There are currently only a few ways to put your laptop on a network. You can use the SLIP code (and run at serial line speeds); you can buy one of the few laptops that come with a NE2000-compatible ethercard; you can get a notebook with a supported PCMCIA slot built-in; you can get a laptop with a docking station and plug in an ISA ethercard; or you can use a parallel port Ethernet adapter such as the D-Link DE-600.
This is the cheapest solution, but by far the most difficult. Also, you will not get very high transmission rates. Since SLIP is not really related to ethernet cards, it will not be discussed further here. See the NET-2 Howto.
This solution severely limits your laptop choices and is fairly expensive. Be sure to read the specifications carefully, as you may find that you will have to buy an additional non-standard transceiver to actually put the machine on a network. A good idea might be to boot the notebook with a kernel that has ne2000 support, and make sure it gets detected and works before you lay down your cash.
As this area of Linux development is fairly young, I'd suggest that you join the LAPTOPS mailing channel. See Mailing lists... which describes how to join a mailing list channel.
Try and determine exactly what hardware you have (ie. card manufacturer, PCMCIA chip controller manufacturer) and then ask on the LAPTOPS channel. Regardless, don't expect things to be all that simple. Expect to have to fiddle around a bit, and patch kernels, etc. Maybe someday you will be able to type `make config' 8-)
At present, the two PCMCIA chipsets that are supported are the Databook TCIC/2 and the intel i82365.
There is a number of programs on tsx-11.mit.edu in /pub/linux/packages/laptops/ that you may find useful. These range from PCMCIA Ethercard drivers to programs that communicate with the PCMCIA controller chip. Note that these drivers are usually tied to a specific PCMCIA chip (ie. the intel 82365 or the TCIC/2)
For NE2000 compatible cards, some people have had success
with just configuring the card under DOS, and then booting
linux from the DOS command prompt via
For those that are net-surfing you can try:
Don's PCMCIA Stuff
Anyway, the PCMCIA driver problem isn't specific to the Linux world. It's been a real disaster in the MS-DOS world. In that world people expect the hardware to work if they just follow the manual. They might not expect it to interoperate with any other hardware or software, or operate optimally, but they do expect that the software shipped with the product will function. Many PCMCIA adaptors don't even pass this test.
Things are looking up for Linux users that want PCMCIA support, as
substantial progress is being made. Pioneering this effort is
David Hinds. His latest PCMCIA support package can be obtained
cb-iris.stanford.edu in the directory
/pub/pcmcia/. Look for a file like
pcmcia-cs-X.Y.Z.tgz where X.Y.Z will be the latest version
number. This is most likely uploaded to
Note that Donald's PCMCIA enabler works as a user-level process, and David Hinds' is a kernel-level solution. You may be best served by David's package as it is much more widely used.
Docking stations for laptops typically cost about $250 and provide two full-size ISA slots, two serial and one parallel port. Most docking stations are powered off of the laptop's batteries, and a few allow adding extra batteries in the docking station if you use short ISA cards. You can add an inexpensive ethercard and enjoy full-speed ethernet performance.
The `pocket' ethernet adaptors may also fit your need. Until recently they actually costed more than a docking station and cheap ethercard, and most tie you down with a wall-brick power supply. At present, you can choose from the D-Link, or the RealTek adaptor. Most other companies treat the programming information as a trade secret, so support will likely be slow in coming. (if ever!) Xircom (see Xircom) apparently are now releasing their specs, but nobody is currently working on a driver.
Note that the transfer speed will not be all that great (perhaps 200kB/s tops?) due to the limitations of the parallel port interface.
See DE-600 / DE-620 and RealTek for supported pocket adaptors.
You can sometimes avoid the wall-brick with the adaptors by buying or making a cable that draws power from the laptop's keyboard port. (See keyboard power)