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Linux on Dell Inspiron 1501 Laptop

Linux with WiFi on Dell Inspiron 1501 (Broadcon WiFi "radio")

Inspiron 1501: Debian Wheezy with KDE Desktop got WiFi to Work

This is initially intended to be a very rough initial draft to mention that I successfully installed Debian Wheezy with the KDE Desktop on a Dell Inspiron 1501 laptop including getting WiFi to work using the built-in Broadcon WiFi device. I intend to submit a link to this page to Linux on Laptops project.

I should add more detail to this page, and check some facts, but, for the moment, I'm eager to submit a link to Linux on Laptops.

This was all done around August, 2017 (201708).

For me, the critical thing was to get WiFi working. I don't / didn't know much about getting WiFi working as I almost never use it nor try to install it. (My experience with WiFi has mainly been on Android tablets and smartphones (and setting WiFi up on the various routers or WiFi hotspots that I've used at home.)

I tried a total of four distributions. All four seemed to install and work properly with no obvious problems (well, I didn't do much testing) except for WiFi . WiFi was the problem.

The distributions I tried:

  • LinuxMint 17.3.0: I've used Debian for the last several years (could be approaching 10 years--I should try to pinpoint it sometime), so initially expected to install an older version of Debian (because this laptop is somewhat older, with a slower (dual core) processor and only 1 GB of memory installed (although, iiuc, I can expand the memory to 4 GB). I can't remember if I tried Wheezy before LinuxMint, but, if I did, WiFi didn't work. Somebody on the debian-user mail list had recommended (to someone else) that if the WiFi device was by Broadcon, LinuxMint 17.3.0 was pretty good at getting that to work. That might be true, but it didn't work immediately for me, and I didn't try to solve the problem--it was probably lack of knowledge on my part.

  • LinuxMint 18.1.0: Next, I tried the latest version of LinuxMint, and, like 17.3.0, it seemed to install and work fine except for WiFi. Once again, I didn't try to solve the problem--I simply went on to try the Debians.

  • Debian Wheezy (7.n): I tried Wheezy a few times. It might have been the first distro I tried to install, but WiFi didn't immediately work, so I went on to try some other distros (those mentioned here). When none of those worked immediately, I started to do more research. concentrating on Wheezy.

Eventually, someone responded to my post on debian-user that there is a Debian package (firmware-b43-installer) that, if simply apt-get install'ed would get the Broadcon device to work. IIRC, the person that wrote that didn't specify for which version(s) of Debian that package was available, so, thinking it might be for a more recent package, I tried installing Debian Jessie and then trying to find and install that package. I'm fairly certain that I "fat fingered" (or "fat brained") something, and didn't find the package (I think that when I modified /etc/apt/sources.list, I typed nonfree instead of non-free, and thus, apt could not find the package).

When I got the right package installed on Debian Wheezy, I still had a little learning to do. I used the KDE Network Manager (I guess there are other versions or slight variations of Network Manager, for instance, for GNOME), and initially I didn't see any of the WiFi access points that I normally see on other WiFi devices. I'll have to see if I have notes that provide a little more detail.

  • Debian Jessie (8.n): My experience with Debian Jessie on this laptop is mentioned and pretty well covered in the section on Debian Wheezy, above.

I can't say that any of the distros I tried will not make WiFi work on the Inspiron, as I didn't try very hard. Wheezy took a little learning and I invested my time in getting Wheezy (with the KDE desktop) to work. If I hadn't had success in a reasonable amount of time, I would have spent more time on one the other distros I had already tried, tried some other distro (if I had found someone who mentioned success with a Broadcon WiFi device on a laptop using some particular distro), or given up.

I learned at least a few things about making a Broadcon WiFi device work with Linux on a laptop, and I should add those learnings here.



My Email to debian-user maillist

As a start to providing more detail, I've included my email to debian-user, which provides details of where I was stuck, and one or more responses to that email which helped. Over time, I may edit those emails (including my own), or delete them and paraphrase them. There are other details I should add that are not in these emails, I have some notes on my off-line wiki-like thing--some useful, some not, which I will try to add over time.

I have started to do some very minor editing

Subject: Help setting up Broadcom WiFi on a Dell Inspiron 1501 laptop
Date: Fri Aug 18 12:56:28 2017

I've decided to ask for help, even though I haven't exhausted all the things I might try on my own--I'm getting too old for this.

This is, in addition to being a request for help, sort of a brain dump, which might even help me realize where I am and find a way forward.

Overview: I got a Dell Inspiron 1501 at an estate sale for a very good price, and would like give it to a friend, but would like to have Linux working on it so she can at least consider using Linux. As far as her needs are concerned, if it doesn't work on WiFi it is no good to her.

(Aside--Ignore this unless you're very bored: It came with Vista installed, but no password or recovery disk. That was a whole other odyssey, but I finally managed to get the password by writing to the author of Ophcrack with the NT hash of the password. I had downloaded several different Vista install / recovery ISOs and none of them would boot, the closest I got was a message that said "Bootmgr is missing" even though I could plainly see a bootmgr on the DVD. (I also learned (I think) that although a Linux install can boot from a USB pendrive, apparently (iiuc), a Windows install / recovery disk cannot (but I can't be entirely sure of that because I never got a Windows recovery / install DVD to boot, either.))

Linuxes I have tried: I've tried to install Linuxmint 17.3 and 18.1, and Debian Wheezy and Jessie--all seem to have about the same problem (discussed further below). The laptop currently has only 1 GB of memory and a fairly slow (1.7 or so GHz) dual core processor, so I'm not sure how well it will work with anything newer. (The memory is expandable to either 2 or 4 GB (forget which, atm), and I will probably upgrade it when I have a Linux working with WiFi.)

Other "plans": I have ordered a USB WiFi dongle (from eBay / Taiwan, ordered when I thought the WiFi "card" was not included with the laptop). When I get it, I could consider disabling the internal Broadcom device (is it easily physically removable?) and utilizing the dongle. Of course, the delivery of that could be a month or more away.

What I think I've learned about the Inspiron, Broadcom, and Linux:

  • Somebody on this list fairly recently mentioned the problems with Broadcom WiFi devices and I inferred from what they said that LinuxMInt 17.3 might be the easiest Linux distro to get it working, which is why I tried it.

  • All of the Linuxes somehow indicated that I had to load some other files to get the Broadcom working. I eventually realized they were talking about firmware that has to be installed on the card.

I think all of them (or at least Wheezy, iirc) identified those files as b43/ucode5.fw and b43-open/ucode5.fw. (Are those two different files, and, do I need both or either??). So far, I have not located those files anywhere, either using google or searching the (Wheezy) packages (including contrib and non-free).

I downloaded some packages from the Wheezy repository (after adding contrib and non-free):

The downloaded packages: firmware-b43-installer version 1:015-14.1 firmware-brcm80211 version 0.36+wheezy.1

There were other packages I could have downloaded and tried, but didn't, so far.

Those packages provided me with (among other files):

/lib/firmware/brcm/bcm43xx-0.fw /lib/firmware/brcm/bcm43xx_hdr-0.fw b43-fwcutter

Using the -l option of b43-fwcutter, I see the following (exactly the same for either of the 2 fw files):

root@s19:~# b43-fwcutter -l /lib/firmware/brcm/bcm43xx_hdr-0.fw b43-fwcutter version 015

Extracting firmware is possible from these binary driver files. Please read http://linuxwireless.org/en/users/Drivers/b43#devicefirmware

b43legacy wl_apsta.o 295.14 e08665c5c5b66beb9c3b2dd54aa80cb3 b43 wl_apsta.o 351.126 9207bc565c2fc9fa1591f6c7911d3fc0 b43 wl_apsta_mimo.o 351.126 722e2e0d8cc04b8f118bb5afe6829ff9 b43 wl_apsta_mimo.o 410.2160 cb8d70972b885b1f8883b943c0261a3c b43 wl_apsta.o 478.104 bb8537e3204a1ea5903fe3e66b5e2763 b43 wl_prebuilt.o 508.1084 490d4e149ecc45eb1a91f06aa75be071 b43 wl_apsta.o 508.1107 f06c8aa30ea549ce21872d10ee9a7d48 b43 wl_apsta.o 508.10872 e413c0017b99195f3231201c53f314d1 b43 wl_apsta.o 508.154 023fafbe4918e384dd531a046dbc03e8 b43 wl_apsta.o 644.1001 68f38d139b1f69f3ea12393fb645c6f9 b43 wl_apsta.o 666.2 e1b05e268bcdbfef3560c28fc161f30e </quoting from my terminal>

The main questions: So, where do I go from here? Is ucode5.fw an obsolete file name? Or maybe that is the name for the Broadcom proprietary stuff but what I've found are open source replacements? Is ucode5.fw in one of the other Debian packages for Broadcom? Has anyone ever got WiFi working with Wheezy and this Broadcom device?

Other information:

  • WiFi works fine in Vista


  • Laptop is a Dell Inspiron 1501

  • The (Dell) service tag is 13142114389--maybe that's as close to a serial number as exists (unless there is one in the BIOS or inside the case). The Express service code is 61CH4D1

  • The processor is an AMD Turion 64-bit , dual core, at n.n GHz.

  • I found some clues that make me think the installed Vista is 32-bit instead of 64-bit. Among them, you can buy a re-installl disk (from a 3rd party) in either 32 or 64-bit Vista for this particular computer (i.e., the Inspiron 1501--the other hints came as a I did things in or to Vista, but I forget what they were). (Before I got the Vista user password I was giving serious consideration to buying an install / recovery disk (for $26.95 + S&H) to either reinstall Vista from scratch or reset the password on the current
installation of Vista, but then I became uncertain as to whether 64-bit Vista would work or not.)

The Broadcom WiFi device is identified in different ways in different places:

  • Somewhere I found a blurb that identified it as a "Broadcom Wireless 1390 WLAN Mini card"

  • Using lspci -vnn -d 14e4:, I get the following information:

PCI-ID Supported? Chip ID Modes PHY version Alternative 14e4:4311 yes BCM4311 b/g G wl

IIUC, that means I can use the non-legacy driver (and Wheezy package)

  • The tag on the bottom of the computer identifies the WiFi device as BRCM94311MCG, FCC ID: QDS-BRCM1020


Responses to that email (which helped me)

from Wim Michels:

Re: Help setting up Broadcom WiFi on a Dell Inspiron 1501 laptop
Date: Thu Aug 24 12:12:47 2017


have a look at this webpage:


for usefull info.

On Wednesday, 23 August at 21:40, rhkramer@ wrote:

>On Sunday, August 20, 2017 03:00:28 PM Wim Michels wrote:
>> Hi,
>> all you need to install is the package:
>> firmware-b43-installer
>> from 'contrib' to get BCM4311 chip to work.
>Thanks, that worked!


  • () RandyKramer - 2017-08-28
  • If you edit this page: add your name here; move this to the next line; and if you've used a comment marker (your initials in parenthesis), include it before your WikiName.

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