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Old Hardware, New Uses

In my continuing efforts to turn a balky and failing 2000/2001 vintage Dell C610 notebook into a slow but still viable Windows XP machine for my sister, I’ve been learning some interesting things about Dell hardware and drivers (see my previous blog “Hooray: USB-to-IDE/SATA Converter is a Cheap, Effective Hardware Item” for other misadventures with this machine). It turns out this laptop came out just when Windows was shifting from 2000 to XP, and right about the time that Wi-Fi interfaces changed their status from “nice but pricey add-on” to “standard equipage” on such machines.

Because this box contains a Broadcom BCM94309MP 802.11 b/g interface, when Windows XP failed to recognize the card and supply a driver, I found myself at a bit of an impasse in getting the device working on the C610. The device itself is readily accessible through the bottom hatch, secured only by three small Philips-head screws, but it contains no Dell label nor a Dell-specific part number.

Why am I telling you this? Because the Dell drivers themselves are available only through their Dell designations, which for these Broadcom devices take the form of “Dell TrueMobile 1xxx” where valid model numbers span a range from 1150 to 1450, and perhaps beyond (I didn’t look further than what was needed to install a working driver on this machine). But finding that driver took a bit of luck, some perseverance, and calls to a neighborhood PC technician at my local Mr. Notebook outlet, and to a pool-playing buddy of mine who’s a former third-level notebook support technician for Dell.

As it turns out, DriverAgent correctly identified the model number for the Broadcom Device as a Dell TrueMobile 1400 but it supplied me with what it claimed was a valid driver that produced an installer error on the machine (“incompatible hardware” was its gist) when I tried to get it up and running. After going through another half-dozen drivers on a trial-and-error basis and getting nowhere, I resorted to my network to get some insight on what to do next. Chris (my Mr. Notebook) contact admitted that those drivers can be hard to identify and volunteered to fix it for me when I bring him the unit to have its top deck hinges replaced. Jason (my Dell tech support wizard) told me the unit was either a TrueMobile 1300 or 1400, since the Broadcom part number indicated 802.11 b/g support.

I couldn’t find a working driver through DriverAgent, but when I searched Dell support for a TrueMobile 1300 driver and installed it (the 1400 driver doesn’t work but the unit now identifies itself as a 1400 unit — go figure!) the device finally came up and started working properly. Some forms of PC knowledge can only be acquired the hard way, it seems, so this is one experience I’m glad to have behind me instead of still ahead. Just goes to show that not everything that seems obvious, or that in fact should be obvious, is not necessarily obvious at all. But trial and error, and a little expert advice, finally steered me into the right software. Whew, what a relief!

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