WRT54G & Adventures in wireless

A couple of weeks ago I (finally) received my laptop from work (Dell Latitude D610) after waiting nearly six months.  My company pretty much rolls around the clock so often things transpire during off hours.  I generally work fairly normal business hours, but a lot of the people I work with do not.  Having the laptop allows me to check-in from home in the evening with very little effort and thus avoiding getting blindsided in the morning.  It also allows me a lot of flexibility when working from home or wherever.  That is, once I got a wireless connection working for it…

I’ve had reliable DSL service since that finally was resolved.  But that was one computer connected straight to the DSL modem (Westell 6100).  Thus the first thing was acquiring a wireless router.  In an amazing stroke of luck, one of my employees was looking to unload a LinkSys WRT54G…for $20.  A great deal as most of the used ones I saw were selling for at least $40.

Cool, lets hook it up.  Wham, bam, uh, not quite ma’am.  Got my desktop system connected, and I could get to the configuration interface, but no internet access.  Thus begins a number of rounds of connecting and disconnecting the router so I could access the internets for some help.  After a bit of searching I learned something important about my DSL connection that I didn’t know…it’s running PPPoE and the modem is also a router.  This means that I needed to run it in bridge mode and let the WRT handle all of the connection details.  Which then meant I had to find out how to do that.  Thus more searching, more forum reading and I finally found a couple of answer that were similar and promising.  Using the tried and true trial and error method I finally got the Westell configured, the WRT connected and internet access working.  Actually I should say I got it mostly working.  

I’m a big Google ig and use it for my browser homepage.  So once connected it loaded up fine.  Jumped to my site, no problem.  Jump to Yahoo…nothing.  CNN, no problem.  Slashdot, dead.  Hmmm…so it looks like both Yahoo and Slashdot are both down.  Somehow I found the a bit suspicious.  ;)  It was getting late, I was tired, and now frustrated.  I reluctantly called it a night.

The following evening it was back to searching for a solution to my now very strange problem.  I was not finding anyone who had similar problems so I had not quick fixes available.  I was quickly leering that there is a very large hacker community for the WRT though.  Lots of strange and interesting things.  This is because the WRT54 is basically a little Linux box and runs GPL’ed code.  So in addition to LinkSys, there are a number of alternative firmware available for the WRT.  I found two very good sites with very active forums, HyperWRT and Linksysinfo.org.  There is so much information on these two sites it basically makes your head spin.  And from those sites it point you to even more firmware projects.  I quickly learned about the scary prospect of “bricking”, a term I didn’t know, but it’s affects I was familiar form my days as an electronics tech.  Basically it’s when you flash the devices firmware and it fails.  This effectively turns your device into a “brick”.  Yeah, I don’t think I want to turn my new toy into a brick.  Not that I needed it, but I did find a couple of good instructions on recovering from this fatal condition.

I was looking just to getting this working so I didn’t have any real desire to jumping to one of these third-party firmware’s.  But based on the odd behaviour I was seeing, a firmware problem seemed like a reasonable possibility.  My WRT is a V2.0 and when I checked was running a very old version of firmware.  Having not a lot to lose I opted to take the safe route and flashed it with the current official LinkSys firmware.  Ta Da!  All of my problems disappeared.  Houston, we’ve got wireless!

But what about all those interesting enhancements that are available in the third-party firmwares?  Hmmm…that sounds very appealing.  But ultimately I did n’t want to wipe out my progress, so maybe I should leave well enough alone.  Nah, what fun is that.  So after reviewing some of the various offerings, I opted to try HyperWRT as it seemed to be very conservative in it’s approach and is built off the standard LinkSys software.  There are some strange offshoots of some kind from HyperWRT with names like “Tofu” and “Thibor”.  Yeah, lets not get too far off the path.  Additionally there are other firmwares that are complete ground up, from scratch offerings.  Lots and lots of options if you are so inclined.

So I downloaded the latest HyperWRT version for my device, prepared to un-brick if necessary and flashed away.  Like clockwork, no problems.  Cool.  I played with this setup for about a week.  Probably the biggest change in this firmware was the ability to up the power output for your device.  This can be useful if you need to reach longer distances or are having signal problems in different places within your locale.  This didn’t seem to be a big problem for me as I’m generally only a room away from my WRT.

After some more reading I learned more about the Tofu and Thibor firmwares.  Basically these are offshoots of HyperWRT.  Third-party version of the third-party version…would that make it forth-party then?  Thibor appeared to be strictly for the WRT54GS devices.  These are the newer versions of the WRT with the “SpeedBooster” technology.  Thus that seemed to not be something I could use.  But Tofu was for either.  And it offered additional feature like the ability to SSH to the WRT, uptime and a site survey tool. That’s a very handy feature as it lets you look for other wireless devices in your range.  This can help you by finding channels that others are using in your area so you can pick a different one.  When it comes to wireless, less interference is always better.  So I again prepared for the worse and then downloaded and installed HyperWRT Tofu 13c.  No problems again.  This is too easy now and my fear of bricking my box was long gone.  The new features I gained made this a worthwhile upgrade.

So in the geeky world of third-party WRT hacking, my device is now running:

    v4.30.1, HyperWRT 2.1b1 +tofu13c

At this point this seems to be the end of the line as Tofu’s changes have been merged or duplicated in Thibor.  But Thibor seemed to be GS specific, how could that be?  Well, as it turns out the guy who writes Thibor only has GS devices so he can’t test it on a G device.  Going back to the forums it became clear that it does indeed run on the G boxes and at some point I may upgrade to that version.  But for right now, this vegetarian is quite happy with his Tofu!  ;)

Update: August 3, 2018:

If you’re playing around with DD-WRT you may also find this article on The best VPNs for DD-WRT routers and how to set up OpenVPN on DD-WRT of interest as well.
March 9, 2006 @ 01:18 pm | Category:
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