USB WiFi adapter?
September 7, 2012 10:16 AM   Subscribe

I think I need to get a USB WiFi adapter. Any recommendations? (Bonus points if it also provides a USB port on its other end. Additional information inside, including, perhaps, a question about drivers.)

This laptop (2008 Mac Book Pro running XP SP3 with an internal "Broadcom 802.11n Network Adapter") has always had problems with its WiFi card, with the card or driver periodically failing completely and coming back up a minute or two later. During the failure period audio playback seems to stutter. After (or during) a failure period, attempting to disable or "repair" the card/driver usually results in the computer freezing up completely and requiring a manual reboot. (I can safely disable the card/driver right after rebooting.)

I never bothered to fix the problem -- other than a fruitless attempt to update the driver a couple years ago -- since I was almost always using the computer within reach of an ethernet cable, but now I'm at least temporarily in a situation where running a cable isn't feasible.

So far I've just been dealing with the intermittance, but I think it's probably time to get a USB WiFi adapter.

Any recommendations? As mentioned above, it would be great if it also provided a USB port so I could plug other devices into that slot simultaneously, but if that makes for a huge price difference I might go with the cheaper one. (I think I have a USB hub somewhere.)

Alternatively, if it would work, I assume it might be possible to get a WiFi adapter that'll fit in the "ExpressCard" slot, but my googling thus far has suggested those may not work when booted into XP?

Lastly, if someone happens to have a reliable link to a more up-to-date driver to try installing, I'm game for trying that out. (An old discussion thread I found linked to a driver that was hosted by HP that reportedly worked, but following the link leads to a page that only lists Vista drivers now. It's also possible that the driver I'm currently using is as a result of following that link a couple years ago, but I'm not sure. I'm using driver version, with Device Manager reporting a date of September 2009, but with the .sys file having a February 2008 date modified stamp.)

Thanks for your help. Apologies for the scattered question here.
posted by nobody to Technology (8 answers total)
This guy is compatible in Mac or Windows and has the bits and bobs to get a good signal at range & clip onto the screen if so desired. May be a bit geek overkill though.

Have you tried wiping out the driver from device manager and installing the Apple driver pack?
posted by ijoyner at 1:17 PM on September 7, 2012

Oops, that was only for windows 7. This states XP compatibility.
posted by ijoyner at 1:18 PM on September 7, 2012

have you tried it in OS X? does it work there? if not, then your card may actually be out. that might be a not horrible difficult to fix thing - when you say 2008, do you mean your machine came out in 2008 (i.e. it's one of the unibody ones, like what they sell today) or that you bought it in 2008 (in which case it may be one of the older-style ones, with a silver keyboard)? if it's the latter, the AirPort Express (wireless) card in there is replaceable. it's a fairly pricy part to replace but it'd at least not take up your USB port. (the unibody machines appear to have it integrated. or, at least, I can't find the part for sale.)

updating the drivers is also a good idea; this is the driver pack that'll work with XP. (the one ljoyner linked only applies to Windows 7.)
posted by mrg at 1:58 PM on September 7, 2012

I'm running out the door, but:

Yeah, I'm pretty sure the WiFi card works perfectly fine in OS X (though it's been a while since I've had the need to put it through its paces on the OS X side).

I've downloaded the Bootcamp 3.2 updater, but unfortunately it requires 3.1, which requires 3.0, which Apple doesn't seem to have on their site for download. (It came with Snow Leopard, I think, and I never upgraded past Leopard. My Bootcamp version appears to be 2.2)

When I get home it probably makes sense to sift through the self-extracting executables for 3.2 and 3.1 to see if I can find a Broadcom driver in there to install manually?

And thanks for the recommendation, ijoyner, and also, mrg, for pointing me toward the replaceable internal card (though if it's a driver issue, I suppose that isn't worth doing).
posted by nobody at 2:27 PM on September 7, 2012

It really does seem like the issue is with the driver.

I found some corroborating evidence:
The Broadcom 802.11 Wireless drivers for the (BCM 4328) are unstable and often loose connection or freeze or stop working for no reason. The driver that causes this problem is version (20/09/2007) BCMWL5.SYS & bcmwlcoi.dll.

Update the Broadcom drivers to Broadcom 802.11 Wireless (5.10.91. (4322AG)

Broadcom 802.11 Wireless drivers must be force installed to 4322AG. You can do this after installation by using the device manager and updating the driver to 4322AG. These drivers are 'borrowed' from another Broadcom 802.11 Wireless device since an update for the BCM 4328 drivers are not available from Apple or Broadcom.
Unfortunately, I'm not sure where to get the 5.10.91 driver version. (Are the shady-seeming driver clearinghouse sites safe? I've always avoided them.) Nor am I sure what s/he's referring to by saying it needs to be "force installed to 4322AG."

(Oh, and the 3.2 and 3.1 Bootcamp updates don't seem to contain any relevant drivers, as far as I can tell.)

I'm sure I'll end up ordering the USB adapter, but it would be nice to fix it this way.
posted by nobody at 6:21 PM on September 7, 2012

For future reference, I found this page of seemingly relevant drivers hidden away on HP's site. I haven't tried using any yet.
posted by nobody at 4:25 AM on September 8, 2012

For my reference, in case I lose my notes, I've installed the driver from that page (because it was the next one after an official Microsoft cert. process; an earlier one possibly describes my problem, the Microsoft certified one talks about subsequently fixing a speed issue; the one after the one I'm trying mentions a crashing fix for 43224AG models and I'm assuming that's distinct from 4322AG), but I've downloaded a whole bunch of other ones to try, too. I installed it manually from the Wireless Network Connection's config window, pointed directly to the .sys file (with "have disk"), and then chose the 433AG sub-version (and ignored Windows' warning that it can't determine whether this driver is compatible with my hardware). It'll be a while before I can say for sure whether the problem has gone away, since it was an intermittent problem to begin with.
posted by nobody at 5:05 AM on September 8, 2012

I'm cautiously optimistic that this may have done the trick. A related issue -- that Chrome's new PPAPI version of its Flash plugin wouldn't work well/smoothly when wifi was enabled -- is now cleared up, it seems. Thanks again for pointing me in the right directions...
posted by nobody at 6:10 AM on September 8, 2012

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