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Author Topic: WRT54G son of the thread of all threads  (Read 4991 times)

linear

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WRT54G son of the thread of all threads
« on: October 27, 2005, 03:28:52 PM »

If you don't know what I'm talking about, there is already a thread of all threads. (TOAT).

So I decided to join the wireless club. This is my story (Similar to what Ed did in his thread, I'm going to chronicle the project and document lessons learned, for the benefit of interested parties in the community).

Inspired by the community of alternative firmware (open-source and otherwise) writers for the WRT54G, I committed to buy them to do my project, which I'll describe here briefly for your amusement. I aim to share a broadband connection with my neighbor 100 yards (unobstructed line of sight) to the west. We live in an area not serviced by DSL or cable, and there is an available wireless broadband that will set us back 60 bux/month (for 3Mbps). My network is something like 8 machines, all currently wired 100Mbps. The neighbs only have a couple machines, but want to get a laptop to work wirelessly with.

My plan is to either bridge or route my existing subnet (I'm statically addressed in the RFC1918 private address space) in such a way as to let me have a gateway to the Internet via fixed wireless installed at their premises (the previous neighbors were subscribers and left the gear behind). I've talked enough to the wireless provider to know that their gear supports NAT and all the stuff that would make this possible.

I picked the WRT54G for the following reasons:
+ being as the uplink is 3Mbps, no need for faster rates like 802.11n or pre-n or MIMO or whatever they're calling it this month
+ good track record of detailed info on the Linksys router
+ lots of featureful alternative firmware available
+ widely available, including at Wal-Mart
+ supports external antennas cleanly

So the other thing I invested in is a pair of 6dBi omnidirectional antennas (my local microcenter had them for five bux). On paper, I should be able to cover the 100 yards just fine with stock power output from the routers using these antennas. So in case of firmware headaches, I can fall back to stock and rely on the magic of antenna gain to keep me in touch. But I wanted to be able to crank things up in case of poor propagation conditions, like heavy weather, or sunspots, or jamming by the authorities or whatever.

I now have acquired all the gear. I'll do a test probably tonight to get a feel for the range I'm going to get from the stock power output. I'll add to this thread as I discover more. I am not really looking for advice (I'm Cisco certified, and one of my previous job titles was Sr. Network Engineer), I'm just trying to create a detailed record of this project as I go, because I think a lot of you would find it interesting.

So with that in mind, let's proceed to...

Edit: fixed weirdly munged URLs  :pissed:
« Last Edit: October 27, 2005, 04:33:16 PM by linear »
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linear

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Shopping for a WRT54G
« Reply #1 on: October 27, 2005, 03:29:56 PM »

To beat a drum that I have all but worn out over the years, you should always:
+ Figure out what features you want
+ Find software that supports the features
+ Find hardware that supports the software
+ Lay your cash down for the above hardware
in that order. Amazingly, everyone seems to do the research after the purchase. In my case, I had to iterate through this list a few times, because the info I needed was scattered all over the place (hence this thread).

So in order to figure out what I wanted, I found it very helpful to review the comparison of alternative firmware features found at linksysinfo.org. The top rows of that table are the critical things--they tell you what version of the hardware this firmware supports. Very near the top of my list was "I'd like it to run," so it became critical to know this information.

Not every firmware version supports the newer hardware, and it is getting increasingly difficult to shop for old hardware. linksysinfo.org seems to indicate that V2 is the sweet spot for hardware. Without going to a popular auction site, you aren't likely to turn up many boxes with V2 routers in them. That may be stale info anyhow. The firmware authors are keeping pace with updates in hardware.

I reviewed the details about what version of the hardware correspond to what serial numbers that Ed so helpfully compiled for us in the TOAT. To briefly recap the key info:
Quote
Here is a list with matching first 4 serial numbers off the box and what chip it uses:

CDF0 = WRT54G v1.0 ADM6996L Chip
CDF1 = WRT54G v1.1 ADM6996L Chip
CDF3 = WRT54G v1.1 ADM6996L Chip
CDF5 = WRT54G v2.0 ADM6996L Chip
CDF7 = WRT54G v2.2 BCM5325EKQM Chip
CDF8 = WRT54G v3.0 BCM5325EKQM Chip

CGN0 = WRT54GS v1.0 ADM6996L Chip
CGN1 = WRT54GS v1.0 ADM6996L Chip
CGN2 = WRT54GS v1.1 BCM5325EKQM Chip
CGN3 = WRT54GS v1.1 BCM5325EKQM Chip

Since then, the WRT54G has progressed through V5 hardware. There's a handy reference page at linksysinfo.org detailing the differences, including serial numbers.

To get to the point, CDF9 denotes V3.1 hardware, CDFA denotes V4 hardware, and there is a V5 with CDFB (I turned up a few while shopping).
 
I failed to find hardware with serial numbers older than CDFA (V4) in visiting 7 stores (Three Wal-Marts, CompUSA, Best Buy, MicroCenter, and an office supply place I can't remember the name of). You can presume that mail order sources, with their lack of need to maintain a stock in hand, will not have older units.

So I found myself in the position of having the recommended version, V2, unavailable to me (other than on the popular auction site). I chose to buy local, in order to assure myself firsthand of the serial number and hence hardware rev. The implication is that I needed to find firmware for that supported a V4 router, since I could only get V4 or V5. I wound up with a pair of WRT54Gs from a Wal-Mart that had a huge stock of them. (One Wal-Mart had just one, and it cost more! The other had none.) I paid 49.95, no rebates. The added memory of the WRT54GS was not worth the additional 20 bux for me.

It's very much worth noting here, the V5 introduces a change that is likely to at least significantly slow if not eliminate the custom aftermarket firmware. If you plan to run aftermarket firmware, do not buy a V5 router.

Okay, with that done, let's consider our...
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linear

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Firmware options for the WRT54G
« Reply #2 on: October 27, 2005, 03:31:11 PM »

Knowing that I would only be able to get a V4 hardware narrowed the field somewhat. there are about 10 different firmware choices for this model, but not all support V4. So the next step was to make sure something at least could run on this beast.

Now, for those of you who don't know or are wondering why it's such a big deal to have alternative firmware, let me put it very simply: more power. To quote from the HyperWRT page:
Quote
The transmit power option is how much power your router uses to send and recieve data wirelessly. 50% is the default. When increasing the power, there is more heat produced from this energy . This heat can build up in the router. When using an option higher than 50%, some have added cooling solutions to reduce this heat, such as custom made fans. If you don't have a large network, you can decrease this value.
So you want more power in certain circumstances (like extended range networking, which applies to me), but it's not "free" in the sense that you may actually degrade performance by overheating your router if you maximize this setting.

There are also a variety of security and functionality enhancements that go with some of these firmwares. The comparison chart at linksysinfo.org is a great roundup of the top contenders. If you'll permit me to summarize, DD-WRT is the leader in features. It also supports V4 hardware (as of the latest beta build) so it is my first choice. HyperWRT is my fallback choice.

So with this done, my next step is to benchmark my routers with stock firmware so I can get a sense of the improvements that come from the aftermarket firmware (or alternatively, if my needs are met, skip the firmware change). I'll post further updates as I get more info on actual performance measurements. Stay tuned...
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nemattoad

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Re: WRT54G son of the thread of all threads
« Reply #3 on: October 27, 2005, 04:11:55 PM »

I'll just add that I have had great experiences with DD-WRT and would recommend it to anyone.
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linear

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Devious firmware tricks
« Reply #4 on: October 29, 2005, 12:08:16 AM »

Okay, this was a little harrowing.

After taking some baseline measurements of signal strength at various places around the house and yard, I decided to flash the firmware with DD-WRT. Sounds good, so I dived right in. I unzipped the latest build after reading over the changelogs and feeling satisfied. I found the best image for my hardware from among the several in the zip file. I uploaded the image through the admin GUI.

However it seems that recent stock firmware won't upload an image greater than 3MB.  >:( Of course I didn't find that out until I bricked the router a couple times. I was fortunate in that the button-press reset recovered. The linksysinfo.org procedure didn't work, but the "long reset" described in the HyperWRT Wiki did the job consistently.

What seems to reinforce the correctness of that 3MB theory is that the mini DD-WRT image did upgrade cleanly.  ;D I can play with that for a while to get the hang of it, but HyperWRT is also over 3MB. The error you'll see is amusing:
Quote
Upgrade are failed

I upgraded to 4.20.7 from 4.20.6 before trying to go to DD-WRT, so I may have inadvertently caused the problem myself. When I upgrade the second unit I'll test this hypothesis and let you know.

A couple other facts I gleaned along the way:
+ Settings get stored to NVRAM. If you change firmware, you may be dragging along NVRAM settings that you don't need. However, you can clear NVRAM.
+ For whatever reason (this is not router related), my wireless card has three different values for the signal strength, which is aggravating. The card utility reports nothing higher than 80%, even when the card is immediately adjacent to the router. Windows reports an entirely different number inthe network interface tray icon. And the Konfabulator widget for wireless strength (which I love) reports a third number, presumably from WMI. More on Konfabulator later.
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linear

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A couple DD-WRT observations
« Reply #5 on: October 29, 2005, 12:09:04 AM »

I succeeded with dd-wrt.v23_mini_wrt54g.bin. Everything worked satisfactorily.

I then successfully flashed the standard image from the same build,  dd-wrt.v23_wrt54g.bin. So far so good.

But the DHCP server didn't work on that one, so I flashed back.
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Hak Foo

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Re: WRT54G son of the thread of all threads
« Reply #6 on: January 28, 2006, 09:27:34 PM »

Okay, so today I picked up a WRT54G (2.0 revision woot!) at a thrift shop (20 bucks, a bit more than I wanted to pay, to be honest)

I managed to set it up through the web-interface, using the same SSID and WEP key as my old WAP11, but with broadcast-SSID off for paranoia.  One day, I'lll compile a list of MAC addresses in play and do that filtering thing too. :D

Three issues:

How do you tell WinXP boxes to use WPA?  There was no obvious control for it; is it a "we added support in SP2 thing?"  or a "use the manufacturer's utility which sucks?" thing?  My Win2000 box uses the wired plug, sparing me trouble there.

Does it run a little warm on the side by the power brick?  Will it work all right if stood on its side?

Finally, it isn't giving me the range boost I hoped for over the WAP11.  When I had an ad-hoc network, there was 4 or 5 bars signal strength between the two machines.  With only one machine having a wireless card, and the other plugged into the WAP11, I was getting 0-2, and now 1-3 with the WRT54G replacing the WAP11.  36.0Mbps rate reported by the "away" machine.  Are some firmwares known "weak"?  Mine's got 2.04.4.

What I want is reliable, fast connections.  I don't need it to operate as a waffle iron.
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