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The Penny-Pinching PowerBook 1400 Goes Wireless

by Michael J. Norton
09/05/2003

The adventures of a computer geek and his Promethean Penny-Pinching PowerBook 1400 continue. The fully functional, multi-faceted, penny-pinching PowerBook, suitable for home, college dorm, and office, was put together for $110. It wasn't my intention to add another chapter to this story. This one just kind of happened from one of those, "I wonder" thoughts we Apple hardware junkies get from time to time.

This thought spawned from a spare Cisco Aironet 340 PCMCIA wireless network card I had in my parts bin. The Aironet 340 card is 16-bit, just as the slots are in my PowerBook 1400. Was it possible, I wondered, for the penny-pinching PowerBook 1400 to be made into a wireless network laptop? This was certainly one wild notion that had to be seen through.

After doing a little poking around I was discouraged to find out that even though the Aironet 340 was a 16-bit PCMCIA device, only drivers existed for PowerBooks with CardBus slots. This means the 1400 and its close relatives were unsupported by the Cisco Aironet series of PCMCIA wireless fidelity (WiFi) cards. A momentary letdown, but during numerous email correspondences I received a nice lead for my wireless penny-pinching PowerBook effort. An ex-developer for Lucent mentioned she knew someone who worked on drivers for Lucent's ORiNOCO wireless PCMCIA card and supported 16-bit card slots on the PowerBook 1400.

Promising news, but I now had to abandon the Cisco Aironet 340 PCMCIA card and purchase a Lucent ORiNOCO PCMCIA WiFi card. It was time to do a little Googling on the phrases "ORiNOCO PowerBook 1400." One of the first items to turn up was the ORiNOCO rev 7.2 drivers. Yahoo! Pardon the pun. VersionTracker has the device drivers online.

So let's recap the items in our bag, shall we? One Cisco Aironet 340 PCMCIA, toss out and toss in one hyperlink to device drivers for a Lucent ORiNOCO card. It's now time to query those purveyors of slightly used electronic goods, eBay. Surely eBay would have an ORiNOCO PCMCIA card.

As luck would have it, there are several different flavors of the ORiNOCO PCMCIA cards. I ended up purchasing, on a Buy It Now, for $50, a Dell 1150 TrueMobile, which is an ORiNOCO card. A shot in the dark, but hey, what could possibly go wrong?

Under the Hood

I now had several days to wait for my ORiNOCO to ship to my house. Being a bit impatient to try all this out, I went ahead and installed the ORiNOCO 7.2 drivers. The elation was short-lived; the drivers wouldn't install on Mac OS 8.1, which was the current operating system running on the penny-pinching PowerBook 1400. The drivers required a ControlsLib library, which was available on Mac OS 8.6 or greater. No big deal, except for the fact that the penny-pinching PowerBook only had 24M of memory. Throwing caution to the wind, I opted to pick up another 32M of PB 1400 memory from The Chip Merchant. I figured 32M additional memory might allow for the installation of Mac OS 9.1 with some software development tools to boot. Add another $50 on the penny-pinching price tag.

It just didn't make any since to leapfrog operating systems from Mac OS 8.1 to Mac OS 8.6 and later find out I should have completely migrated to Mac OS 9.1. From hind site, if you're a college student on a tight budget, you don't really need the memory upgrade to run Mac OS 9.1 and Microsoft Office 98. I didn't find this out until after I completed the penny-pinching WiFi project. But low memory will always be an issue for you. I intend to run CodeWarrior and the version I have requires 32M of memory. The penny-pinching PowerBook in its original state only sported 24M of memory.

The Dell 1150 wireless card reached my house long before the memory upgrade from The Chip Merchant did. This provided the time I needed to get all of my install CDs in order to prepare for the operation. As I mentioned, I was leaning toward completely reformatting the penny-pinching PowerBook for a clean install. My anxiety was getting a little bit high.

Everything had to work as I wanted it to. The memory upgrade needed to be successful, then the operating system upgrade, and then the ORiNOCO drivers needed to install properly. Finally, the Dell 1150 card needed to work with the drivers I found. The Dell 1150 card only shipped with Microsoft Windows drivers. It was still a shot in the dark that the Dell 1150 card and the Lucent ORiNOCO drivers I found on versiontracker.com were compatible.

The Memory Upgrade

Not to be a worrywart, but my greatest fear here was that the penny-pinching PowerBook wouldn't survive a memory upgrade. The hardware was old and I was the nth owner of this laptop. No telling what bailing wires I might accidentally knock loose while I was performing the surgery.

I found an online QuickTime tutorial for upgrading a PowerBook 1400, which made the operation a snap. The only significant information that is missing from this QuickTime short is the location of the PRAM reset switch. Why is this important? When I finished the simple install of the memory and closed up the penny-pinching PowerBook 1400, it wouldn't boot. Trying to remain calm I thought through the install process. My only saving grace was to reset the PRAM and hope the old dog boots. Now where did they hide that switch?

The PRAM reset switch is located behind the PowerBook 1400, sandwiched between the adb port and the modem/printer port. Once I zapped the PRAM the device booted with the magical little Mac OS boot chime.

Upgrading to OS 9

The penny-pinching PowerBook now has 56M of main memory, which should be adequate to support Mac OS 9.1 and some memory-hungry software development tools. The operating system upgrade itself was uneventful with one exception. Booting from a Mac OS CD-ROM on the PowerBook 1400 is different from its desktop kin. I feverishly held down the 'C' key as I rebooted the system, only to watch the device boot off its hard drive.

I jumped over to my Apple PowerMac G4 keyboard and did a Google search on "PowerBook 1400 CD boot". I found a site which explained that the PowerBook 1400 requires the command (Apple key), option, shift and delete keys be held down during the boot sequence. Playing finger twister on the keyboard, reminiscent of a PC reboot, I soft restarted the PowerBook 1400. Low and behold, the penny-pinching PowerBook 1400 was booting off its CD-ROM. Go figure.

Now, with the memory upgrade and operating system install completed, two-thirds of my checklist had been accomplished. So far, so good. Now I could move on to the wireless installation.

Going Wireless

The final component had to be put into place. The installation CD for the Dell TrueMobile 1150 comes with Microsoft operating system driver software only. My hopes now were that the ORiNOCO drivers from versiontracker.com would pull off the miracle.

The basic assumption for this installation is that you already have a wireless network up and running in your home or office. You will need to know your wireless network name and WEP security key, if your network uses WEP security.

Inserting the Dell 1150 TrueMobile into the PowerBook PCMCIA slot with no drivers prompts a dialog to cancel or eject. Just select cancel and proceed with the installation of the ORiNOCO 7.2 version drivers. The PCMCIA device will show up on the display of the PowerBook. Launch the ORiNOCO version 7.2 installer and install the software, see Figure 1. Using your stupendous eye-mouse-hand coordination double-click on that installer icon.


Figure 1. The ORiNOCO installer for Mac OS.

Once the installer starts running you'll see the Setup Assistant screen. The Setup Assistant window --> Choose Configuration wants to know what kind of network to configure the ORiNOCO WiFi card for. I am using a Cisco 340 Aironet Access Point. Now that you've had some mouse-clicking practice, single click the Join an Access Point radio button (see Figure 2).


Figure 2. Set Assistant configuration for Access Point.

The Setup Assistant will take you to the Access Point configuration window, shown in Figure 3. Wireless access points are showing up all over my neighborhood, so don't be surprised if you see multiple access points in your setup window. The network you select must coincide with the wireless network you set up in your access point.


Figure 3. The Setup Assistant access point network name.

It's probably your neighbor's networks. If you live in an apartment building or have nosy neighbors snooping your network I recommend configuring Wired Equivalent Privacy key (WEP). One of my co-workers discovered he had become a wireless service provider in his apartment with piggybacking leeches. WEP remedied that situation.

The Setup Assistant will prompt you for WEP configuration in the Access Point Encryption window (see Figure 4).


Figure 4. The Setup Assistant Access Point Encryption window.

You'll need to provide your own WEP IDs from your access point configuration. This is how you keep your nosy neighbor Mrs. Kravitz off your network.

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