Saturday, April 3, 2010

How To: Build your own "Real" Airport Card for your Hackintosh

The process of getting a bootable OS X has gotten really easy in the past 6 months or so, especially for those of us with P55 motherboards... Thanks in large part to tony's wonderful blog.

We can easily get our NVidia cards, wired ethernet, and sound working, whether by kexts, dsdt, or other method. However, there is always "One More Thing"...  Once I got up and running I realized that wireless cards, for desktops anyway, are really hit and miss.

Some work in 32 bit, 64 bit, both, or neither. Some work on core 2 but not with core i5/i7 cpus. Some don't just not work, but also provide you with enjoyable kernel panics! The HCL at is a great resource but has very little data on wireless cards.

So the end result of this frustration was that I decided that I couldn't compromise on wireless and had to get the real thing. Personally I think that you should run the least amount of 3rd party kexts possible and avoid "MacGrubering" when you can, i.e. stay as vanilla as possible.

In this How To I'll show you what to buy and how I built my own "Real" Airport Card running on a pci-e x1 interface. Its quite simple, affordable, and is ABSOLUTELY the best wireless option if you aren't one of the lucky ones who already has a wifi card working in Snow Leopard.

What to buy:

1.  Winking mini pci-e to pci-e x1 adapter.  You can find these on eBay for about 15 US dollars.  Be sure to get the 3.3 volt version!

2.  Antennae (2).  Mine happened to come with antennae.  If yours doesn't, only buy 2 as we only have 2 leads on the wireless card to work with.

3.  Broadcom "BCM94321MC" mini pci-e card.  Mine is an actual Apple branded one and I can't speak for the non-Apple variants' ability to function as seamlessly as this one will.  Apparently the newer BCM94322MC is better and is just as compatible.  There is an Atheros one (possibly from early macbooks?) will only work in 32 bit.  Best bet:  one of the two broadcom chips.

You can find these on eBay, or buy from laptop part suppliers.  They will range in price as they could be pulls from dead macs or brand new service parts.

The Parts:

I have to ask, what were they thinking when they designed this card?  Right away you'll notice that the shield doesn't even go on properly with that lower pigtail being where it is.  Where and how are you supposed to put the excess wire?  And the sticker... ugh.  We will fix this later!

Back of the card.  Pretty simple PCB.

New Apple Branded BCM94321MC.  

Detail shot.  Useful reference if you are buying and the seller doesn't know exactly what they have or isn't clear on specs.  In a nutshell the BCM94322MC has 2008 stamped on it and BCM94321MC has 2006.


Take off the shield.  Use a little wrench to take off the antenna connectors (all 3-- it will make it much easier to work with).  Another design snafu: You can't even fit the card in without doing this:

Next grab your wireless card and connect the two pigtails to their ports.  They are stubborn little guys and you have to push pretty hard to get them in, so make sure you have the alignment right before you press on them.

It takes a little finesse to do this next part, but its necessary if you want a clean looking finish to the card.  You need to wrap the wires underneath and around the upper mounting post, so that they come out on the side.

Let the pigtails dangle for a second and get that card screwed in!  Then the tricky part is over and you can put the antenna mounts in without clearance issues.

Here is what it will look like:

There is just enough wire to pull this off if you use the middle pigtail for the bottom port and the top pigtail for the top port.

The card will work now but, being in the mac spirit, we need to solve some aesthetic issues first!

Making it look cool:

Take your shield now.  Take off that horrendous sticker!  You will notice that it doesn't fit now, because the wires are coming out the side.  Make 2 cuts and wiggle the flap until it snaps off so your wires can fit through:

Go find your ipod/iphone box in your closet and get an apple sticker.  Its time to brand it!

Finished Product:

Now you can pop the shield on and get stoked about wireless that works!

This D-Link card runs over $50, is about 10 times as big, and gives me kernel panics when I try to boot. Goodbye!

Installed in 2nd pci-16 slot in my Gigabyte P55M-UD4.  I think I am losing 8 graphics lanes due to the way the two slots are wired to the processor.  

Zero configuration!  Connected to an Airport N (Rev 1) base station.

I hope this guide will help some of you solve your wireless problems.  I would appreciate it if anyone uses a different wireless card and/or adapter, post your experience here.  

Potentially, this method is the best way for the community to go forward, as it is cheap and super flexible.  I will compile a list of the most available cards that work for the majority of people and we will all be better off for it!