Sun, 31 May 2009

Broadcom 43xx 802.11 wireless channels

Eldest Daughter wanted Vista on her emachines E520 laptop, so we shelled out the extortionate sum of 90-odd quid for a CD, a small brochure and a torn paper sticker with five groups of five letters on. Made sure I bought Vista SP1 so as to get the latest fixes and driver updates (this was before SP2 was released, of course). Oh how naïve I was imaging that to be the case ...

You might have thought that Micro$oft would ensure their flagship operating system comes with support for the most common hardware one is likely to want to install it on. Especially by the time it's had a service pack release. But no.

Have you got an Intel Mobile 4 chipset PCI, IDE or video ? Intel ? minor company, not worth Microsoft's while working with them for hardware support. Little yellow triangle with an exclamation mark, all over the hardware properties for all of them.

This is a bit of a problem if you also find that Vista doesn't support Broadcom 802.11 wireless - far too left-field mate, Vista doesn't support it out of the box. Little yellow triangles for wireless network drivers.

And Vista doesn't support the Realtek 8168 ethernet chip. Realtek, focussing on the cheap personal computer end of the market - not at all the business segment Vista Home is addressing, so little yellow triangles on the ethernet too.

So you install Vista, you have no networking at all and a fuzzy low-quality display, and you have to get this hardware into a usable state. Naturally I used a Debian live CD to go online and research what a pile of kak I'd just been handed by Microsoft.

I managed to find drivers for everything on the laptop manufacturer's website - except that the most recent Vista Broadcom 43xx wireless driver,, doesn't support European wireless channel range. The XP one is more recent and has this fixed, but not for Vista mate. If you drill right down into the driver properties you find that it offers two country settings in the Location dropdown: "US" and "Default". "US" apparently supports the US 801.11b/g channel range of 1 to 11, whereas "Default" offers the full range of .. yes, channels 1 to 11. Which is a bit stupid when you remember that everywhere outside the US and Japan actually has 13 wireless channels, so there is a 15% chance that your expensive copy of Vista will be a paperweight as far as any given wireless access point is concerned.

Having spent two weekends fighting this, it eventually turns out that the driver is properly written. You can edit the registry with the correct country code and you will get all 13 channels. It's merely the crappy installer written by Acer/eMachines/Gateway (the only people to have packaged the latest Broadcom driver as far as I can find).

To find the key use "regedit -v" and search for a Value field of "Country". Make sure you're looking at the Broadcom drivers by looking at the keys above and below it. If you're sure you are in the right place, then edit the Data field to say "GB". Repeat for as many copies of the registry key as you can find - there seem to be 3 on this machine. Reboot (we all know Windows needs to reboot every time you breathe) and you should now be able to access all 13 wireless channels.

If you stuff this up bear in mind that I know almost nothing about Vista and won't be able to help you fix it. But I hope the information is useful to anyone facing the same lack of 802.11 channel 13 with the Broadcom 802.11 Vista driver.