"most" Atheros wifi cards work?



  • Hi all,

    I blindly trusted the multiple claims that "most" Atheros wifi cards work best with pfsense and got a Compex WLM200NX with AR9220. Well, stupid me.
    Afterwards I found this http://forum.pfsense.org/index.php/topic,37450.0.html and multiple other threads that report issues with other Atheros cards.
    So, wouldn't it make sense to put the optimistic claims about Atheros support in general into perspective?
    I'd be happy to add cards/chips that don't work with pfsense 2.0 into the list at http://doc.pfsense.org/index.php/Supported_Wireless_Cards but it seems access is restricted. Could someone with access pls. do?



  • As always when bying new HW to machine you should check how it does work together with another components and how OS is going to support it. Easiest part is to check supported hardware with next google search: freebsd 8.1 supported hardware list

    this is really easy with freebsd, because this kind of lists are created and maintained. I've had few times with windows machines these kinds of problems and was there any help?? No..



  • "most" != "all". Most do work, and most implies you should check before you buy something because it's not "all."

    I don't see anything that says anything incorrect, nothing says your card would work and nothing says every Atheros card will work.



  • Well, thanks for your kind replies. Of course I had checked http://www.freebsd.org/releases/8.1R/hardware.html#WLAN before. It says

    The ath(4) driver supports all Atheros Cardbus and PCI cards, except those that are based on the AR5005VL chipset.

    Sounds pretty bold, doesn't it? The atheros.com link on the same page is dead btw.

    Similarly,  the ath man page claims:

    most all (sic!) chips with a PCI and/or CardBus interface are supported.

    So,  information on the most prominent places is not very helpful. I think I just proposed to make the existing pfsense 2.0 hardware list a little more useful regarding Atheros. But if you all think it's fine as it is, so be it. Sorry for any inconvenience.



  • Hardware support is a difficult area for open source software. Support statements true when they were written can become untrue when new chipsets are released. Among WiFi devices, some suppliers will change the chipset used in a device without changing the model name and number. For example, a particular Linksys device might have a Ralink chipset, or a TI chipset or a Realtek chipset. Some chipset suppliers provide programming information, others don't. Linux seems to have many more device driver developers than FreeBSD in that there are a number of WiFi chipsets supported in Linux that aren't supported in FreeBSD. Open source driver developers don't necessarily have a big range of devices available to them for testing so a small difference in behaviour in one member of a chipset family can result in a bug that goes unnoticed for a long time and unreported to an appropriate developer for an even longer time.

    I now suggest that people buying WiFi devices for use in FreeBSD or pfSense are probably best served by asking their supplier for a device that will work with the version of FreeBSD they want to use. If the supplier is not prepared to recommend a device then check their return policy - will they take back a device that might work happily in Windows or Linux but not with the particular FreeBSD version in use.

    I appreciate your desire to be helpful. It is not clear at this stage whether you have found a driver bug or a support statement that should now list an additional exception. As a first step in resolving that please provide the output of the pfSense command pciconf -l -v so we know a bit more about the chipset in your particular device. In time it would probably be worthwhile to submit a FreeBSD bug report, but lets get more information about your device and the nature of your problem first.

    As well as the problem reported in http://forum.pfsense.org/index.php/topic,37450.0.html I am aware of some Atheros cards working with encryption disabled but not when WPA2 is enabled. What is the specific nature of your problem?



  • Thanks, wallabybob.
    I see your point about HW support in OSes that get little attention  by HW vendors. You are right about checking with the dealer first.
    The output of  pciconf -l -v for the card is:

    ath0@pci0:0:12:0: class=0x028000 card=0x2096168c chip=0x0029168c rev=0x01 hdr=0x00    class      = network

    The effects are exactly the same as described in http://forum.pfsense.org/index.php/topic,37450.0.html :  AR9220 chip detected as AR9280, "unable to reset hardware; hal status 14" followed by multiple "unable to reset hardware; hal status 3". I think cmb is correct stating the chip is simply not supported in 8.1. This means the AR9220 could be added to the Ath "incompatibility" list forAR9220 pfsense 2.0.



  • FWIW I am using a D-Link DWA-556 (atheros) card in my pfsense 2.0.1 amd64 box as a wep client and it works fine.



  • New hardware comes all the time so that statement would only be correct at the time of writing. A better statment would be that all Atheros ABG (non N) cards work.
    The N cards are hit and miss, atleast untill the base OS is FreeBSD 9.X.



  • Which N card (if any) is supported in current Developmental pfSense 2.1?
    If there is none, which G card is the most recommended that currently works with pfSense 2.1?

    Thanks,



  • @torontob:

    Which N card (if any) is supported in current Developmental pfSense 2.1?

    There is no support for N features in 2.1. I have good results with a Tenda W311U (USB, allegedly "N capable") operating as an AP but I have seen reports that some cards using the same chipset don't work well in Infrastructure mode in some 2.x - I don't know about Infrastructure mode on 2.1 specifically.



  • Wallybob:

    • There is no "N" support period? I have seen 802.11n and 802.11ng on the list to select the mode.
    • Is this a USB stick? (I think that is a better option than using an internal card.)
    • Alix2D13 has two USB ports. Can I use two of these sticks on the same board? One as AP, and one in Infrastructure mode?
    • I am also wondering if there is any other stick that can support multiple AP and Infrastructure mode from the same device.

    Thanks



  • @torontob:

    • There is no "N" support period? I have seen 802.11n and 802.11ng on the list to select the mode.

    Interesting! I'm running pfSense 2.1-DEVELOPMENT (i386)
    built on Fri Mar 23 20:46:50 EDT 2012
    FreeBSD 8.3-RC2

    with a supposedly "N capable" device but the only modes offered in the the web GUI are 802.11b and 802.11g.

    My understanding is that some N capable devices are supported but only in "G compatible" mode which I imagine would include restrictions like unable to report "N only" speeds, unable to set "N only" channel widths, unable to restrict association to N capable devices etc.

    @torontob:

    • Is this a USB stick? (I think that is a better option than using an internal card.)

    The Tenda W311U is a USB stick.

    @torontob:

    • Alix2D13 has two USB ports. Can I use two of these sticks on the same board? One as AP, and one in Infrastructure mode?

    I haven't tried using two sticks in the same motherboard but I have no reason to believe it wouldn't be capable of working "to some extent". However I would seriously question the wisdom of having two independent WiFi sticks close together: Each stick will be "yelling" into the adjacent sensitive receiver, probably making it quite difficult to detect signals from more distant sources. I have seen online USB sticks which probably use the same chipset as the W311U but with connectors for an external antenna. I have no experience with them at all, let alone with attempting to have them use only an external antenna. (The antenna socket would allow connection of a directional antenna which could direct the transmitted wireless signal away from the adjacent device - which may or may not suit the intended equipment locations.)

    @torontob:

    • I am also wondering if there is any other stick that can support multiple AP and Infrastructure mode from the same device.

    A number of the Atheros chipsets with PCI like interfaces (not the USB chipsets) are reported as capable of running more than one AP on the one device. I don't know if these are capable on FreeBSD of acting as AP and in Infrastructure mode concurrently.

    Some of the Atheros chipsets used in commodity routers appear to be capable of acting as an AP and in Infrastructure mode concurrently, for example as  a wireless relay under OpenWRT.

    I find it difficult to make recommendations on WiFi devices. I have good service from the devices I am using but they are all no longer available from retailers near me. The PCI devices seem to have been superseded and people have reported serious problems with the replacement models. The Tenda W311U seems to still be a current model BUT no longer stocked by retailers near me. I have no need to purchase new WiFi equipment so have no incentive to try out newer gear. Also, people have reported serious problems (panics) when attempting to put a device using the same chipset as the Tenda W311U into Infrastructure mode so I am cautious about recommending the Tenda for use in Infrastructure mode.



  • Thanks for the details wallabybob. Much appreciated.

    I think there has been a surge of people asking for Wireless devices compatible with pfSense. With IPv6 being supported in future release, I think wireless is the weakest point in pfSense now and much need. All other comparable open-source projects do better than pfSense in this area. Partly because of keeping up with the OS updates. I think everyone runs pfSense on pretty good hardware as it's dear to us all but more and more people are deploying it at home and wondering why no proper wireless on it?!

    If anyone else has had good luck in both AP and Infrastructure mode or at least in Infrastructure mode please post it here. I am desparately looking for a USB stick or mini PCI(x) card that supports it.

    Thanks



  • @torontob:

    Partly because of keeping up with the OS updates.

    No, largely because FreeBSD is so far behind on wireless drivers. Now that Atheros has hired Adrien, one of the guys who was doing a lot of work on it to begin with, that should improve greatly. FreeBSD 9.0 is a tad better with that, but it's such a mess with a number of other things we're far more dependent on than wireless that it doesn't matter, we can't fix its issues in a timely manner, and 2.1 will be released in May. We stick with what's best for the vast majority of uses, wireless is a tiny fraction of users. And it wouldn't matter if wireless did work if 10 other things required for a functional firewall didn't. We don't stay a bit behind the most current releases because we don't care about updating or don't want to, we use the releases that are the best fit for our users' purposes at that time.


  • Rebel Alliance Developer Netgate

    The wireless N bits in the GUI are there because there is a Marvell wireless card (I have one, using the mwl driver) that supports the N protocols but not N speed rate control. So it's perfectly valid on that card to set it up for N, and it works fine, but will never attain more than G speeds.



  • @jimp:

    The wireless N bits in the GUI are there because there is a Marvell wireless card (I have one, using the mwl driver) that supports the N protocols but not N speed rate control. So it's perfectly valid on that card to set it up for N, and it works fine, but will never attain more than G speeds.

    Thanks for the explaination Jimp. What is the model of this Marvell card? Also, does work fine in both AP and Infrastructure mode?

    Best


  • Rebel Alliance Developer Netgate

    The card is a Marvell 88W8363. I got a couple off eBay a year or two ago for something like $5-10 each when I saw the mwl driver was doing N already, only to find out about the lack of rate control after I already had them. It supports multi-WAP and multi-Infrastucture, though I did not try those myself (one of the other Devs did). It was supposed to support up to 16 VAPs where the Atheros cards only did 4, but I think in practice it was limited to 8. So you could have 8 APs and 8 client instances all running off that one card.

    Not sure how well that works in actual production, but with limited testing the results were positive.



  • Thanks, very interesting. I have been jumping up and down all over the forum to find a list of working hardware (specially with multiple WAP support but couldn't find any).

    I think it would server right, if a wiki page or a sticky was posted to show the list of current supported hardware with status "Full Support" or "Partial Support".


  • Rebel Alliance Developer Netgate

    That's what the spreadsheet is for.
    There are tons of models listed on the second tab.

    But if people want to submit known working chips/models, I'll add them.


  • Netgate Administrator

    Do you know the card model is?
    WikiDevi lists only 1 miniPCI card with that chip.

    Steve


  • Rebel Alliance Developer Netgate

    No, I don't know the model, the only number anywhere on it that I remember is the chip. Searching on that gives 4-5 results on eBay still though.



  • On my cards, I had to make a change to the driver source like the patch on this ticket I posted to get multi-AP mode to actually be useful: http://redmine.pfsense.org/issues/1104
    Without that, every AP on the card gets the same BSSID, which makes it impossible to connect to all but one of the hosted APs.



  • @torontob:

    I think there has been a surge of people asking for Wireless devices compatible with pfSense […] All other comparable open-source projects do better than pfSense in this area.

    I'm sorry, but this bit made me smile.  I initially attempted to set up my router-firewall-box as a SmoothWall box, because I'd had prior experience with SmoothWall.  When I went on their forums and asked about wireless support, I literally got laughed at.

    Back to the topic at hand, if anyone's looking for a wireless Mini PCI-e card to work with their pfSense box, I can recommend the Atheros AR5BXB92 (AR9280 chipset).  It can be had for $15 on eBay, comes in a half-card format for those using book-size systems like myself, and is quite literally plug-and-play.  I plugged it into my box, booted up, logged into the web interface, added a new LAN interface, and the LAN interface popped in, already pointed at ath0.  From there, I just had to configure the LAN interface with the appropriate wireless parameters (SSID, encryption, etc) and was off and running.



  • If you are comparing to a project like OpenWrt, pfSense is definitely lacking in some wireless features compared to it (802.11n is the most mentioned one, but there are some other things lacking).  OpenWrt is actually a quite capable system with support for lots of different configuration types.  While I don't like how some of its configuration screens are set up in the web GUI, there are also some I do like the way they are set up (in trunk version).  The differences in wireless (at least on ath) may become less in the pfSense version after 2.1, which is probably when the new FreeBSD wireless code will get included.  I don't think it will be available for 2.1, unfortunately.



  • I would consider SmoothWall, IPCop, and the like to be more "comparable" products; full-featured firewall distributions that run on standard x86 architecture.  Of these products, I've found pfSense to have some of the best wireless support.

    OpenWRT and its kin are designed for embedded systems and (to my knowledge) can't be run on an x86 box, so comparing them to pfSense… well maybe it's not quite apples and oranges, but it's at least apples and pears.


  • Netgate Administrator

    You can run openwrt and dd-wrt on X86.
    http://downloads.openwrt.org/backfire/10.03.1-rc6/x86_generic/

    I've used it for experimental purposes.

    Steve



  • Last I had tried SmoothWall or IPCop (I'll admit it was a while ago), neither had the kinds of NAT or firewall options that pfSense or OpenWrt have.  That it has x86 support and features overall somewhat comparable to pfSense (especially with some of the optional OpenWrt packages) is why I was comparing it to pfSense.  Note that one thing it does not have is AMD64 support - likely there is little interest in running OpenWrt on computers with lots of memory.

    btw, OpenWrt is officially with that capitalization now, not OpenWRT, just for reference.



  • I'm sorry, but this bit made me smile.  I initially attempted to set up my router-firewall-box as a SmoothWall box, because I'd had prior experience with SmoothWall.  When I went on their forums and asked about wireless support, I literally got laughed at.

    You probably didn't really look or tested other opensource projects. There are few that do much better than pfSense in wireless department but again pfSense is my choice and I want it to better - no wait, be the BEST. It's important to compare feature by feature and not overall or other features when deciding at enhancements. Anyhow….minor details are not important.

    Have you tried the Atheros AR5BXB92 with multiple AP and Infrastructure modes? Can you please post what is the maximum of each supported? By the way, is this the a/b/g/n card like this one:
    http://www.ebay.ca/itm/Apple-Atheros-AR9280-AR5BXB92-802-11AGN-Mini-Pci-e-Wifi-300Mbp-dual-band-N-card-/250915087322?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item3a6bb463da#ht_3406wt_1185

    Jimp: The card you were referring to is this one?:
    http://www.ebay.ca/itm/Marvell-88W8363-Mini-PCI-Wireless-Card-300Mbps-802-11N-/230614780239?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item35b1b6494f#ht_2033wt_986

    ^^^^ Seems like a Chinese replica if I am not wrong.


  • Rebel Alliance Developer Netgate

    Yeah that's the card. Mine came on the slow boat from China but it did work. Looked like the two I got were system pulls, not "new" knock-offs.



  • The cards listed here with same chip have an extra 2nd chip as well. What does that mean? Would that be a problem if I opt for one from Apple, Samsung, CyberTAN, or Buffalo. All show no drivers for Linux.

    Thanks


  • Rebel Alliance Developer Netgate

    Not sure really, I just grabbed two that had the 88W…. chip and they were both OK, though I don't have any in production.


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