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What would it take to have more than 802.11b WEP on old iMacs and iBooks?

khaz

Member
What are the limitations with regards to the original Airport card and iMacs G3? Would a faster card like the Airport Extreme work with a hypothetical appropriate adapter? Could a modern homemade wifi module be used in the port somehow? Or is there a physical limitation with the slot itself that faster / more secure data cannot pass through it?

Of course I'm not interested in ethernet wifi bridges. I know they exist, I'm more wondering what's up with the original iMacs and Airport cards that they never got an upgrade.
 

Angelgreat

Active member
Well, Devices that support the original Airport card can not use the Airport extreme card and vice versa. If you need a Airport extreme card to run modern/wpa wifi on your old mac, the best option is a apple extreme base. It connects via ethernet, but it works.
 

3lectr1cPPC

Active member
I personally use an Edimax Nano ew-7811un USB wifi dongle. It has driver support for Windows XP and OS X 10.4 Tiger, and yes, it works on PowerPC Macs as old as my iBook Clamshells and iMac G3s. It's super useful but it seems they've introduced a new version that doesn't work with the XP and Tiger driver. The next best thing would have to be an Ethernet to USB adapter. They do exist, but they're a bit pricey on Amazon at around $45 USD. I haven't ever used one though.
 

khaz

Member
Yeah, the question was more about the port capacity, the role of the adapter board, and the hypothetical future use for better WiFi, within the limits and constraints.

Considering WPA can be used, but only with OS X 10.3, it makes me believe that Apple just couldn't be bothered to support OS 9 at that point in time. And when the newer Airport extreme came around, the whole computer was obsoleted and no adapter nor drivers were designed.

But there's also the possibility that the computer can't support better WiFi no matter the hacks, it being only capable of USB 1.1 and all that.

Which is it?
 

Cory5412

Daring Pioneer of the Future
Staff member
802.11G launched in 2003, the year after Apple held its public funeral for the Classic Mac OS. In addition, Apple mostly (not 100% but mostly) of got out of the business of making aftermarket upgrades for its own older machines in around 1997 or so.

This is probably technically possible, but neither Apple nor third parties figured it was worth doing, and may have avoided it (even if there was a business/sales case for it) if the slot wasn't built to handle 54 megabits of throughput, to avoid being sued for selling a capacity that couldn't be achieved.

In addition, most home wireless networking was still using WEP keys, which worked fine on the Classic Mac OS, for several years after that.

In a modern context, I suspect the reason this hasn't been done is because using travel wifi routers or ethernet bridges with USB battery packs is "good enough" even for the handful of people actually using old Mac laptops.

As mentioned, WPA and WPA 2 do work in OS X releases, even on older macs, and USB/pcmcia/PCI 802.11G cards do often work with older machines. It's just a bummer for the iMac/iBook in particular because they don't really have those slots.

Not that you couldn't, you'd either have to reverse-engineer the AirPort slot and then design a fresh wifi card around a newer chipset and write the drivers and authentication tools for it, or design a card that's both a wifi client and pretends to be an AirPort card to the Mac and the appropriate management interface for it.

I think that "the port is slow" is probably not that much of a barrier who want this, you can get on the outer edge of fifteen whole megabits a second out of OS 9 on gigabit ethernet anyway so it's not like we'd be missing out on much.
 

Byrd

Well-known member
Just to include, on faster PPC G3/G4 Macs that can't take an Airport Extreme card and run OS X 10.4, 10.5 - the Edimax EN-7811un V1 mini USB wifi adapter supports WPA2 and the software is half decent;


They can be picked up for $15 - 20 ea
 

Angelgreat

Active member
Just to include, on faster PPC G3/G4 Macs that can't take an Airport Extreme card and run OS X 10.4, 10.5 - the Edimax EN-7811un V1 mini USB wifi adapter supports WPA2 and the software is half decent;


They can be picked up for $15 - 20 ea
Does it work with OS 9 and 10.4? Also, have you tested it?
 

3lectr1cPPC

Active member
None that I know of. I saw someone got modern wifi running on a PowerBook 190, but I don't know how they did it. I believe it was a very complex method. Any PC card options and such that I know of don't support WPA2.
 

Gorgonops

Moderator
Staff member
FWIW, every single Mac that had the original 802.11b AirPort card slot and USB 1.1 ports also had an Ethernet port. And they also sell WiFi to Ethernet port adapters that can be powered off of a USB plug or power bank. So… I mean, yeah, it’s a slightly awkward workaround but technically you can make the bridge thing just as portable as a USB WiFi dongle is.

(There’s a company that makes a line of products called “Vonets” that are specifically designed for this scenario. Only cost about $25 for the low end ones. Don’t own one myself so I’m not going to vouch for them, but they are small one-box solutions.)

The short answer is indeed yeah, Apple couldn’t be bothered to write either a WPA stack for the 802.11b cards nor drivers for the 802.11g cards for OS9. Would it be technically possible? Sure, but it would have been a lot of work. Many of the (few) third-party WiFi cards that worked with 9 in the first place were just rebadged Orinoco chipset units that could reuse most or all of Apple’s drivers (which were derived from Lucent’s original WaveLan stack); writing drivers for OS 9 sucks and by 2003 there was obviously no future in it.

And per Cory’s comment about the original AirPort slot: said slot was a very slightly modified 16 bit PCMCIA slot, IE, ISA with another beard and mustache. Practically (or maybe entirely?) all 802.11g and higher chipsets are limited to Cardbus/PCI, USB, or embedded stuff like SDIO. The theoretical speed of an ISA bus… overlaps? with the realistic throughput of 802.11g but just barely. If there is a 802.11g chipset with an ISA/PCMCIA interface and WPA2 support then theoretically if you are willing to invest a ton of time resurrecting the lost art of OS 9 driver development (including porting a WPA authentication supplicant, WPA is a huge hassle compared to WEP) I guess I would put performance lowest on my list of concerns for developing an internal upgrade. But it’s pretty clear why no one did.
 
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