Wednesday Oct 24, 2007

Tried version 0.6 of the ath wifi driver?

I was playing around with installing Nevada b75a last night on my Toshiba Satellite M115-S1064. Yepp, that's the $449 Fry's laptop I got sometime around last Christmas which I mentioned has funky wireless last week in my blog about the lower cost wifi cards.

Most everything works on this laptop, and at 6lbs and wide screen, it's not the lightest, but it one of the cheapest and gets the job done. A problem since the summit that had been bugging me was to check for the latest and greatest atheros wifi drivers. I was checking the MadWifi website recently and swore I saw a table that said the new PCIe Atheros 5006 wifi chip was now working fine on Linux. I was wondering if that update had trickled in during the last few months in a beta driver on the site. I was still running an older b70b Nevada on the M115 so I last night, I finally got around to kicking off a fresh install which completed, but struck out on the wifi. But I recalled something one of the Beijing engineers said in an email recently, which mentioned that the OpenSolaris site gets driver updates much more frequently than Nevada or Solaris 10. So I went and checked. And since the end of August, almost 2 months ago, the Sun China Wifi team contributed ath v0.6. And after uninstalling (pkgrm SUNWatheros) on my b75a, I pkgadd'ed the new SUNWatheros v0.6 and magically, the new chip is recognized, plumbs, and hooks up with WEP onto my home 802.11 network. Thanks guys/gals!

So those drivers in the formal distros might be bundled months after the actual beta driver has been posted and downloadable from OpenSolaris.ORG. I'm not sure how Project Indiana will merge the conflicts between beta drivers that give early access, and the formal distros that meet higher quality standards. And to make things worse, if you run "strings ath | grep -i ver" on the atheros driver binary, the formal one that ships with Nevada b75a said version 1.3. But if you run the same command on the OpenSolaris contributed and unbundled driver, you get version 0.6.

But I'm certain there's quite a lot of overlap in the QA/Testing suites for drivers that get contributed to OpenSolaris versus the ones that get bundled into Nevada and later S10. But clearly, even the contributed beta drivers seem to have been tested with many of the same suites that the official versions go through. So it's worth a try to keep checking.

But kudos again the Sun China wifi driver team. Wow! It's working beautifully. I'm hooked in now and writing this blog from that laptop using my home wifi net complete with WEP key support.

Also the Toshiba M115-S1064 had issues with strange noises coming from the HD audio codec. I'm not sure, but maybe they this was due to some host signal processing or "soft codec" being used with the ATI SB450 chipset. It does have a compliant Intel HD Audio "azalea" controller. I tried hacking around the opensolaris audiohd source, but only made the noise worse and louder when playing anything.

But Open Sound System (OSS) came to the rescue again. I'll mention it again that OSS is from 4front Technologies ( and they've been doing cross Platform audio on UNIX for years. In fact, Dev Mazumdar, the head of OSS attended the Open Solaris summit in Santa Cruz. And he was in Menlo Park yesteday at Sun. I thought he lived in SoCal. Maybe he's finding shelter from the brutal fires and smoke down there. (Hope folks are breathing okay down there - this is always a bad time of year down in SoCal when the Santa Ana winds kick up and the dry summer has turned all the spring growth into kindling).

But I digress. The OSS download for Solaris is free and just requires renewal every 6 months. And it plays nice audio as well for this laptop where the shipping audiohd driver doesn't play properly.




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