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This writeup covers the various ways to connect a pre-Airport Macintosh PowerBook to an 802.11b network. All iBooks and non-black-colored PowerBooks have built in Airport (Apple's name for 802.11b) antennas. Airport cards sold by Apple have no antenna - they use the internal antenna - and thus do not work on black (1) PowerBooks - it is not possible to pick up a signal without an antenna. (2) Quosqous has noted that the year 2000 PowerBook G3 (Firewire) has a built in Airport antenna. Oops. It was so easy to just divide them into black and non-black PowerBooks. Oh well. From this point on, read "black PowerBooks" as "black PowerBooks except the PowerBook G3 (Pismo). Except that everything that is stated here is still applicable to the Pismo - one just needs to use the external PC Card slot. Why would one do this? The most notable reason is for better reception and being able to attach an external antenna.

Most sales of 802.11b pc cards are to pc users. And most 802.11b pc cards sold to Mac users are of the Airport flavor - they are for use in the newer notebooks. Thus, there is very little demand for a company to write MacOS drivers for their 802.11b pc card. This leaves the PowerBook user with the problem - they have a decent computer, but no easy way to connect to a wireless network.(3) The following are some solutions to this problem.

USB

It's a sort of bad kludge, but one could use a usb 802.11b device. The problem with this is that it makes for another thing to carry around in the laptop bag, and also make it difficult to hold the computer on your lap. Additionally, the only black PowerBooks to ship with USB were the Lombard and Pismo. If you already have a usb pc card installed, this might be an idea. Maybe.

Hardware Hacks

This is an example of a hardware solution to a software problem.

Apple sells a good Airport card (purportedly just a rebranded Orinoco card) but this card has no antenna - it relies on (and must be connected to) the internal antenna. But what to do if your PowerBook has no internal antenna? Put one in it!

A used antenna from an iBook costs about US$40. With a bit of manipulation, it can be fit in many black PowerBook screens. Drill a small hole in the case and pull through the wire for the antenna to connect to the Airport pc card. Presto! Airport without having to find a supported card.

This appears to be an interesting idea - especially as it would give the user the joys of wireless networking without the an external antenna hanging outside the computer, waiting to be broken off - but it is expensive. At US$100 for an Airport card, plus another US$40 for the antenna, and the time it would take to install the antenna, this is far more expensive than any 802.11b card on the market today. (4) Cool hardware hack, though.

Off the shelf pc cards

Yes, they do exist.

Most common are the Lucent/WaveLan/orinoco/Farallon(5)/whatever other name they happen to be going by today. The cards work well, include drivers for MacOS 8, 9, and X, and are reasonably priced. The "gold" version (128 bit encryption) costs about US$75, the "silver" version (64 bit encryption), about US$60.

I am currently using the Orinoco Gold card and it works like a dream - the range is far better than that of most other cards, and it is supported directly using Apple's AirPort drivers.

Some Mac specialty retailers have house brand 802.11b cards with drivers for MacOS. They generally cost about the same or a little less than the orinoco cards. The ones I have seen have antennas that are shaped differently from the orinoco antennae, so they are most likely not merely rebranded cards. One of these is MacWireless (www.macwireless.com).

If you know of any other brand name 802.11b cards that are directly supported (either with drivers supplied by the manufacturer or using Apple's Airport drivers) I'd really like to know.

A software solution to a software problem

ioXperts(6) offers a driver, for US$20, that supports most 802.11b cards currently in production, for MacOS 9 and X. Cards supported include:(7) (Note that some of these cards are supported by drivers shipped with the card.)

  • Addtron AWP-100 IEEE 802.11 DS 11Mbps PCMCIA Card
  • Agere Systems
    • Orinoco Gold
    • Orinoco Silver
  • Alvarion BreezeNET PC-DS.11b
  • Asante
    • AeroLAN Wireless Adapter PCMCIA (AL1011 Rev A)
    • AeroLAN Wireless Adapter PCMCIA (AL1011 Rev B)
  • Avaya Wireless PC Card
  • Belkin Wireless Notebook Network Card (some, Prism based)
  • Buffalo Wireless/Melco
    • 11 Mbps Wireless LAN AirStation CompactFlash Card (WLI-CF-S11G)
    • 11 Mbps Wireless LAN AIRCONNECT PC Card (WLI-PCM-L11)
    • 11 Mbps Wireless LAN AIRCONNECT PC Card (WLI-PCM-L11G)
    • 11 Mbps Wireless LAN AirStation PC Card (WLI-PCM-L11GP)
  • Compaq
    • WL100
    • WL110
  • D-Link
    • 11 Mbps Wireless CF Card (DCF-650W)
    • 11 Mbps PC Card Wireless Adapter (DWL-650) (not Cardbus)
  • Dell Truemobile 1150 mini-PCI Wireless PCMCIA Nic Card for Notebooks
  • Digicom Palladio Wave PC Card (8E4084)
  • Elecom Air@Hawk LD-WL11/PCC
  • ELSA AirLancer MC-11
  • EnGenius EL-2511 CD Plus Wireless PCMCIA Card
  • Enterasys/Cabletron
    • 11 Mbps High Speed Radio Card
    • RoamAbout 802.11 DS
  • HP 11Mbps Wireless LAN PC Card hn220w
  • IBM High Rate Wireless LAN PC Card 128 (09N9904)
  • Intel PRO/Wireless 2011
  • IO Data
    • WN-B11/PCM
    • WN-B11/PCMH
  • KRONE Communications Limited AirLAN 11Mbps Wireless LAN PC Card (6462 2 119-00)
  • Linksys
    • WPC11 Instant Wireless Network PC Card (v1.0)
    • WPC11 Instant Wireless Network PC Card (v2.5)
    • WPC11 Instant Wireless Network PC Card (v3.0)
  • Lucent
    • WaveLAN Gold*
    • WaveLAN Silver*
  • Milan ShAir Office 11Mbps PCMCIA Client Adapter (MIL-1897)
  • MMC Technology Wavecast (MW-1000PCM)
  • NEC Aterm WL11C (PC-WL/11C)
  • Netgear
    • MA401
    • MA401RA
  • Nokia
    • C110 Wireless LAN Card
    • C111 Wireless LAN Card
  • Proxim/Farallon Skyline 802.11b PC Card for Notebooks
  • Samsung
    • MagicLAN SWL-2100N
    • MagicLAN SWL-2000N
  • Senao SL-2511 CD Plus Wireless PCMCIA Card
  • Sitecom Wireless Network PC Card (WL-002)
  • SMC EZ Connect 11Mbps Wireless PC Card (SMC2632W)
  • Sony
    • VAIO Wireless LAN Card (PCWA-C100)
    • VAIO 2.4GHz Wireless LAN PC Card (PCWA-C150S)
  • Toshiba Wireless LAN PC Card
  • US Robotics 11 Mbps Wireless Access PC Card*
  • Yamaha Wireless LAN Card YML-11B5
  • Z-Com
    • XI-300 IEEE 802.11(b) PCMCIA card
    • XI-300B IEEE 802.11(b) PCMCIA card
  • Zoom ZoomAir PC Card with Internal Antenna Model 4100

Notes
1) WEP doesn't work on the Intel PRO/Wireless 2011.
2) Listing available networks doesn't work on the US Robotics 11 Mbps Wireless Access PC Card without updated firmware.
3) Users of Lucent cards with Mac OS 9, will need to disable the "Airport PC Card" extension.

ioXperts supports their driver on the:

  • PowerBook 2400 (Mac OS 8-9 only)
  • PowerBook 3400 (Mac OS 8-9 only)
  • PowerBook G3 (all models)
  • PowerBook G4 (all models)

The following cards do not work:

  • Belkin Wireless Notebook Network Card (some, Atmel based)
  • Cisco
    • Aironet 340 PC Card
    • Aironet 350 PC Card
  • D-Link
    • D-LinkAir 2.4GHz High-Performance Wireless PC Card (DWL-650H)
    • D-LinkAir 2.4GHZ Wireless Carbus Adapter (DWL-650)
  • SMC EZ Connect 11Mbps Wireless PC Card (SMC2632W v.2)

This seems like a nice solution, if you got a really good deal on a good 802.11b card. But most of the time, good 802.11b cards cost the same, about US$70-80 - it doesn't seem reasonable to pay that much for a card and then pay another US$20 for the drivers when you could pay US$70-80 and get the orinoco card with drivers.

A half hour, free trial is available, reset each time the computer is restarted. US$20 pays for a key for one MAC address - and they are specific to the address, so you can't make copies of the driver for all your closest friends.(8)

Conclusion

These are most of 802.11b solutions for the black PowerBooks. I am sure there are a few more, but these are the most mainstream. Additions (or stacks of pc cards to test) are welcomed.

1. Black is just describing color - I am speaking of all the older PowerBooks - those with cases made of black plastic, instead of that titanium or funny colored plastic that Apple has used of late. Do you really have a better term?
2. Ok, so it is possible to pick up a tiny bit of a signal without an antenna, but there really isn't much point in only being able to use a computer right next to the 802.11b base station - it would be much cheaper to just use ethernet, especially as most of the newer black PowerBooks have ethernet on motherboard.
3. Except IrDA, of course, which Apple included on a surprising number of machines. But who actually uses that, anyway?
4. I know that by saying this, someone will send me the url of an even more expensive card. But it isn't likely. But why?
5. Farallon is now part of Agere (the manufacturer of orinoco hardware, and a spin-off of Lucent)? Funny, I didn't know that either. But their url redirects to Agere, it seems. Their old cards will also work.
6. www.ioxperts.com
7. Copied directly from their web site, http://www.ioxperts.com/devices_80211b.html.
8. Until someone comes up with a crack, of course.

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