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How to enable wireless in Ubuntu 12.10 on a Dell Inspiron 1501

This post discusses how to enable wireless in Ubuntu 12.10 on a Dell Inspiron 1501. Read on for instructions.

The hard drive in my Dell Inspiron 1501 recently overheated and died. I’ve had it for around 6 years (since partway through my 1st year of uni) so I reckon I’ve had my money’s worth out of it. I left it for a few weeks as I’ve only used it a small amount on and off for several years as the battery stopped working and I got a Macbook Pro in 2010. Today I figured I would use a spare hard drive I had and rebuild it. Me and my partner have been sharing the Macbook Pro for a while now which sometimes leaves me without a machine to use.

I decided I would this opportunity to rebuild it with Ubuntu Desktop 12.10 as I would like more day to day experience with Linux. I have been using Ubuntu for years but mostly only the server flavours. As the Inspiron 1501 has been out for a while I figured that I wouldn’t have a problem with hardware such as wireless like I did with Ubuntu 6.04 and an IBM Thinkpad R50e many moons ago. I downloaded the 12.10 iso and used my Macbook Pro to load it onto a boot-able 4GB USB pen-drive then booted into the installer. The new hard drive wasn’t getting picked up so I had to switch to “Try Ubuntu” and use GParted to add a partition table  and file system to the new drive before the installer could pick it up. I then plugged in a network cable and proceeded to install Ubuntu 12.10.

On first boot things look fine. Graphics worked, sound worked and most of the Fn keys worked. Wireless didn’t work. After a bit of messing about I worked out that it was a firmware issue. The Dell Inspiron 1501 uses a Broadcom 1390 wireless controller which doesn’t have any native drivers. Luckily there is some B43 firmware available which addresses this issue. The instructions below show you how to install it and get WiFi working perfectly:

These instructions also work with 12.04 and I believe (although I haven’t tested) with 11.10 and 11.04. Earlier versions I have no idea.

  • Make sure you are connected to the internet with an Ethernet cable.
  • Run the following commands in the terminal:
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get purge bcmwl-kernel-source broadcom-sta-common broadcom-sta-source
sudo apt-get install b43-fwcutter firmware-b43-installer
  • After the commands have completed unplug the network cable and restart your laptop.
  • On first login press Fn + F2, the WiFi light should come on near the power button and the option for WiFi and connecting to WiFi networks should appear in the network connections applet near the clock.

This got me up and running and the next thing I did was move from Unity to XFCE. The 1501 can run Unity 3D just fine but I found that the interface was too laggy for my liking, which I put down to the age of the machine rather than Unity itself. XFCE runs much faster and it’s interface stays out of your way allowing you more screen real estate for activities like programming and browsing.

This was how to enable wireless in Ubuntu 12.10 on a Dell Inspiron 1501

Jason Edwards

  • AnGus

    Jason

    A big thank you! Migrating to newer Ubuntu versions has always given me wireless pain. Your set of instructions are the first to have worked first time. I might file them away for the next upgrade 😉 (I forgot how old the machine was too – 5 1/2 years for mine)

    Kind regards

    AnGus

    • I know it’s a surprise that it’s 5 1/2 years old now. I mainly use it at home as my only physical Linux machine. I use Ubuntu/Xubuntu VM’s on my other machines. It still runs really well. I have upgraded the RAM from the stock 1GB to the 2GB max it can take.

  • John J. Tymn

    This worked very well for me on the first jab of implementation. Thanks a million!

    • No problem. Glad I could help. What distro and version are you using?

  • Balsoy

    Worked like a charm. Thank you. It would have made a pile of junk otherwise.

  • oldie

    Thank you, this worked perfectly 🙂

  • Andreas

    All I get when I run these two commands in terminal is “cannot find package X”. Installed Ubuntu 12.10 from a live 12.10 usb drive, onto my Inspiron 1501. Connected via ethernet. Any clues? I installed the OS in Norwegian, but that shouldnt affect commands though?

    • Have you done a sudo apt-get update first to ensure you have an up to date package list and installed any updates that are available?

      • Andreas

        No, doing it now. I’m new to ubuntu; People keep claiming it’s become user firendly, and here I am in Terminal again, 5 minutes after installing it xD

        • Haha. Yeah I get your point. It’s ok assuming the installer configures everything before you come to use it. They’ve still got a long way to go. Let me know if you sort it!

      • Andreas

        That seem to have done the trick, thanks!

        • Great news. Glad I could help you. It’s not always clear but it’s important to do an apt-get update when you first install to ensure your using the most up to date package list. Enjoy your new Ubuntu install.

  • tallpaul02

    Worked like a charm on my fresh install of 12.10 on an 8 year old Dell Inspiron 6400 😀
    Thanks very much for posting this!

  • Lisandro Duran

    Great, it worked, than you!

  • andrew jacobs

    The first part seemed to work. But the second one didnt work….. All i got was a lot of “connection timeouts”. Maybe the links broken or something. Could someone help :-C

    • Have you tried doing a sudo apt-get update before running the commands?

  • Andrew Jacobs

    Dude i love you sooo much ( in a non-homosexual way )……………thank you 🙂

    • I’m glad you sorted it. I intend to edit the post at some point to include sudo apt-get update as I’ve been getting several queries from people who haven’t been able to get it to work.

  • Pimenta Dev.

    Just this worked for me!!

  • ss81bja

    people like u make the internet beautiful man. Trying to install wireless was a pain until i found your instructions

    • Hey thats great news. Glad I was able to help you sort it out.

  • marc

    thanks a lot

    • No problem. I’m glad my post solved this for you.

  • Indra dj

    Thanks awesome lots! It just work on first attempt with 13.04 on my lenovo laptop. You solved my wireless problem since 12.04! It has been 1 year in frustated research just to stumble upon your website, terrific! Just like that with so easy to use command for newbie like me

    • I’m glad my post solved your problem. I’m also glad that it is still relevant for 13.04.

  • bheem

    hey, my wireless runs well when i boot from pen drive but after installing the wireless doesn’t work. Can’t i install the driver to my hard disk while i boot from my pen drive??? I use dell inspron 1440 , broadcom BCM4312 802.11b/g LP-PHY driver. Need some help

    • I’ve had that problem before. I think it’s because the pen drive live system uses a generic driver which allows most of the machines functionality to work out of the box. The problem is when you install it properly it doesn’t use this driver and you have to fall back to the driver mention in my tutorial.

  • Adam Relayson

    Sir, I didn’t believe in God until I saw your blogpost. I have literally spent days trying to get my 1501 working with Ubuntu. Tried dozens of things. I screwed it up so bad that I had to re-install.

    THANK YOU. Thank you so much… I … I promised myself I wouldn’t cry…

    • Hi,

      I am really glad my post helped you my friend. Enjoy Ubuntu it’s great.
      Jason

  • Serafim Urukov

    I tried to wtite that commands. Wifi was enabled, but then system asked me about drivers. I clicked ok and now i can’t use wifi. I cand use the Internet via network cable. Laptop doesn’t see it. What i done wrong?

    • What version of Ubuntu are you using? This guide is for Ubuntu 12.10. Are you sure you followed the tutorial precisely as I can confirm it works on my test machine. Please make sure you are doing a sudo apt-get update before running the commands in the tutorial as this will ensure you have an updated repository list.

    • jasonsedwards

      Hi Serafim,

      I’m glad this worked for you. I’m not surprised it didn’t work with the Live DVD as it can’t interact with the hardware in the same way that a full install can.

      • Serafim Urukov

        I have reinstal ubuntu. Then I tried again. All works perfectly! THANK YOU!

  • Katrina Payne

    Uh… WHEN exactly am I suppose to hit Fn+F2?

    People keep saying I am suppose to hit it after reboot. Doing this during POST will try to have me into the BIOS menu… and any time after that does sweet fuck all.

    The Fn button works just fine (tested changing the volume)… but Fn+F2 is about a useless as a screen door on a battle ship. Hell, I just tried pressing it like twenty times just now, and it still does fuck all?

    • Hi Katrina, Thanks for visiting my blog today. As I say in the article “On first login press Fn + F2”. You have to ensure you have run the commands to install the firmware as the root user before rebooting. I’ll probably re-visit this at some point as it has been over 3 years since I wrote the post.