For some time I’ve been wanting to upgrade the firmware (built-in software that controls most modern electronic devices) in my wireless router. I use a Linksys WRT54G, which is a typical wireless router that acts as a wireless access point, 4-port hub and internet router, all in one small package.
To some degree the reason for performing an upgrade like this is simply because it’s possible, though there’s no doubt that the new firmware does offer a much cleaner design than the factory default software; almost every interface screen is improved compared to the original. In addition, there are bug fixes and new, advanced features such as the ability to increase the transmitter’s power, more informative status pages and the ability to manage bandwidth usage by application (so that bit-torrents don’t consume the entire network, ahem).
Additionally, while on vacation I haven’t checked my work email (not even once) for the past week (a true rarity for me!) and this mini-project (3-4 hours last evening) provided a bit of a technical outlet for me. Also, I suppose this report is related to the concept of experiential learning we’ve discussed at work; I hope it’s useful for someone contemplating upgrading their router.
I began by refreshing my memory about the topic of wireless router firmware upgrades and found an excellent article that provides a good history and overview of the subject: The Open Source WRT54G Story.
The Linksys Routers Tricks, Tips and Firmware page provides some very useful background information.
A variety of firmware upgrade options are available, and this 3rd Party Firmware Comparison provides details about 4 of the most popular choices.
After a while I began zeroing in on a selection, and this first-hand account of someone’s experiences upgrading their own router helped solidify my choice: DD-WRT.
I quickly found a great (clear and accurate) set of WRT54G upgrade directions and shortly thereafter was back on the internet via a router that had just had the electronic equivalent of a brain transplant. After I finished my upgrade I found another page with upgrade directions that looks pretty informative and includes a photo gallery of screen-shots taken during the upgrade process.
Just in case there were any problems, I had a great router firmware upgrade troubleshooting page open for reference; thankfully it wasn’t needed.
Overall, while this wireless router upgrade isn’t necessary, it isn’t terribly hard to perform (though carefully following the instructions is important), and does provide both a better interface and some extra new features, including the ability to increase the transmitted power (useful if you have a computer that is a bit too far away from your wireless access point).
One caveat if you’ve read this far: only a few modern routers support this type of upgrade, so carefully read the above pages to ensure you have (or purchase) a model/version that will work with these router firmware upgrades that are available. If you have a newer model, the DD-WRT “micro” distribution is said to work, and if so is still likely better than the default software provided with the unit.