- By Jeff Field -
My laptop came with Windows Millennium pre-installed. The first time I turned it on, I booted it from a Mandrake CD and wiped Windows from it, so when I purchase hardware for my laptop, it is important that it be Linux compatible. I recently needed to replace my network card, and so I looked for one that worked with Linux. What I found was the LinkSys PCM200 CardBus network adapter.
Since I purchased my laptop, I had used an older 10-megabit LinkSys EC2T PCMCIA NIC. The EC2T used a coupler/dongle for the network cable connection, meaning that the dongle had to be connected between the card and the cable. I started to have problems with the coupler connection becoming loose and disconnecting me from a network, and I had recently upgraded my home network to 100 megabit. Due to those two factors, I began to search for a Linux-supported 10/100 megabit CardBus card that did not use a coupler, but uses an Xjack instead. (An Xjack connector protrudes from the side of the CardBus card, sticks out about an inch from the laptop, and is permanently connected to the card.) The search led me to the LinkSys PCM200 card, based on the Tulip chipset, which had both 100-megabit support and an Xjack connector.
Installation and documentation
The documentation included with the card was extremely minimal, and what was included seemed Windows-focused. However, installation is very easy; you simply remove your old card and install the new one in the same spot. I did this, and connected the network cable. The first thing I noticed and enjoyed was that there was no flimsy coupler connector to deal with, meaning I could move my laptop without worrying about it disconnecting from the network.
The first time I booted it up with the new network card, Mandrake removed the EC2T and moved its network settings to the new PCM200. Once this was complete, the laptop booted into X with no problems. The installation was completely transparent, and I was impressed with both the card and with Linux for how easy this installation was.
For those who do not have some sort of hardware auto detection, you need to compile PCMCIA support and the tulip_cb module in order to support the card, a process which I outline below. Once you do this the card should work just as easily as it did for me under Mandrake.
Installing Cardbus support
In order to install PCMCIA support into your own custom-compiled kernel, first you must configure and compile a kernel with module support, preferably using a newer 2.4 kernel. There are many resources to tell you how to compile a kernel, and I will not go into that here. For more information on compiling a kernel, see the Linux.com Kernel HOWTO.
Once you have configured and compiled a kernel with support for the tulip_cb module, you need to download the PCMCIA Card Services package from pcmcia-cs.sourceforge.net. After you download the package, you should extract the package to the /usr/src directory, which will create a pcmcia-* directory, where * is the version. Once this is done, you need to change to that directory and run "make config," much like with a kernel, and go through the configure process. I suggest you take a look at the installation HOWTO in order to figure out which configuration options you need.
Once you configure the package, run "make all" followed by "make install," which will install the kernel modules and the configuration files (stored in the /etc/pcmcia directory). When this is done, you may have to configure various settings that depend specifically on the sort of PCMCIA/CardBus controller you have, which can be determined by the included probe utility. Last, you need to change the options for how the PCMCIA drivers will be loaded -- whether to load on startup or not, what parameters to pass to the card manager program, and various timing settings, dependent on which controller you have.
The LinkSys PCM200 is an excellent, low cost CardBus card for your Linux enabled laptop. I purchased the card for $55 from Computers4Sure.com and it arrived quickly with no trouble. Linux support was excellent and the card performed well, so if you are looking for a low cost 100 megabit CardBus card, look no further than the LinkSys EtherFast PCM200.