I had the same problem. My son is almost 13 and I want him to learn open source as he learns computers. His machine is distant from my Belkin Pre-N wireless router.
I had no luck with ndiswrapper using my current cards. I have made most of the mistakes and seen most of the cryptic error messages chronicled here. However, thanks to the great help here and the O'Reilly "Linux Unwired" book, I did get things running (poorly) with the BCM43xx driver. The connection was slow, unreliable, and weak.
Netgate.com (recommeneded by the local Linux User Group) is knowledgeable about open source wireless, and solved my laptop problem with one of their Atheros PCMCIA cards. I called to buy another PCMCIA card, PCI adapter, with an antenna kit to solve the desktop range problem. Instead, they recommended a wireless bridge, which I ordered. It is a fantastic, although somewhat costly, solution. ($125 - cheaper than a copy of Vista) http://www.netgate.com/product_info....roducts_id=361
The high power, high range, bridge has an embedded operating system. It has many capabilities, but I am using it as a virtual ethernet cable outlet. Setup was easy. You plug in the long-cord power supply, and connect your machine to the bridge with the included ethernet cable. Soon, I had a very powerful and fast connection where I used to have a weak and slow connection with the Belkin Wireless G card and BCM43xx driver.
One nice thing is that the unit is portable and has no drivers. Linux, or any machine, just sees it as an ethernet cable. The bridge doesn't know what it is connected to, and could care less if I upgrade to a new kernel or different distro. I could use it to network a printer if I wanted. It would be great on vacation with an RV, especially with a bigger antenna.
The only drawback I can see, aside from the price, is that that the high power of the unit means that it sucks more power and runs hotter than a PCI wireless card.
But Netgate has saved the Linux day for me. Internet access is an absolute must these days, and like a lot of people, it was not practical to have my house wired (I had a company come out to look - they wouldn't even bid.) I feel like this was one of my best computer purchases ever, and I am happy to support a company that supports open source. Anybody looking for a PCI solution may want to consider a bridge.