The Netgear WG511 Wireless PC Card and Linux

A tale of two cards

First off, there are apparently three different cards out there that all go by the name Netgear WG511 Wireless PC Card. Since I wanted to set up wireless between my Linux laptops, I naturally wanted wireless cards with decent Linux support. One of my laptops was bundled with a WG511 card, and it worked quite well with the Prism54 drivers. So I figured buying another one would be easy. Netgear chose to make this more difficult that it should have been, by having several very different cards sharing virtually the same packaging and label.

The good WG511 uses the Prism54 drivers, and is very easy to get working under Fedora and other Linux distributions. The bad card uses the Marvell chipset, and is somewhat easy to get half-working in Linux, but damned near impossible to get working reliably.

The good card.

The good card Note the silver antenna.
Top of good card
Bottom of good card

To get this card working in Fedora, just download the firmware from here, save it as /lib/firmware/isl3890 (at least on Fedora), plug in the card, and set it up using the wireless-tools utilities.

The bad card

The bad card. The antenna has joined the Dark Side.
Top of bad card
Bottom of bad card

This card is based on the Marvell chipset, and at the moment there are no native Linux drivers available.

To get this card working in Fedora, you'll need two things. First, download and build ndiswrapper. The latest stable version (1.1) and the 1.2 release candidate work about the same with this card. You can build the driver and kernel module as RPMs (recommended) by extracting the tarball and then running make rpm. This will build and package the modules for you, and you can install them with rpm from the /usr/src/redhat/RPMS/i386 directory.

Next, you'll need the Windows drivers. If you have the driver CD, you can put it into your computer, change to the direvtory of the CD that contains Windows XP or Windows 2000 drivers, and run ndiswrapper -i WG511v2.INF. This will install the drivers for the card. Check that they're installed using ndiswrapper -l.

If you don't have the CD, you can get the drivers from here.

You can activate the card by using modprobe ndiswrapper if_name=eth1. Substitute whatever device name you wish for eth1. If you leave off the if_name parameter entirely, it will default to wlan0, which isn't supported by Fedora's graphical tools.

When you go to set up the card with the wireless-tools utilities, you may find that the card flakes out and dumps tons of error messages to the console when you try to set the ESSID. This usually happens if you aren't currently in range of your access point when you bring up the card, or if you're trying to set up an ad-hoc network and another machine with the same ESSID isn't around.

If you later get out of range of your access point or turn off all the other computers in an ad-hoc setup, you may see the same ESSID problem. You'll get tons of error messages in the console about being unable to set the ESSID, and the computer may slow down noticably. The keyboard keys may also start to repeat as you type, making it very hard to actually use the computer for anything.

I also noticed that the card would sometimes just stop responding to the rest of the network after a while, needing a reset or remove/reinsert to get it listening again.

So, the bad card can be made to work, but it can cause a lot of trouble.

Telling the good from the bad

Older pages about these cards mention that there are two kinds of WG511 cards. Now there are three: The good card, and apparently two bad ones. The good card has a silver antenna (instead of black), and is made in Taiwan. The point that confused me is that the good card has a small label on the back that identifies it as a "v2.0" card. The newest bad card (that you'll likely run into at a retailer) is also labeled as "v2", but it has a black antenna and has the "v2" label on both the front of the card and the back. But both cards are made in Taiwan! (Older pages say that the cards made in Taiwan work well with Linux, but that's only true for the silver-tipped ones.)

Luckily, the cards are pictured on the front of the boxes, so if you buy from a local retailer, you should be able to avoid the bad> cards. Just look for a silver-tipped card that's made in Taiwan (as pictured above), and you can use it easily with Fedora Core.


In the end, I returned the bad card to my local retailer, and went to another local shop and bought one of the good cards. I applaud the efforts of the ndiswrapper folks, but I don't have the time or spare money to futz around with a card that makes my whole system act weird whenever the connection drops. I use Linux because I like both configurability and reliability.

Update: 6/2/05

It's been reported on the Fedora mailing list that the bad card (Marvell chipset) may work reliably using driverloader, a commercial product from Linuxant. This doesn't change my view of the bad card, though.

If I go out and specifically purchase a card, I want it to be Linux compatible. I do not want to shell out $20 extra for Linux drivers. This situation's a little different than built-in laptop hardware. With built-in laptop hardware, I don't usually have a choice of what kind of network card to have. When I do have a choice of cards, I'll buy the one that needs no extra work or cost to work with Linux.

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This web site was last updated December 19, 2009.