Going Wireless: Using AirPort with non-AirPort Computers

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Date: Friday, September 7th, 2001, 12:14
Category: Archive

Apple, of course, would like you to buy a newer computer that’s AirPort-equipped. Some of us, however, are unable or unwilling to do so. In the meantime, what can you do to equip your older Mac for wireless access? Let’s look at the options, starting with the easiest going to the most difficult.

Apple, of course, would like you to buy a newer computer that’s AirPort-equipped. Some of us, however, are unable or unwilling to do so. In the meantime, what can you do to equip your older Mac for wireless access? Let’s look at the options, starting with the easiest going to the most difficult:

For the last five years, almost all of Apple’s Powerbooks have included one or two PCMCIA card slots. These slots have proven very useful for extending the functionality of these portable computers. There are two non-Apple 802.11b PCMCIA cards that will allow you to equip your older PowerBook for wireless access:

  • Proxim (formerly Farallon) Skyline PC card. An early adopter of the 802.11b standard, Farallon had wireless PCMCIA cards for sale almost the day Apple started shipping their base station.The SkyLine cards use their own software for enabling wireless connectivity on your Powerbook. The Skyline card provides 40-bit WEP encryption and sells for about $135.00.
  • Orinoco WaveLAN PC card. The biggest difference between the Proxim PC card and this card is that this one can use Apple’s AirPort software for connectivity. For this reason, it can be considered slightly more compatible, although in my experience, performance is the same. There are two models of this card–the Silver and the Gold. The Silver model provides 64-bit WEP encryption while the Gold card provides 128-bit WEP encryption. Silver is about $90.00. Gold is about $110.00.

Both of these PC cards include a small antenna and link/activity lights. I’ve successfully used both in the following PowerBooks: 1400, 2400, 3400, Wall street, Lombard.

EQUIPPING A PCI-BASED POWERMAC (e.g. Power Mac 8600, G3 Tower):
There is only one solution I know of for equipping a non-AirPort ready Power mac for wireless access.

  • Proxim makes a PCI-based card carrier that can equip any Power mac with PCI slots for wireless access. The PCI carrier is about $50.00.

I do not believe it is possible to put a Orinoco WaveLAN card into the Proxim PCI carrier. I’ve never tried this, but here’s my reasoning. I know that it’s not possible to drive a Proxim Skyline card with the AirPort software and likewise it’s not possible to drive a WaveLAN card with Farallon’s software. Were you to purchase a Proxim PCI carrier and put a WaveLAN card into it, I don’t think the Proxim wireless software would see it. Unfortunately I don’t have the hardware necessary to test this theory. If anyone knows for certain, I’d love to hear from you.

The reason you can’t put an Apple AirPort card into this carrier is because: A) it’s a repackaged WaveLAN card, and B) it doesn’t have an antenna.

Note that while Orinoco also makes a PCI-based card carrier, I could not find any documentation to determine if it is compatible with Mac OS.

The iMac was a ground-breaking design, but it is now sorely lacking in its ability to easily include it in a network, wirelessly. The iMac has no PCI slots, nor does it have a PCMCIA slot. There isn’t even a Firewire port to use a firewire expansion chassis. The only expansion slot the original iMac has is the mysterious mezzanine-slot, which is only in the first model iMac. The "five-color" iMacs do not sport a mezzanine slot. And the only expansion option ever created for the mezzanine slot was the now-defunct MicroConversions’ Voodoo 2 graphics card.

I’m afraid the only way a first generation iMac is going to be part of a wireless LAN is to make your LAN a mixed wired/wireless network.

If you’re going to be using Apple’s Airport software on an unsupported Mac, you’ll run into this little snafu: The AirPort software installer won’t allow you to install on a Mac without an AirPort card installed. The solution is to use a utility called TomeViewer to extract the necessary files from the AirPort installer tome. When browsing the AirPort installer tome to select which files to extract, you’ll only need to extract the three AirPort extensions and the AirPort Admin Utility, foregoing the several dozen included AppleScripts. Once extracted, drop the extensions into your System Folder, reboot, and the AirPort Admin Utility will work (with limitations) well enough for you to access and configure any AirPort Base Station connected to your network.

Controlling your base station from an unsupported computer was, for awhile, tough since Apple chose to put the toggle controls for dialing/disconnecting the Base Station in the AirPort software (not the Admin Utility), and the AirPort software would not run on a computer without an AirPort card installed. For instance, say you have a mixed wired/wireless network with a PowerBook with an AirPort card and an 8600 that is connected to a hub with standard ethernet cabling. Both computers share Internet access via the Base Station which dials up a local ISP. The PowerBook can easily connect/disconnect the Base Station’s signal using Apple’s AirPort software, but the 8600 is hobbled! Enter Larry Rosenstein’s excellent utility, AirPort Modem Utility. This is a simple but effective utility that will allow you to connect/disconnect the Base Station’s modem, from any computer. Invaluable.

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