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Installing a Linksys Expresscard/34 Wifi card on a MacBook Pro


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Today I installed a new wifi card on my MacBook Pro running Lion. It's an older machine (early 2008 according to coconutIdentityCard), and about six months ago the internal Airport card died.

Replacing the Airport card would have cost about $50, plus a bunch of labor that I simply don't feel confident doing myself. So I got one of those cheap Chinese wifi USB dongles (RaLink chipset). It worked well enough for a few months, but then I started to notice that it would get hot and freeze up if I tried to push more than few gigs of data through it, or if I ran it at full capacity for more than 30 minutes or so.

So I found an Expresscard/34 wifi card on Amazon.com. It turns out there is only one Expresscard34 ever built that supports 5GHz networks - the "Cisco-Linksys WEC600N Dual Band Wireless-N Ultra RangePlus Expresscard." I wasn't happy about using up my Expresscard slot since I use that quite heavily for an SDHC reader, but I'd rather have reliable wifi. Plus, Amazon has the card for $23, down from $87. I assume because the card is no longer made.

So why am I posting this here? Because I looked all over the interweb and couldn't find any instructions for using this card with a Mac laptop. My hope is that by posting this thread, other people in a similar situation might find it helpful.

The WEC600N is not designed for the Macintosh. It comes with a Windows installation CDROM full MSDOS/Windows drivers and paper instructions for using it with Vista and Windows 7 (not even XP!). But as we Mac people know, just because something doesn't mention Macintosh on the box doesn't mean it won't work.

I'm using Lion, but considering the age of this card it should work perfectly well in Leopard and Snow Leopard as well.

So here's the procedure:

1 - Stick the card in your Expresscard slot.

2 - Start or restart your computer. This will allow OSX to notice the card on startup. When it does, you will get the standard cardbus icon in the menu bar:

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3 - Open System Preferences

4 - Select Network

The card will be recognized by the computer as EN2 (ethernet port 2). This is fine for most people, but for me I already had a device assigned to EN2 -- my Clearwire WiMax dongle which I use when I'm not at home. So I created a new location for home and left the previous location for use when I'm out of the house.

5 - Create a new Location - From the Location drop-down menu, select Edit Locations. Click the + button and give your location a name. I went with "Home."

6 - Remove unused network interfaces - When I'm at home, I only ever use Ethernet, FireWire and Wifi for networking. By default, Lion will create these interfaces plus "Wi-Fi" which is the built-in Airport card, and "Wi-Fi 2" which is the Expresscard. Since we've already determined that the Airport card is not going to be used, select that interface and press - to remove it.

7 - Select Wi-Fi 2 and click the Turn Wi-Fi On button.

8 - Click the Apply button.

That's it! No drivers. No CDROM. Nothing special required.

The airport icon in the menu bar should light up and you can select whatever network you want to connect with.

If for some reason it doesn't work, select the Wi-Fi 2 interface and delete it (click the - button), then re-create it by clicking the + button and selecting "Wi-Fi (en2)" from the drop-down menu on the tearsheet. You can change the Service Name to anything you want. I chose "Expresscard." Then click Create. Then it's back to step 7.

The card is solid, stable, runs very cool, and so far seems reliable. Most importantly, it connects to my 5GHz network and moving files around and streaming TV shows it is quite fast.

I think the only difference between using this card on Windows and a Mac is that on Windows the lights do stuff. On the Mac the card has two blue lights that don't actually do anything like blink when stuff is happening. Maybe that's why the Windows people need a driver disc. Who knows.

Again, the reason I'm posting this here is so that anyone else in a similar situation and searching the internet might find some hope. Considering the current state of Google and Bing, technical information is hard to come by. When I searched, all I got back from both services was lots of places trying to sell me stuff. Nothing for people who already own things. Search engines are almost as worthless today as they were when they first started out in the 90's.

If anyone has any questions about the procedure, feel free to ask.

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