Trusty WRT54G – Transformed

wrt54g.pngRecently I changed from FIOS back to Cablevision and I found myself in a position of not having a modern wireless router. Yeah, I realized that as soon as I had order the re-installation of cable only 5 days before the install. FIOS had come with it’s own cable modem with built-in wireless router. Cablevision on the other hand, requires that you get your own. When I switched from Cablevision to FIOS I had given my Apple Extreme Base Station to my Dad as I thought that I didn’t need it any more. Now with the change back, I thought I had to go out and buy a new modem. Not that I mind – I’m jonesing for the NETGEAR WNDR3700-100NAS that just came out. However, at $180+ I think I’ll wait awhile for the price to come down.

In the meantime, I dug into the Pile of Tech (other wise known to my wife as the garbage pile in the basement) and found my old Linksys WRT54G. It’s actually a v1.1 model, so it’s going back some time – it’s ancient as far as tech goes. At the time that it came out, I believe that 802.11g was just ratified. So the router was top of the line, cutting edge at 54mbps. Compared to 802.11n, I thought using it would feel like going in reverse. Since I owned it already and I really needed to get online with a router after the cable guy had left, I thought I’d give it a chance.

I was fortunate enough that the router had retained it’s configuration from the last time it was used. Thus nothing really had to be change in the way of security. I was up and running in a matter of 10-15 minutes once I got the right cables pulled through the network cable nest I have in the basement. (Another project I haven’t had time to get to yet.)

But I couldn’t let it rest there… I had to improve it!

One of the first online sites I hit was I needed to know just how fast was my Internet connection. I got 13.5 mbps down and about 1.85 mbps up. Pretty dismal. Nothing I could do about it other than pay for additional speed from Cablevision. Honestly we don’t need more bandwidth. Having it would be nice, but it won’t kill us not to have it. Although I could live with the speed, I started another internet search for how to make the router faster to see if I could eek more out of the device.

I’ve always known there was an open source/alternative firmware community for these devices. I even thought about using them a dog’s age ago, but never found the need to. I figured now was a good opportunity to see how much the community has grown and what could they make these devices do now. I was shocked to see how much the community and certain individuals have been able to cram into these devices. I really didn’t have to worry about if I could find a faster/better firmware for my WRT, I had to worry about which one to chose from!

I ended up deciding on using Tomato. There was enough positive reviews out there that I thought it would be a good alternative firmware to use. I was jazzed about two things with Tomato: first, it had bandwidth tracking with graphs and second, the installation process was just as easy as uploading a new firmware package. There wasn’t any weird process to get the firmware installed and thus it seem to be an easy install.

And it was easy… at least up to the point where I couldn’t get on the internet any more!

The install was very easy. Simply download the appropriate version of the firmware for your equipment. For installing on my WRT45G v1.1 router, I simply had to logged into the administration interface of the router and upload the new firmware using the router’s built in firmware upgrade screen. Once uploaded, the router will automatically reset and your browser would be brought right into the Overview screen of your ‘new’ router. The surprising thing was that the upgrade did not lose any of my configuration information! I was totally amazed by this.
Then I notice that the WAN interface hadn’t established a TCP/IP address and it was still trying to negotiate one. After a number of reboots and other troubleshooting steps – including resetting the NVRAM, which caused me to lose my configuration and hence re-enter all the information from memory, I had to go the Internet with my iPhone to figure out why this was happening. I read in the FAQs for Tomato that there was a setting I could use to help this situation and I tried it with no dice. After about 30 minutes of panic I decided that I’ll just shut everything down, including the cable modem, and restarting everything see what happens. That did the trick. Everything came back up.
After hitting again, I’m seeing a slight increase in bandwidth performance: 14.1 mbps down and 2 mbps up. PLUS I got some really kick ass graphs to watch. I’m looking forward to tweaking and adding some of the more advance features, like SSH and telnet in the near future.
Here’s some advice: read the directions and the FAQs before you attempt this. If you don’t, just make sure you have an alternate way of getting to the internet to do some researching if things go wrong. I’m not completely dumb btw… I did download the latest Linksys firmware before I tried any of this. Just in case.

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