off to find a compatible PCI 802.11g card. I went first to Best Buy and browsed their wireless cards. A salesperson approached me and offered their assistance. I explained that I wanted a PCI card that would work with Linux "out-of-the-box". Unfortunately, the salesperson had no clue which card would work. After researching several cards that Best Buy had in-stock, I decided to try the Linksys 54g PCI card. I took that card home, but had no luck. I tried five different card brands from Best Buy, but none offered Plug and Play support for Linux.

Finding the Belkin F5D7000 Wireless G Desktop card After more Internet research, I found several people also searching for a Plug and Play Linux solution, but no answers. It was during this search that I also realized I had yet tried a Belkin wireless card. I went off to Walmart and purchased a Belkin wireless G card for $29.95, see Figure A. Figure A

Belkin Wireless G Desktop Card

I took the card home, installed it and turned on the computer. To my surprise, when SUSE 10 a wireless dialog box appeared with a list of three detected SSIDs. I selected my router's SSID, typed in my encryption code, opened Firefox and accessed the Internet. My search was over.

Since my first glorious moment of wireless connectivity, I have changed Linux distributions several times. The Belkin wireless G card worked with almost every Linux flavor, but only SUSE 10 and Ubuntu worked right out of the box.

It's all about the Atheros chipset

The Belkin Wireless G Desktop Card isn't the only Wi-Fi card that works with Linux. The Wireless G Desktop Card's Linux compatibility lies within the card's Atheros chipset. According to the company's Web site, Atheros Communications has offered "open source Linux and FreeBSD software drivers for 802.11b/g and universal 802.11a/b/g products" since July, 2003. Mandy laptops with integrated Wi-Fi support use the Atheros chipset. This is a reason many laptops will automatically connect to the Internet after you install Linux.

Unfortunately, manufacturers, including Belkin, sometimes vary the chipset on the same model Wi-Fi card. Since discovering the Belkin card, I have visited three different Walmart stores and found three different versions. Version 5100 contains the Atheros chipset. The version number is printed on a white sticker located to the right of the barcode, see Figure B. I have tried other versions of the Belkin Wireless G Desktop, but all have failed. If your local Walmart doesn't carry this specific version, I have also found the card at Staples. Figure B Belkin Wireless G Desktop Card version 5100