Monday, May 07, 2007


No, not the drink. The signal. It's all about the signal.

Nancy's mom's computer wasn't getting a reliable connection. The little Belkin 54G USB Network adapter I was using to get a signal was just not enough. It's a nice product, don't get me wrong, but the signals were too far away. Using the Windsurfer Parabolic Antenna helped, but not enough to get a reliable signal. I even tried placing the Adapter/Antenna combo in different places, putting it up high, and pointing it out the windows. I could get some access points, but not strong enough to get a DHCP address from them. But, the Darth Invictus side of me refused defeat.

The computer Mrs. Wayman was using was an older Compaq Celeron, 1.4 GHz, 512 meg ram, with a 40 GB Hard drive that kept claiming is was about to die (it's been doing that for two years now). In retrospect, this was much more computer than Mrs. Wayman really needed. She didn't need a fast computer, just one with a fast internet connection.

I took out a much older HP Pavilion, Celeron 633 MHz, 256 meg ram, 15 gig hard drive (Thanks Elaine!) and put in a WirelessG PCI card. I think it was a Belkin with the Broadcom bcm4306 chipset. I'm fairly sure that's the chipset, because using the bcm43xx-fwcutter utility on it got it working. I loaded Xubuntu 7.04 Feisty Fawn on it, and did a custom setup for Mrs. Wayman.

Once I got Xubuntu up and running, I tested the the wireless connectivity. Getting my own wireless signal was no problem; the access point was in the same room. Using WiFi Radar, I was able to get a signal from two nearby neighbors, but not strong enough to log-in. I attached this Hawking Technologies Hi-Gain WiFi Signal Booster, and was able to pick up 4 more signals.

Pretty strong too. Using the Windsurfer Antenna combined with the Signal Booster, I was able to pick up even ten more signals, all of them strong enough to log-on. A few were password protected, so only seven signals were actually available. Once again, Linksys and Default are still the USA's largest internet provider. Not only was the signal reliable, it was very fast. I couldn't really tell much difference in speed from my own connection. Maybe in the future, I'll do a speed test, and see what I get.

So, if you have a desktop computer and want to use a wireless solution (especially if you intend on borrowing your neighbors signal), the combination of a PCI card, the Hawking Technologies signal booster, and the Windsurfer Parabolic Antenna works very well. Out of all those things, the signal booster would be the most expensive. You can find cheap wireless cards, or if you join Free Cycle, you'll probably be able to get a free one. It's anyones guess which one works best with various linux distros. The one thing I would suggest adding to that combo is a longer antenna cable.

From what I read in WiFi forums, the Windsurfer Antenna is just as good as a Cantenna. Even though it's made out of a paper cut-out with tin foil on it, it's extremely effective. And free! The design is math based, and not just a rigged up, redneck engineer solution -even though such a thing usually works. They even have an interesting design for your home Wireless Router. Just as easy as the Windsurfer. I used the Windsurfer on my router, and it's working wonderfully. I'm not bother with it for now.

So far, Ubuntu and Xubuntu 7.04 Feisty Fawn have been somewhat of a disappointment for me. I had trouble installing it on my laptop (the temp error), and Xubuntu on Mrs. Wayman's new setup has some issues; I can't open a terminal. If I try to open a terminal, the screen goes blank, then after the hard drive whirrllss a bit, it restarts the desktop. I can get to a terminal if I log in only to that, and not to the Xubuntu Desktop, but can't open one normally. Weird. It might be something specific to that computer. I'll find out this weekend. I'm setting up three new donations with Xubuntu.

As far as Wireless goes, I'm interested in trying out another Hawking solution I saw:
Evidently, this little USB Network adapter works out-of-the-box in Ubuntu. The external Antenna can be removed, and add additional antenna boosting. This looks promising for helping people have internet access.

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