Introduction: Upgrade a Home Router.

Picture of Upgrade a Home Router.

Router is sort of a gateway to the internet. Most routers are really both a bridge and a router all in one. A bridge being a device that takes communication medium to another. For example, cable usually transmits signals over a coaxial cable. Most computer networks use ethernet. So the router does this for us in addition to route signals to and from several computers or other devices hooked to it and acts as a traffic cop to the internet. Ironically at one time local area networks did use coaxial cable for networking (i.e arcnet, ethernet, token ring and etc.) , but that has been long since outmoded.

Anyway, the instructions (or firmware/software) that come with most routers is limiting and does not give you all the options a professional router might have as far as bandwidth monitoring, bandwidth control, and other stronger security options. Not all routers are upgradeable. In fact, recently home router makers are now building their routers as not to be upgraded. You almost have to get a premium router to have a chance a getting the extra features.  One of the most popular routers is the wrt54-g(l) from Cisco Linksys. When I see one at a resale store, I think about getting it.  Most firmware sites will have a listing of what can be upgraded with their firmware.

There are several ways to upgrade firmware. All of them entail uploading or sending a file to the router to replace the existing software in it. The most common way is to upload a file via the web interface on the router. That is what we will do. Some routers may require a tftp server to send the remotely to the router and is a bit more complicated. The most complicated install is a redboot which requires special communication with the router. These can be the most challenging. I have done one and prayed all the way through it.

NOTICE: Have a pencil and paper to write down any settings or options that might be needed later. This project could render your router useless. If you are unsure, please get a professional to help before starting on it. I will not be responsible for any issues, You do this at your own risk. 

Step 1: Getting the Firmware.

Picture of Getting the Firmware.

Firmware is software on a special memory chip. Normally you would not think of changing the firmware except to upgrade it. Now a days there are third parties that make replace firmware for you router that can offer you more options and possibly more security when properly set up.  You have to be careful though, because installing the wrong firmware will render your router useless. Sometimes this is called bricking the router because the router becomes no better than a brick. If you have ever upgraded your router, you should be ok if you just make sure the firmware you want to use is the proper one. It is of up most importance that you know exactly which router you have. For example the popular WRT54G had eight different versions and they pretty much each need different firmware.

What alternative firmware is available.  Some of the most popular ones are:

    * DD-WRT
    * FreeWRT
    * HyperWRT Thibor
    * OpenWRT (Comcast has their footprint on this one.
    * Tarifa
    * X-Wrt

For our purposes, we will be using the DD-WRT firmware.  The router we plan to use is a Cisco Linksys WRT54G version 2. so we need to go to www.dd-wrt.com to get the firmware. At www.dd-wrt.com press the router database button. You will then be presented with a form to enter the name and model of you router. (entering in the just router model can save time). You will then be presented with a list of routers that meet your request. Now look in the next to last right hand column to see if it says "yes" which means you router can possibly be upgraded. if it says "no" then you are done and your router can not be upgraded. If your router can be upgraded you can press on that choice to get options for firmware to download. Sometimes certain versions are recommended for the first upload or (flashing) of the router. READ CAREFULLY!!

Go ahead and download the recommended firmware.

HINT: make sure you have a way to get on the internet in case in the next step in case things go bad. Never hurts to have a cheap router as a spare.

Step 2: Upgrading the Firmware.

Picture of Upgrading the Firmware.

Before you start this, you will want to write down any settings you have to be sure you can add them to the new set up.

You will need to connect to your router. So open a web browser and go to 192.168.1.1 (default address). At this point. you will be asked for the log in name and an administrative password. If you have not already changed these, then consult the manual for that information. Lacking a manual, then go to the make of the routers support site. One thing I do recommend is to disconnect the antenna from the router before doing a upgrade of the firmware. It lessens the chance of being hacked while doing the upgrade. I also recommend immediately turning off the radio and changing the admin password. (make sure you are connected to the router with an ethernet cable not wirelessly.)

Now go to the administration section and click on the firmware upgrade tab. You will be presented with a file selector to choose the file you just downloaded from www.dd-wrt.com. So select the file where you downloaded it to. Once you are sure you have selected the right firmware file name recheck it. if it is ok then click on upgrade. NOTICE: once you have started the upload do not disturb the router or your computer till it is done. You could brick the router if you do.

You should get a bar graph at the bottom or the screen as to progress. The router will eventually  reboot and you will be presented with a new log in screen.  BE PATIENT!!!  it does take a few minutes.
 

Step 3: New Firmware.

Picture of New Firmware.

Login: admin
Password: admin.

If all went well, you should have a completely new screen with lots of more options to your liking. www.dd-wrt.com support pages can get you the details you need for your configuration. Good luck!

Step 4: Command Line

Picture of Command Line

One thing I almost forgot is that with the third party software is that you can log in via the command line via telnet and set up all kinds of batch files for special jobs. (space permitted.) Just like being on a real nix box.


Built-in commands:
-------------------
        . : [ [[ alias bg break cd chdir command continue echo eval exec
        exit export false fg getopts hash help jobs kill let local printf
        pwd read readonly return set shift source test times trap true
        type ulimit umask unalias unset wait

More info:
http://www.dd-wrt.com/wiki/index.php/Telnet/SSH_and_the_Command_Line

Step 5: ISP Integrity.

Picture of ISP Integrity.

You can keep you isp honest about how much traffic you use. (Status > wan) and chart is at the bottom of the page. Make sure time and date on router are correct! (Make sure the battery if there is one is good in the router so that you can keep historical data.)

Step 6: What's on Your Network.

Picture of What's on Your Network.

You may want to see what is on your network so check out this instructable:

https://www.instructables.com/id/Map-your-network-visually/

Step 7: CoovaAP

Picture of CoovaAP

CoovaAP which is a specialized router firmware that only runs on a limited number of routers, but it is nice if you want to set up you own Hotspot. Some people also call it a wisp or wireless internet service provider.  Also, I like it for guests so they can access the internet without having access to the local area network.


http://coova.org/CoovaAP

Step 8: Openwrt.

Picture of Openwrt.

Openwrt.is probably becoming more popular than dd-wrt. One thin I like about it is that you can run it in a virtual machine such as virtual bo or qemu. Like dd-wrt, you have to make sure you have the right image to upload to the router.   Just put it on my cheapo Frys router.See openwrt.org for more details.

PC openwrt install: https://www.instructables.com/id/Upgrade-a-home-router/

Comments

Computothought (author)2016-06-19

Never really had a problem with linksys equipment. the dlink airlink fry's boxes can be a pain.

vicvelcro (author)2011-08-05

I have tried all of the firmwares you mentioned - with the exception of HyperWRT Thibor.

I can say that DD-WRT, being an amateur rip of OpenWRT, leaves much to be desired and has bricked many routers of unsuspecting victims.

Of the 4 WRT54G's (v4 and v3) I used it on, 3 appeared to flash fine but bricked on the reboot step. The remaining router smoked itself because of the excessive processor appetite the DD-WRT has. I did manage to JTAG original firmware back into the 3 bricks. I measure that as a 0% success rate for DD-WRT. Some people have claimed to have better luck than I.

Additionally, the micro version of DD-WRT for use on the WRT54G v5 and later models works very poorly in the 2 megs of RAM that those routers have. I was successful applying it to a v5 and a v8, but could not torrent and had to reboot several times a day under simple browser use due to routers locking up within hours (not bricked, though). Even with added heatsink and fan, DD-WRT causes the processors to run very very hot.

Anyone considering DD-WRT should also be aware of a significant pitfall - if you don't like it and choose to revert, you may not be able to (short of a JTAG session). It's a one-way street for some routers - goes in but doesn't come out (by design). Read about this on their own site. I wish I had read first. My v5 and v8 might have been spared. As it is, they make fine DD-WRT paper-weights because it can't come out and my JTAG doesn't support flashing the newer WRT54G units. They are effectively bricks every 2-3 hours of run time.

I have been using a firmware named Tomato on more than 4 dozen of the WRT54G's (v4 and prior) with 100% success and satisfaction. Very low processor usage, more intuitive layout of the administration pages within the router, and additional features above and beyond the other firmwares.

It can not be used on v5 and newer routers because of the reduced RAM installed in the devices themselves as the firmware just doesn't fit. That's a deliberate move by Cisco/Linksys because they want people to pay big bux for their enhanced routers, instead of people buying the consumer version and then performing their own upgrade. They downsized the hardware.

Funny thing, prior to using VxWorks (v5 and newer), Cisco/Linksys were using an open-source firmware themselves and lost a lawsuit they had filed against other firmware makers who used the same source as a base. They also violated the GPL on that source by not making their revisions available to the public, as required under the GPL applicable to the source.

Tomato does work with some other routers that are not Linksys, but the compatibility is not as vast as the other firmwares claim to be. It is easy to revert back from Tomato, if desired. Find it at http://www.polarcloud.com/firmware and enjoy the excellent tutorials, help, faq, and sample scripts provided.

Possibly JFGI the multi-WAN mod of Tomato, if you have 2 modems you wish to combine for higher transfer speeds or QoS enhancement.

chazrich (author)vicvelcro2015-03-13

Hmmmmm, I've flashed dozens of routers with DD-WRT and have never bricked one. I'm pretty sure it has to do with reading directions though. I do agree it can load the higher version routers a bit too much

vicvelcro (author)chazrich2015-03-14

I've flashed a couple-few hundred and bricked less than a half dozen, all bricks were courtesy of DD-WRT back in the day. All debricks were courtesy of JTAG. My previous comment is 3 years out of date. More recently, DD-WRT installs much more reliably and on many routers that had not been supported in the past. It still puts a relatively heavy load on the processor, but the other issues with DD-WRT are reduced or non-existant.

Computothought (author)vicvelcro2011-08-06

I used tomato for a long time on a Buffalo router. To each his or her own,

I agree, I tried Tomato and DD-WRT on Buffalo routers and both seemed buggy.

Have not tried openwrt yet on one. That is what most people are going to.

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