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What's the absolute minimum requirement for wireless access on a Mac?

An older laptop and a cheap PCMCIA card. Ebooks and Newtons also have PCMCIA WiFi drivers available.

The minumum I've ever heard of being successful as a client node is a External linkPowerbook 540, System 7.5.3, an Orinoco or co-branded PCMCIA card, and the Orinoco drivers.

Note this 1994 laptop isn't even a PowerPC (33 mHz 68LC040 CPU), usually has dead batteries and not enough RAM, and is excruciatingly slow. PCMCIA slots were optional. The External link190 series is of the same era, and had slots as standard.

A more realistic minimum is the External linkPowerbook 5300, a 100 mHz PPC machine with slots as standard, and still available for next to nothing. It will also run versions of the MacOS up to 9.1, compared to the '040 machines which are stuck with 8.1 or lower.

Any of the more recent External linkPowerbooks or iBooks should be fine.

With Ethernet or Localtalk (printer cable) networking and the right software, these machines can act as bridges to the rest of your fixed network.

So to summarise:

Host Machine:

One of:

Supported wireless adapter or AP
(Note: Must have Mac driver software available, although some rebranded cards can use drivers from their chipset cohorts, with occasional hackage)

One of:

Operating System and Drivers:

Officially, MacOS 8.6 is the minimum for the Airport drivers. This means a PPC machine, as 8.1 was the last release to run on 68k hardware. There are Orinoco drivers available for System 7.5.3.

For a routing node, you're probably looking at some External linkUnix flavour or External linkother, or MacOS X. The minimum machine I've heard of there is the 6360/Debian/Ricoh cradle/Orinoco Silver card system that External linkZog put together.

OS X capable G3 machines can be had on eBay for around $120-$150 desktop or twice that for a Powerbook or iBook. These machines also have the great advantage of using standard PC RAM and IDE/ATA hard drives, although some of the older machines like the 6360 can also use IDE drives.

Airport vs PCMCIA slots

Airport cards, and the card in the Airport base station, are made by Lucent/Agere for Apple, and are internally identical to their Orinoco Silver cards.

Note however that you cannot use an Airport card in a PCMCIA slot, nor vice versa, because the slots are physically different. Airport drivers are supposed to recognise Lucent Orinoco cards and their re-branded clones (Enterasys, Cabletron), and vice versa, but one member has reported a failure to recognise.


RyanM I've installed an Avaya card into a 17" imac, worked perfectly, apart from it being a struggle to plug the external antenna socket.
OS X.2 recognised it as an airport card, and upgraded the firmware automatically. It also works in a Powermac G4.

Further information and links on the Apple page

Version 2 (current) modified Tue, 03 Jul 2007 23:11:53 +1000
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