Hardware woes and workarounds

Volume 11, Issue 51; 12 Jul 2008; last modified 08 Oct 2010

Wireless connectivity has not been my friend this week. But I think I've got it all sorted. Some words of warning for Mac users interested in 3G connectivity.

Two independent stories, connected by a common theme: connectivity. First, the wireless router in the house failed, second, my 3G network card made my Mac fail.

Mechanical devices fail: they don't call disks “spinning rust” for nothing. But solid state devices are generally more reliable. They ought to run for ages, and many do. So why do wireless routers fail after about two years? (I really am curious. Is there some electro-mechanical part I'm just unaware of?)

At least they're easy to replace, and since all the wireless cards in the house are 802.11g, while “n” seems to be the letter du jour, the replacements are cheap.

Miffed that two Linksys routers in a row have each failed in about two years, I bought a Netgear one this time. The Netgear wireless print server has been ticking along without a hitch for at least three or four years, I think.

Bonus feature: the Netgear device supports reserved DHCP addresses, so I can configure the household laptops to use DHCP but still get a fixed address for them, which is handy.

My second story is also about laptop connectivity. Now that I'll be spending several hours a week on the train, as well as the usual hours waiting in airports, I decided to get a wireless card for my laptop. I picked the “GT Ultra Express” because I thought it would be convenient to just slip it into the card slot rather than having it dangling out of a USB port.

Man, was that a mistake. The “Ultra Express” card isn't (yet) supported natively so you have to use the third party “GlobalConnect” software. A frank and unrestrained appraisal of that software would be so profane it would make the devil blush.

Over the course of two days, I discovered that it could not be relied upon to maintain a connection for more than about two hours (and sometimes considerably less). If the connection failed, so did the software. The software also failed if you disconnected and removed the card. Sometimes it failed when you inserted the card. If the software failed (and, really, even if it didn't), you could be assured that your Mac was unstabled and would crash. The question was, could you shut all your apps down, force-quit the hopelessly wedged GlobalConnect, and reboot before it did?

The software also so aggressively disabled all other network devices (WTF?) that it was difficult to get them back even after rebooting the machine.

What a steaming pile of…

So I returned that card and got one of the USB devices, a natively supported “Sierra USBConnect 881U”. It seems to work fine, and seems not to make the machine unstable. I am a little perturbed that I get an “Internet Connect” dialog box that reads “The selected communication device does not exist. Please verify your settings and try again.” when I suspend and resume the machine. But the network does seem to be working.

Deep down, I fear that the GlobalConnect software has f*cked my machine and it won't really be stable again until I scrape it down to the bare metal and do a full reinstall.

[Update, 18 July: PostScript: Six days later, guess what failed? That's right, the wireless printer server. Sigh.]


assuming you've got also a 3g phone, why wouldn't you just connect via bluetooth and your phone's 3g? what's the point in having a separate device?

—Posted by david tolpin on 12 Jul 2008 @ 09:13 UTC #

Oh, ICK! You've been caught in the router quagmire. We've gone through at least one router a year for the last 5 years until we gave up on Linksys altogether and got ourselves a high end DLink N model...

This was the (highly debated) agreed upon solution to support our gaming house guest, Arch's bit torrenting, and my (minimal by comparison to the other guys) connectivity so that I could actually work. We got rid of the eternal house guest, so now things are fairly stable most of the time. :)

As for your Mac... Have you been using Time Capsule? If so, you may be able to use the way back machine to get to a more stable pre-GlobalConnect state.

I've actually had good luck using my blackberry for connectivity in airports, so you may want to consider going that route if you don't want to do the USB thing. I used the tether, but IIRC I think you can bluetooth it.

Just a thought. Good luck, and have a better next week!


—Posted by Jean Kaplansky on 13 Jul 2008 @ 03:01 UTC #

I don't actually have a 3G phone, and it's not clear that the one I'm likely to get (the iPhone, probably) will support tethering (bluetooth or otherwise). I figure I'll know that within the thirty day window for canceling the service on the separate device. And it was very handy (bugs aside) for the trips I took last week.

Restoring to a pre-GlobalConnect world with Time Machine is an interesting idea. I wonder if that'd be more or less work (what with managing all the other changes I did in the last week) than just starting over.

—Posted by Norman Walsh on 13 Jul 2008 @ 02:14 UTC #

Too late now, but I have that same 3G card. It's true, the GlobalConnect software was required for Tiger and earlier versions of OS X, but on Leopard it's natively supported and works really well.

When I ran on Tiger, I had struggled unsuccessfully with the GlobalConnect software. Thanks for the resurfacing the memories.

—Posted by Ben Galbraith on 21 Jul 2008 @ 02:21 UTC #

Some of the cards are supported natively by Leopard, but not the one I had. The USB device is supported and seems to be running flawlessly, I'm happy to report.

—Posted by Norman Walsh on 21 Jul 2008 @ 08:50 UTC #

I learned the extra hard way about how awful the GlobalConnect is. I had just installed it before a trip and when I got back I thought the bumpy plane ride had caused a hardware connection failure. After weeks of living with only the GlobalConnect option - which crashed and scrambled things on a regular basis, I took my computer in for service. They straigtened out my services for $150 but warned me about GC. I opened the software ONCE without even putting the card in and it screwed everything again. But now I knew I could work through it. What a mess. I'm running Leopard and am planning on taking my GC card back tomorrow.

—Posted by Mike Pierce on 05 Aug 2008 @ 04:15 UTC #