How to solve Linux Mint Wi-Fi problems – Linux Mint 21.3 Edition

Most modern Linux distributions have out-of-the-box terrific support for most of the available hardware components, like graphics cards, and printers. And with HWE or Hardware Enablement, it has become even more convenient to catch up with the latest hardware technologies in your Ubuntu-based Linux distro of choice. But when you do a clean installation of Linux Mint it is still possible that your system doesn’t come up directly with the correct or most optimized drivers for your devices, because they are too new, or because of whatever other reason. And for Wi-Fi devices, this can be even more problematic. In this article, I will show you how to install Wi-Fi drivers in Linux Mint 21.3 or what you can do if there is no direct solution for your specific hardware. The information in this article is also of value for older versions of Linux Mint or other Ubuntu-based distros.

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Content 

  1. Install driver for Wi-Fi adapters via Driver Manager
  2. What if you still can’t bring your Wi-Fi back to life
  3. Updating your kernel
  4. Find and install a driver for a specific USB Wi-Fi adapter
  5. Use a USB Wi-Fi adapter that should work with Linux
  6. Alternative hardware solutions
  7. Final words

Install driver for Wi-Fi adapters via Driver Manager

When you install Linux Mint on a desktop machine or laptop with a built-in Wi-Fi adapter, it is generally speaking to be expected that it will be recognized automatically, but there is of course a chance that this specific  Wi-Fi adapter is not automatically being recognized during the installation process. So what can you do next?

A real-life example

As you can read in my article “Bring your MacBook Aluminum Late 2008 back to life again with Linux“, I have been a pleased user of the OS X / macOS operating system for over 10 years. However, due to increasing hardware issues and a lack of support by Apple, I looked for something different. One of the things I did was to swap OS X on my still-working MacBook with Linux Mint, which was a great decision.

But there was a hurdle. The Broadcom BCM4322 Wireless Controller in the old Apple MacBook late 2008, is not automatically recognized by default during the Linux Mint installation process. However, I knew from other websites and other users that Linux Mint should work fine on this specific equipment. So the solution for me and probably for a lot of other devices was simple: I had the opportunity to temporarily make a wired internet connection, and via this connection I had my Wi-Fi issue solved within a few minutes. I went through the below steps in Linux Mint.

1) Connect the computer via a network cable.

2) Open the applications menu in Linux Mint.

3) Choose Driver Manager in the Administration category or search for Driver Manager.

After a standard cache update takes place, the Driver Manager displays an overview of device components that have been recognized and that require a driver. Here hopefully a driver for the wireless adapter will be available. In the case of my macBook it did.

4) Under Broadcom Corporation, select “bcmwl-kernel-source” as the recommended option.

The operating system should now be restarted and Wi-Fi on this machine will then work perfectly.

Of course, the above example is based on a specific old macBook Late 2008 and the hardware in it, so I can’t say for sure that in your specific case with your specific hardware, the above steps will also show and activate the right driver for your device. So what if it doesn’t?

What if you still can’t bring your Wi-Fi back to life

The previous approach should also work for many other internal wireless adapters, as more and more adapters are supported out of the box by modern Linux kernels. As described, for my macBook Late 2008 I only had to run the Driver Manager. And for my Dell Latitude E7450 laptop it was a no-brainer to have the Wi-Fi adapter recognized and working properly, as it was recognized by Linux Mint out of the box. This is often the case for a lot of A-class laptops, like the Lenovo ThinkPad, HP Stream, Dell XPS, and Dell Latitude systems. 

But there is a chance that you have a wireless adapter in your system for which this approach is not working, or you already bought a USB-based Wi-Fi dongle that you hope to use in your new Linux Mint machine. This could be an issue as many articles and discussions on the internet prove that there are still a lot of problems with Wi-Fi hardware getting to work in Linux. Therefore it is almost impossible to come up with good generic advice to solve every problem concerning every available Wi-Fi adapter. So, sometimes you have to search for solutions for your specific hardware or try one of the options described below.

Updating your kernel

On my custom-built i7 workstation it was some years ago much more difficult to come up with a working solution for several USB Wi-Fi adapters I tried. So on that machine, I have a semi-wired solution, which I will describe later in this article. But the Linux kernel is continuously being improved and when I was writing this third update of this article, I was very much surprised that an old Sitecom adapter (Sitecom WL-356 300N) suddenly works without a problem, while it was not recognized only a couple of years ago. And that is just because of a more modern kernel.

So an option to have better driver support is upgrading to a newer kernel. Every new kernel has improved support for some older, existing hardware and newly introduced support for some new hardware. If you are already on the most recent release of your distribution, you probably already have a more modern driver support, but if you are using for example the older Linux Mint 17, which was released in May 2014, it is based on a much older Linux kernel. When you use an old Linux Mint distribution you can upgrade to a newer, more recent version. But also if you are already on the most recent Linux Mint 21.3, you still don’t have the most recent Linux kernel, as it is based on kernel 5.15, while the most recent kernel available at the time of writing is 6.7.

You can use the below command in the Terminal (use Ctrl + Alt + T to open the Terminal) to find the version of the kernel, which is for the standard Linux Mint 21.3 kernel 5.15.

uname -r

So, you can try an upgrade to a newer kernel to see if it has better support for your Wi-Fi device. 

Note: Keep in mind that the current kernel in Linux Mint 21.3 is a Long Term Support kernel which will be supported till April 2027, while for example the newer kernel 6.5 will be supported until August 2024. This means you have to update the kernel yourself more regularly.

Attention: Before you decide to upgrade your kernel, I advise you to backup both your system data and your personal data, if that is stored in the standard Linux Mint file structure. Please have a look at one of my following articles on backups in Linux:

How to use Timeshift to backup and restore Linux Mint

How to setup and use backups in Linux Mint

How to easily create backups in Linux with Pika Backup

luckyBackup is a powerful backup solution for Linux

Let’s have a look at how to upgrade the kernel in Linux Mint 21.3.

1) Open your Linux Mint Applications menu and search for “Update Manager”.

2) When the Update Manager opens, it is possible that you will see a message that there is a newer version of the Update Manager. If so, Install the newest version by confirming.

3) Now select in the menu of the Update Manager the View option and select Linux Kernels. 

You will now see a warning.

4) Click Continue.

You will now get an overview of the different main kernel levels (5.15, 5.19, 6.2, 6.5) and per level the different available specific kernel versions for you to install. 

5) If you want for example install kernel 6.5.0-15, which is at the time of writing the highest available version via the Linux Mint Update Manager, just select it.

6) Now click Install.

7) Click Yes when you see the message “Are you sure you want to install …”.

8) Type the required password to continue. 

Now you need to wait until the kernel upgrade is finished.

9) Reboot your Linux Mint system.

Hopefully, the system now supports your Wi-Fi device.

But what if it is still not working?

Find and install a driver for a specific USB Wi-Fi adapter

An alternative way to solve your Wi-Fi issues is to search for specific information on how to install, if available, a driver for your device. 

Before I did an upgrade myself to a more recent kernel, I had a problem with one of the USB Wi-Fi devices that I was using for testing purposes. So the first thing I did was to see what type of USB device it was. You can use the following command in your Terminal to get a list of all active USB devices:

lsusb

In my case, I got the following list:

Bus 004 Device 002: ID 152d:0578 JMicron Technology Corp. / JMicron USA Technology Corp. JMS578 SATA 6Gb/s

Bus 004 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0003 Linux Foundation 3.0 root hub

Bus 003 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0002 Linux Foundation 2.0 root hub

Bus 002 Device 002: ID 152d:9561 JMicron Technology Corp. / JMicron USA Technology Corp. JMS56x Series

Bus 002 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0003 Linux Foundation 3.0 root hub

Bus 001 Device 004: ID 258a:000c HAILUCK CO.,LTD USB KEYBOARD

Bus 001 Device 003: ID 046d:c069 Logitech, Inc. M-U0007 [Corded Mouse M500]

Bus 001 Device 002: ID 0d8c:0014 C-Media Electronics, Inc. Audio Adapter (Unitek Y-247A)

Bus 001 Device 007: ID 0bda:c811 Realtek Semiconductor Corp. 802.11ac NIC

Bus 001 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0002 Linux Foundation 2.0 root hub

In the list above you see the following:

Bus 001 Device 007: ID 0bda:c811 Realtek Semiconductor Corp. 802.11ac NIC

So the USB Wi-Fi device that I can’t get working is a Realtek 802.11ac. 

The next thing I did was an extensive search on the Internet to find information about Realtek 802.11ac in combination with Linux Mint, Ubuntu, etc. I found the following set of commands on https://forums.linuxmint.com/viewtopic.php?t=389185:

sudo apt update

sudo apt install build-essential git dkms

git clone https://github.com/brektrou/rtl8821CU.git

cd rtl8821CU

chmod +x dkms-install.sh

sudo ./dkms-install.sh

And this was the solution that worked for my Realtek Semiconductor Corp. 802.11ac USB Wi-Fi device.

Of course, this is just an example, but maybe based on the above procedure you can find comparable information for your specific device.

Use a USB Wi-Fi adapter that should work with Linux

Instead of searching for solutions for your problematic Wi-Fi device, another option is to purchase a new device that has a better chance of working with Linux. Some external Wi-Fi adapters should work perfectly with Linux because they are specifically created for Linux, or they are built with technology that is better supported in Linux, or because many users have had good results with them and thus have a proven track record.

The most important component of a wireless adapter that guarantees compatibility with Linux is the chipset. According to a great article on www.wirelesshack.org (a very nice source for electronic projects including Kali Linux, Wireless Security, KODI, SDR, Raspberry Pi, How-To- information, Reviews, Guides, and Tutorials) on popular chipsets, called “Top Best Linux Compatible USB Wireless Adapters”, you have to look for Wi-Fi adapters with one of the following chipsets: Ralink 3070, Atheros AR9271, RTL8811AU, RTL8812AU, and Realtek 8187 (source: https://www.wirelesshack.org/top-linux-compatible-usb-wireless-adapters.html).

Based on the analysis of the writer of the above-mentioned article, but also the analysis and investigation I did myself on lots of available product reviews on Amazon and articles on different authority websites, containing user experiences, research results, and test outcomes, I can say that the below adapters should be good options to solve your wireless problems.

Penguin wireless products

If you want to go for real Linux compatibility, have a look at some of the products of Penguin:

https://www.thinkpenguin.com/

Penguin Wireless N USB Adapter for GNU / Linux, model TPE-N150USB

Panda wireless products

Another great brand that has Linux in mind is Panda Wireless. Here are some products that should work with Linux Mint.

Panda N600 Dual Band (2.4GHz & 5.0GHz) 300Mbps Wireless N USB Adapter [<< Affiliate link]

Panda Wireless® PAU0C AC1200 Dual Band Wireless-AC USB Adapter [<< Affiliate link]

Panda Wireless® PAU0D AC1200 Wireless AC USB Adapter w/Dual Antennas [<< Affiliate link]

BrosTrend wireless products

Also, Wi-Fi adapters made by BrosTrend generally work well with Linux.

BrosTrend USB wifi adapter for Linux – AC1L [<< Affiliate link]

For in-depth information go to https://www.brostrend.com/collections/linux-wifi-adapter/products/ac1l

BrosTrend AX1800 USB WiFi 6 – ax4l  [<< Affiliate link]

For in-depth information go to https://www.brostrend.com/collections/linux-wifi-adapter/products/ax4l

For in-depth information go to https://www.brostrend.com/collections/linux-wifi-adapter/products/ax4l

BrosTrend 650Mbps Linux Compatible WiFi Adapter – a5cl [<< Affiliate link]

For in-depth information go to https://www.brostrend.com/collections/linux-wifi-adapter/products/ac5l

Alternative hardware solutions

Above I provided different options to handle your Wi-Fi adapter issues, but when you don’t want to or can’t use USB Wi-Fi dongles, or you tried your current Wi-Fi dongle but can’t get it working, or when you maybe have a dedicated workplace in the attic or your regular study, so you don’t have to move around with your Linux machine, you have other alternatives as well that don’t require Linux drivers or Linux support. For myself and also some family and friends I installed Mesh Wi-Fi systems with built-in ethernet support. Via these Mesh systems, you can connect the devices to your Wi-Fi network and you connect your computer via an ethernet cable to the Mesh device. This works perfectly without all the aforementioned problems, as it provides Wi-Fi independent from your Linux system. Another comparable solution is a Passthrough Powerline kit that runs data through your electrical lines and also connects with your computer via an ethernet cable.

Examples of products that I have personally great experience with are:

TP-Link Deco M4 Whole Home Mesh WiFi System [<< Affiliate link]

For in-depth information on TP-link Mesh Wi-Fi go to https://www.tp-link.com/en/deco-mesh-wifi/

TP Link 252119 Tp-link Ac Tl-wpa8631p Kit Av1300 Gigabit Pass-through Powerline Ac Wi-fi Kit  [<< Affiliate link]

For in-depth information on TP-link Powerline Adapters go to https://www.tp-link.com/en/home-networking/powerline/

Final words

On my website, I try to show you that Linux Mint is simple and works mostly perfectly fine with all of your hardware. Well, Wi-Fi could be one of those problematic deviations that do not fully match my perfect picture of Linux. But it is getting better and better every day. In this article, I showed there are different possible solutions and approaches available, but if you have one of these really problematic wireless adapters, it is probably better to skip trying to solve the problem and just buy a cheap compatible adapter as mentioned in the article, that works right away with your Linux Mint distribution. Or even simpler, install a Wi-Fi Mesh system with ethernet support, or a Passthrough Powerline solution with ethernet. I hope this article helps you to find a working solution. If you have other solutions or ideas, please contact me via the contact page.

References:

About the free Linux Mint tutorial series

Through many short Linux beginner tutorials, I want to offer a simple starter guide for those who have never done anything with Linux Mint and do not know exactly where to start and where to find the necessary information. In an accessible way, it guides you through among others the principles of Linux, finding and downloading a Linux distribution, creating a live medium, finding software, installing software, executing updates, and making sure your internal and external devices work properly. This article is part of my Linux Mint tutorial series. You can find an overview of the complete tutorial series via the link below:

Linux beginner tutorials – an overview

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About John Been

Hi there! My name is John Been. At the moment I work as a senior solution engineer for a large financial institution, but in my free time, I am the owner of RealAppUser.com, RealLinuxUser.com, and author of my first book "Linux for the rest of us". I have a broad insight and user experience in everything related to information technology and I believe I can communicate about it with some fun and knowledge and skills.

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