[conspire] Prism wireless chipsets

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Sat Feb 28 09:29:44 PST 2004

1.  CABAL meeting today, 4 PM, Menlo Park!

2.  People who have or are contemplating acquiring wireless cards may 
find the e-mails below interesting.  I didn't know about the
firmware-download issue until this came up.

 From rick Thu Feb 26 21:49:31 2004
 Date: Thu, 26 Feb 2004 21:49:31 -0800
 To: Lynn and Patrick <i_solutions at earthlink.net>
 Subject: Re: this weks installfest....

Quoting Lynn and Patrick (i_solutions at earthlink.net):

> I am a newby Linux user (SuSE 9.0 on a Sony Viao Laptop). and am
> having a problem or two getting my wireless card up and running as
> well as just not being too sure what I am doing. Is this the right
> place to come for a bit of help?

Certainly!  I'm flattered that you're going to be coming all the way
down from Sausalito.  We'll try to make sure it's useful for you.

Try this for me:  Insert your wireless card, then pen up a terminal
window, then type there the following commands.  (In the lines that
follow, don't type the first character -- the "#" or "$" -- which stands
for your shell's prompt character.)

$ su -

(That is the command by which you temporarily become the root user.)

# cardctl ident

(That queries the PCMCIA manager about the identity of any and all
PCMCIA cards currently in the machine.)

Please e-mail back to me whatever you hear back from that command.

> If so, what time and what should I bring?

4 PM or any time after that is fine.  I start yawning and glancing
meaningfully at the door at midnight.  ;->

Look forward to seeing you on Saturday.  (That's at my house in Menlo
Park, you do understand.)

Cheers,            There are only 10 types of people in this world -- 
Rick Moen          those who understand binary arithmetic and those who don't.
rick at linuxmafia.com

 Date: Fri, 27 Feb 2004 12:25:03 -0800
 From: Rick Moen <rick at linuxmafia.com>
 To: Patrick Stephens <i_solutions at earthlink.net>
 Subject: Re: Wireless card and linux

Quoting Patrick Stephens (i_solutions at earthlink.net):

> Thanks for your help. Here is what I get when I ID the card:
> linux:/home/pstephens # su-
> bash: su-: command not found
> linux:/home/pstephens # cardctl ident
> Socket 0:
>   product info: "Intersil", "ISL3890", "-", "-"
>   manfid: 0x000b, 0x3890
>   function: 254 ((null))
> Socket 1:
>   no product info available
> linux:/home/pstephens #
> It sees the card but doesn't access it. Is this a config problem?

That question is not exactly answerable as posed, so I'll have to
approach it indirectly.  (You might want to print out this e-mail and
bring it with you.  If it seems to ramble, it's because I'm researching
your problem in real time, while writing this mail.  Please realise that
I've never tried to set up support for your particular card, before.)

Drivers for any OS get developed, fundamentally, for particular
_chipsets_, so the most relevant question when someone ask whether an OS
has a usable driver for some particular piece of hardware is "What's its
chipset?"  Unfortunately, because most computer users have no idea what
that term means, asking them that question will generally garner you a
glazed expression at best, or more often some other data that the user
happens to have but that is not the chipset identity (such as some
manufacturer's make and model number).

Happily, the command I had you carry out with root authority ("cardctl
ident") causes your Linux system to query the hardware directly for its 
burned-in identification strings, which include the underlying chipset's
manufacturer (Intersil Corporation) and chipset identity (ISL3890).

(If this were a PCI card we were talking about, the analogous command is
"lspci", i.e., list to screen all PCI identifying information, by
querying the PCI-controller chip and dumping everything it returns to
the screen.  You might want to do that, feeding the result through a
pager filter like "less", e.g., "lspci | less".)

Thus, we have an answer to the first and most-important question:  Your
PCMCIA card is based on an ISL3890 chipset.

The next question is what, if any, drivers exist for t he ISL3890.  Like
any sensible person, I use Google for that:  Search for "ISL 3890 driver
Linux".  That takes us to, among other places, http://prism54.org/

I'm guessing, from looking at that Web site, that the ISL3890 is from
the general family of Intersil chips called the "Prism" family, and
that Intersil's marketing department calls it either the "Prism GT" or
"Prism Duette".  I can't tell which of these you have:  The "GT" differs
from the "Duette" in lacking compatibility with the 802.11a standard. 
Both, on the other hand, will do 802.11b and 802.11g.

I'm guessing that the GT is the PCI-format card, and that Duette is the
name for the PCMCIA/Cardbus-format one.  Therefore, I'm guessing that
your ISL3890-based card is, technically speaking, based on what Intersil
Marketing would call a "Prism Duette" chipset.

You could, if you like, chip in (pun not intended) any time with
information you might have at hand that casts light on this situation,
e.g., stuff written on the face of the card or in documentation you
received with it.  Remember:  You have those, and I don't.

Here's a list of makes and models of Prism cards that the Prism54
Project knows about:  http://prism54.org/supported_cards.php
Do you happen to know if any of those is yours?

There's something about the driver needing to download firmware files to
the card, here:  http://prism54.org/~mcgrof/firmware/  That page also
clarifies that Intersil doesn't exist any more, having been bought out
by Globespanvirata, which then was bought out by Conexant.

Various pages on the http://prism54.org/ site, including the readme
page, clarify that the site concerns a Linux driver for Prism GT and
Duette chipsets, and that its name is "prism54".  That driver appears to
be genuine open source, other than the distribution-restricted,
binary-only firmware file described on (and downloadable from)
http://prism54.org/~mcgrof/firmware/ .

So, leaving aside the (unlikely) possibility that _other_ Linux drivers
besides prism54 _also_ support your card, looks like there are two
remaining (major) questions:

1.  Does SUSE 9.0 include the prism54 driver?  (If not, how do we add

2.  Does SUSE 9.0 include the blasted, annoying binary firmware file?
(If not, how do we add it?)

Looking on http://prism54.org/cgi-bin/cvsweb/prism54-ng/README?rev=HEAD 
(the site's "readme" page), one sees an answer to both questions:

 Suse 9.0:
 Grab the firmware.agent file from http://prism54.org/~hvr/firmware.agent
 Put it into /etc/hotplug
 chmod +x /etc/hotplug/firmware.agent
 The driver works with the standard Suse kernel (2.4.21-99)

So, looks like you have absolutely everything you need other than that
restricted-distribution firmware file, which SUSE didn't include because
it lacked the legal right to distribute it.

I think that's all we'll need to make it work -- and you can now probably
do that from home, without the need to drive to Menlo Park, if you want.
On the other hand, you're certainly most welcome to join us.

Cheers,                   The cynics among us might say:   "We laugh, 
Rick Moen                 monkeyboys -- Linux IS the mainstream UNIX now!
rick at linuxmafia.com       MuaHaHaHa!" but that would be rude. -- Jim Dennis

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