Suddenly the Intel PRO/Wireless 2915ABG WIFI card disconnects from the wireless network and the D610 latitude laptop running Windows Xp Pro freezes up. The result is a weird journey through a forest of software and hardware issue's. Surprisingly, the Intel PRO/wireless card is OK. Read on for the details about this sudden malfunction.
A hard life on the road
The D610 Latitude laptop has a pretty hard life in the machine. It has to operate on a daily basis in cold, hot, dusty, bumpy and humid weather conditions. Specially in hot conditions the fan is nearly always on and CPU temperature easily rises above 70-80 degrees. Particularly hot weather has an aging effect on it's internals, so hardware breakdowns can be expected.
Sudden WIFI disconnect
This D610 laptop previously had a few WIFI issue's but nothing like this. While surfing the Internet, the WIFI connection was suddenly lost, the WIFI indicator above the keyboard went off and within a minute the D610 froze - it had to be restarted by pressing the power button for 5 seconds.
During the next windows XP startup, the WIFI indicator above the keyboard didn't light up. Next the Intel PROSet/Wirelless icon in the system tray reported "a physical WIFI adapter is not installed". Pressing Fn+F2 didn't help either, the WIFI card is unresponsive. Additionally the WIFI card doesn't show in the device manager in the computer management console. Selecting "scan for hardware changes" produced no results. After a bit of fiddling it seems like the Intel PRO/Wireless 2915ABG WIFI miniPCI card is dead. Without the WIFI card the D610 still worked flawlessly, connecting to the network using a standard wired UTP LAN connection.
A weird aftermath
The next day, while starting the D610 the WIFI indicator above the keyboard lit! However while loading the XP desktop the D610 locked up again. After a forced restart the above situation reproduced exactly as before, with one exception. A manual "scan for hardware changes" resulted in a 2nd card bus controller identified as "MTD-0002". The device had a yellow exclamation in it, meaning it wasn't operational due to errors. Also the the Intel PRO/Wireless 2915ABG WIFI miniPCI card showed itself again, also with a yellow exclamation mark in it. After a reboot both disappeared and didn't show again. Now the Intel PROSet /Wireless WIFI manager reported: "No supported wireless adpaters available in the system".
The WIFI wireless card is ok
Next a spare Intel PRO/Wireless 2915ABG WIFI miniPCI card was inserted. Again the same result - it seems the source of the problem is not the wireless card. In a different D610 the seemingly malfunctioning WIFI wireless card worked OK. So what's wrong here?
Dell diagnostic CD
The D610 latitude diagnostic disk from the Dell support website gave a bit more info. The custom test section for PCI devices showed 35 PCI devices with vendor FBFF and product FFFF, marked as "Device not in class", which seems like total non-sense. Instead the Texas Instruments Cardbus controller PCI6515 (vendor 104C product 8038) was missing. Inserting a PCMCIA card (Senao WiFi card) confirmed a missing cardbus controller, the Senao PCMCIA WIFI card is not recognized at all.
Somehow the Texas Instruments cardbus controller seems to mess up communications with the Intel PRO/Wireless 2915ABG WIFI miniPCI card. On the D610 motherboard one miniPCI slot is located near the PCI6515 Cardbus Bridge controller. Unfortunately it can't be disabled in BIOS, only the miniPCI slot has this BIOS feature.
LINUX - UBUNTU confirms a dead cardbus controller
Booting UBUNTU shows the same pattern. A wireless WIFI adapter is not present, however the signal strength indicator in the right upper corner does show. Additionally the system log at /var/log/messages doesn't show the usual "yenta_cardbus" entry, the LINUX device driver for a wide range of cardbus controllers.
With this cardbus controller malfunction the D610 is retired after 2,5 years of daily use. It was a 2nd hand laptop already with a few miles on it. It's now in the closet as a spare or for non destructive testing.