Turning a home router into a powerhouse

How to hack your router's firmware to unlock enterprise-level features

There's a lot more power lurking in your home or small-office router than you realize. It may be capable of tricks that powerful, multihundred dollar enterprise routers can do. So why can't you get at them? Because of the firmware built in to your router.

There's no big demand for fancy tricks for a simple home or small-office device, and if the capabilities were added, router makers would likely see a big upsurge in tech support calls. So much of the hardware's capabilities go untapped.

So how can you harness that power? Replace your router's firmware with the free, open-source DD-WRT firmware. You'll get all kinds of new capabilities, including boosting your router's signal, improving network performance and far more. In this article, I'll show you how to do it.

One word of warning, though: There's a chance you could do serious damage to your router if things go wrong during the firmware upgrade. You could even "brick" your router --- break it so badly it will no longer work. The great odds are that won't happen, of course, so read on if you want to get started.

Step One: Get the right router

The first step is to make sure your router can be upgraded, or else buy one that does. Not all routers can have their firmware upgraded to DD-WRT. Many, in fact, can't.

Also, some routers from the same manufacturer can be upgraded, and some can't. To make things even more confusing, even the same models of routers from some manufacturers can be upgraded while others can't, depending on the firmware and hardware version and the underlying operating system.

For example, some versions of the Linksys WRT54G can use DD-WRT, while other's can't because of changes to the firmware and underlying hardware.

So how to know which router can handle it? The best source of information about everything to do with DD-WRT is the exceedingly helpful and detailed DD-WRT Wiki. Head to the Supported Devices page to see if it will work with your router. Make sure to click the link on your model number for more details. That will be the only way for you to make sure your model really is supported; the page you link to will explain how you can find out your model's hardware version, firmware and capabilities, and it will explain whether the device will work with DD-WRT.

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Preston Gralla

Preston Gralla

Computerworld (US)
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