June 11, 2009

Ubuntu 9.04 Wireless on Dell Precision M6300

The best laid plans of mice and men have yet again gone agley. For a couple of years now I have been running Vista on my Precision workstation. In order to move to the Linux platform I bought a 320 GB 2.5" disk (amazing value at $90) and planned to install Ubuntu Jaunty Jackalope on it then migrate the Vista disk to a VirtualBox virtual machine accessing a raw patition which contained a Ghost copy of the original Windows partition.

Alas I couldn't get the virtual to boot, and anyway the Vista load is starting to show signs of instability (hardly surprising in a Windows installation that's been poked and prodded as heavily as mine has), so I have bitten the bullet and am reinstalling Vista from scratch with a virtual filesystem. The partition that was going to host Vista is now an ext4 filsystem which can host whatever I want or need to put on it. I have installed VirtualBox, and Vista loaded up like a champ.

The only (current) fly in the ointment is that for the life of me I can't get wireless networking to work. Unfortunately Command Line Idiot appears to be right when he or she writes:
There are roughly 19 billion tutorials for how to do anything you would ever want to do with Ubuntu. Unfortunately, they are all written by a 12 year old who knows even less than you.
Some of the advice I have seen is so cryptic as to be incomprehensible, some refer to drivers I don't have and don't seem to be able to download, the majority of it its either apparently irrelevant or clearly wrong.

So, crazy fundamentalist or not, I'll be happy to hear from you if you can tell me how to get the wireless networking going.

14 comments:

Kenneth said...

what is your service tag number?

I have a dell precision m4400 and I had no problems what so ever.

Steve said...

The particular machine I'm working on here is 1RSCXD1, though I plan to migrate the disk to another machine later. I've checked that wireless isn't disabled in the BIOS.

gdamjan said...

well, first thing you need to specify when asking for a sollution to this problem is what the wifi hardware is.

second thing is, if when you load the driver for the card you get a message (in dmesg) about it beeing disabled by rfkill ... you can go to /sys/class/rfkill/ find your device there .. name and state are your friends. State 0 is off, 1 is on, 2 is OFF but can't be made on by software, ussually some hardware switch has it off.

Steve said...

@gdamjan: Thanks. I was assuming that readers would realize it's the built-in wireless, and know what that is. lspci tells me:

0c:00.0 Network controller: Broadcom Corporation BCM4328 802.11a/b/g/n (rev 03)

Marius Gedminas said...

Ouch.

Generally, wifi should work out of the box (or at least after you click through the "restricted drivers required for full hardware support" thingy that IIRC pops up an icon in your system notification area). But Broadcom is notoriously unfriendly towards Linux users: no documentation, no drivers, no redistributable firmware.

After searching on the official Ubuntu website (help.ubuntu.com), I have the impression that you should have the driver, but not the firmware. You should be able to get the firmware from your Windows driver CD, by using the b43-fwcutter package. Unfortunately there are no clear step-by-step instructions that I could find on that site.

If I were you, I'd plug in a network cable, sudo apt-get install b43-fwcutter, and start reading /usr/share/doc/bw43-fwcutter/README.Debian, while loudly cursing Broadcom.

Hey, when I tried that, it offered to download and install the firmware automatically for me. I suggest you try that.

yuvalaviel said...

i can confirm wireless working flawlessly for m6300 with ubuntu 9.04 (kubuntu, to be precise).

go for it.

Steve said...

I simply don't understand how different people's experiences can be so different! By dint of various installations I have got to the stage where the wireless interface is shown as wlan0, but wicd shows no available networks even though there are two access points sitting rght next to the laptop (well, twenty feet away), both clearly visible to my other M6300 which is running (I hate to say) Windows Vista!

Come on, guys, help me escape the clutched of the evil empire! :-)

Steve said...

@yuvalaviel: Are you running 64-bit or 32-bit? This is Ubuntu rather than kubuntu - should that make a difference?

Steve said...

Oh, great. I just rebooted the system and now there's no wlan0 any more. This really isn't impressive ...

Steve said...

Well, the 32-bit version I just installed suffers from exactly the same problem. What distribution have the people who got this to work out of the box been using?

Something seems very screwy here ...

Steve said...

One interesting piece of information is that the M6300 appears to have been released with at least two different wireless cards. Some people have the M6300 Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG internal network card. I have a Dell card with the Broadcom BCM4328 chip set in it.

This may explain why some people have no issues and others (like me) end up running screaming into the night.

J. said...

I have an M6300 as well, got it through the LTI program (you sound like the same Steve Holden I know), and I ran into the same problem. The wireless card is an option, and I don't think Dell has any alternatives for you other than the one made by the dweebs at Widearsecom. Unfortunately, that means Ubuntu goes out the door, as I don't have days to waste chasing down solutions to what should be a very simple autoconfiguration issue.

Steve said...

@J: Yes, it was sourced through the program you mention. Do you know any distro that will run the wireless card out of of the box or nearly so? I am certainly not spending days on this, as I don't have the time.

Steve said...

I just wanted to report that in Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic) I simply had to add the proprietary driver and wireless networking started straight away.

I don't like having to use proprietary stuff, but kudos to the Ubuntu developers for getting this to work so seamlessly despite BroadCom's unsupportive approach to open source.