Fast Ethernet Network Starter Kit (FENSK04)

The kit includes two EtherFast 10/100 PCI LAN cards, two 15-foot category 5 UTP cables, an AC power adapter for your hub and a 4-port 100Mbps fast Ethernet hub.

I was shopping in one of those computer megastores, looking for a network kit for a project of mine, when I spotted the Fast Ethernet Network Starter Kit from Linksys. What caught my eye was that Linux was mentioned right on the box. As I didn't have the list of Ethernet cards known to work under Linux with me, I decided to take the words on the box at face value and give it a try.

The kit includes two EtherFast 10/100 PCI LAN cards, two 15-foot category 5 UTP cables, an AC power adapter for your hub and a 4-port 100Mbps fast Ethernet hub. The kit also comes with an instruction booklet and drivers for Windows 95, Windows NT 3.51, Windows NT 4.0 and NetWare. This is all good, I thought, dreaming of the fun experiments I would have with SAMBA; however, I bought the kit because it promised compatibility with Linux (albeit listed in the “Others” category on the box).

I didn't see Linux mentioned in the instruction booklet, so I took a look at their web site (http://www.linksys.com/). In the FAQ, I found www.linksys.com/support/solution/nos/linux.htm (and freebsd.htm too, for our free UNIX brethren).

The amount of Linux information on their web site has grown since I first looked at it, but this is probably not your best resource. They mention, for example, that if you're installing Red Hat 5.2, you should choose the Tulip driver from the list of drivers on your screen. While this isn't bad advice, it might give the false impression that you need to re-install Linux to get your Ethernet card to work. They also mention the driver has been tested under SuSE, Caldera, Slackware and Debian, when use of the driver is, of course, absolutely distribution independent.

The tulip.c driver is supplied on one of the floppies in the kit, and there is a link to the most up-to-date version. This version is found on the CESDIS (Center of Excellence in Space Data and Information Sciences) web site and, like so many Linux Ethernet drivers, is written by Donald Becker. In my opinion, your best resource for the driver is cesdis.gsfc.nasa.gov/linux/drivers/tulip.html. Also, Greg Siekas deserves a mention for his very clear instructions found at www.bmen.tulane.edu/~siekas/tulip.html. This page also has information on different options for people compiling the tulip driver for different cards.

Listing 1.

In order to get instructions on compiling the driver, type:

tail tulip.c

The output is shown in Listing 1. Notice there is a slightly different syntax for SMP (more than one processor). Most people will want to use something like:

gcc -DMODVERSIONS -DMODULES -D__KERNEL__\
-I/usr/src/linux/net/inet -Wall\
-Wstrict-prototypes -O6 -c tulip.c
Next, append this information to the /etc/conf.modules file:
alias eth0 tulip
options tulip options=11 debug=0
Setting options to 11 sets the media type to MII autoselect, and setting debug to 0 suppresses the debug messages. Set debug=6 if you want to obtain the very wordy debug messages.

Finally, copy the object file to the latest kernel's modules:

cp tulip.o /lib/modules/2.X.XX

and update the kernel dependencies:

depmod -a
If you are using the driver in a monolithic kernel, then copy tulip.c to the /usr/src/linux/drivers/net directory and recompile the kernel.

The Linksys Starter Kit performed beautifully under Linux and I haven't had any problems using it with some older PCs, but be aware that you can't set the IRQs with a switch. Your best bet is to use a fairly modern PC with an up-to-date BIOS that can automatically configure your card's parameters.

My only complaint with this kit is a minor one—I find the 4-port hub to be a bit limiting. You can uplink the hub with others, but doing so makes port number 1 unavailable for a PC. However, Linksys now has a new Network Starter Kit which includes a 5-port hub (FENSK05).

I imagine Linksys is targeting home users wishing to do some networked gaming and to connect more than one computer to the Internet at a time. Toward this end, Linksys has a special offer which includes a two-user version of Virtual Motion's Internet LanBridge with the kit. I would like to point out to new Linux users that Linux can be used for free to connect many computers, running any operating system, to one dial-up account.

In short, I have no problem recommending the Linksys starter kit to Linux users. You should be prepared to do a little more work than expected by people from the plug-and-play world. It is nice to see a growing number of companies which are starting to support Linux users.

John Kacur (jkacur@vaxxine.com) is using the starter kit for his thesis, “Mini-Beowulf”, in which he demonstrates the principles of parallel computing on a small four-machine cluster. His project page is at http://www.vaxxine.com/johnk/beowulf/.

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