My Wireless Router Just Died!!!

Discussion in 'Mac Accessories' started by MikeTheC, Sep 29, 2007.

  1. MikeTheC Guest

    MikeTheC

    Joined:
    Apr 26, 2004
    Location:
    Gallifrey -- Capitol City, Prydonian Sector
    #1
    Hello Folks!

    This is not a request for help or anything (though if you would like to express your sympathy, feel free to do so! ;) ), but rather I thought I'd share my experiences here for the benefit of others.

    My Linksys WRT-54G v5 router has again experienced a partial failure. And again, I'm faced with the option of hard resetting it and possibly re-re-flashing it, or I can simply replace the whole thing and be done with the issues I've been going through -- repeatedly -- once and for all.

    Background:

    Linksys has been making routers of one kind or another since the 1990s, and got into the wireless game with the advent of the 802.11b standard. They produced various hardware, ultimately including both the 802.11b and 802.11a standards.

    I'm not sure when (though a quick search on Wikipedia would, no doubt, turn up all the correct details) but sometime around the release of the 802.11g standard, Cisco Systems, famous for their corporate-class networking and technology infrastructure products, acquired Linksys. For some time thereafter, they continued to produce and sell Linksys-branded routers.

    Now, when Linksys first got into this business, they used a firmware product that was -- at least in part -- based on some Open Source software. Eventually Linksys and/or Cisco was forced by the Open Source movement to release the source code for their firmware, as is stipulated under the terms of the Gnu Public License (GPL). They did so, and when that happened the Open Source community got their first crack at writing a replacement firmware for wireless products.

    Unfortunately, Cisco changed the firmware they used (and some other internal details) and now the new firmware they were using (VxWorks) was completely proprietary. However, much like various models of computers, much of the internal technology remained the same, as there are only just so many ways of accomplishing some kinds of tasks, and the OSS community finally figured out ways to support those routers, too.

    Presently, there are two major wireless router OSS firmware replacement movements out there -- DD-WRT and OpenWRT -- and there are other smaller efforts as well.

    So anyhow, I told you all of this background so that I can explain what's happening here to me now.

    Today, my router experienced another partial failure. Now, based on prior experience I could probably do a hard reset of the unit and, possibly a re-flash of the DD-WRT firmware, and this might "cure" it for the moment, but invariably this unit is going to keep failing on me.

    Why is that, you might ask? Well...

    From what I've learned over the years -- to say nothing of what experience generally tells us -- Linksys' path from niche market to mass market of their products has resulted in a net decrease of overall product quality. I'm not trying to slam or slander Linksys (well, in reality, Cisco Systems), because this is frequently the case with many differennt kinds of products, both computer-related and non-computer-related. Secondly, in an effort to remain competitive, they've done their best to scale back on what's inside, which in one sense leads to components which aren't as robust, and on the other hand it's specifically led to lesser amounts of RAM.

    Both of these factors generally lead to a less stable product, and this as much as anything else is the most likely culprit behind the on-going problems I've been experiencing with my own unit. It's something I've been aware of for some time, and something I've been keeping tract of through various assorted means.

    "Great," you're thinking, "I'm now officially bored to tears. Why should I care?" And that's a great question, actually. Not just about the fact that I can be long winded *gasps!*, but the fact that this is not an uncommon thing for users of wireless routers to experience and deal with. So...

    I am a semi-regular poster over at DD-WRT's forum, and a regular reader of the stuff that's put up there. From this I have been able to determine what product to buy to replace what I am using, and also a means for both myself and others to use in figuring out what's most appropriate for your needs.

    Step 1: What Router Should I Buy?

    Routers come in a variety of flavors and options; however the two most universally important are their broadcast range and how much RAM they're equipped with, since this directly factors into (as mentioned above) how stable they are. Beyond that, other factors to consider are how fast is their CPU, how efficient are they at moving wireless traffic back and forth, what other interfaces they have (such as USB), do they support media storage functions, can they be linked to other routers, and so forth.

    So let's look at the two most important. In the course of addressing them, what I provide here will naturally lead you to sources of information about the plethora of other features and options you might want to consider.

    I generally refer people -- even if they don't intend or desire to re-flash their routers' firmware -- to DD-WRT's Supported Devices Table. The reason for that is it gives you a LOT of information, such as processor type and speed, amount of on-board RAM, etc. This makes determining which router gives you the most bang for your buck a very simple, straight-forward process.


    Step 2: How Much RAM is enough?

    This is actually a very interesting question, and not one which carries with it a specific, universal answer, other than "it depends". Generally, you want to buy a router with a minimum of 16MB of RAM. By way of comparison, most of the products on the shelf at your local retailer are sold with only 8MB of RAM. Also, if you plan on flashing the router over to DD-WRT, OpenWRT, or any of the rest, you're best bet is to have at least 4MB of flashable RAM.

    Straight outbound usage of a router (say, IMing, web surfing, email, etc.) doesn't require a TON of RAM, and so for most people 16MB is probably sufficient. However, if you also do file sharing, P2P, web hosting, or other potentially high-consumption tasks, you may want to look at 32MB or more.

    Again, go back to the chart mentioned in Step 1 to figure out what's in each unit.


    Step 3: Why should I change my router's firmware?

    If we overlook the amount of RAM, speed of processor, number of antennas, and external interfaces such as USB, etc. (and yes, this is a considerable amount to overlook!), one router's pretty much the same as the next. What a router is capable of, then, is largely dictated by what's in it's firmware. Also, how efficiently it performs these tasks and/or how efficiently you the user can administer these tasks is completely dictated by the firmware.

    In essence, what projects such as DD-WRT and OpenWRT give you is a choice of features, a choice of implimentations, and frankly a feature set typically found on multi-$100 corporate routers. Considering the cost of OSS firmware is typically $0, it's not a bad option for you to consider.

    Now I won't lie to you, there are some tricky steps to go through in re-flashing your router; and moreover if something goes wrong, you can wind up with a totally non-functional (i.e. "bricked") device. So, clearly, re-flashing is not for the faint-of-heart, nor for the utterly inexperienced or beginner user. However, if you are able to get past that, then a (to steal from Aldus Huxley) "brave new world" is yours for the taking.


    By this point, if you haven't tried to commit seven different kinds of Seppuku after suffering through what I've just written, well then good for you, because I'm about to reveal what router I've bought.

    "It's..."

    [​IMG]
     
  2. yippy macrumors 68020

    yippy

    Joined:
    Mar 14, 2004
    Location:
    Chicago, IL
    #2
    Great information on routers. However, I don't understand your answer on what router you bought.
     
  3. MikeTheC thread starter Guest

    MikeTheC

    Joined:
    Apr 26, 2004
    Location:
    Gallifrey -- Capitol City, Prydonian Sector
    #3
    Actually, I'm getting a Buffalo WHR-HP-G54.

    When I get back from dinner, I'll post the specs, etc.

    Oh, and by the way, can I mention this is the first time I've been on television?
     
  4. hidehide macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    May 1, 2007
    #4
    I have a WRT54GS, and I tried to install it with DD-WRT.
    But I brick it when I try to set it a larger ram..
    I hv bought the cable to restore it back.. but I didnt have time to ask someone to help me solder it..
     
  5. MikeTheC thread starter Guest

    MikeTheC

    Joined:
    Apr 26, 2004
    Location:
    Gallifrey -- Capitol City, Prydonian Sector
    #5
    Ok, the new router arrived today, somewhat ahead of schedule, via FedEx Ground.

    Now, clearly it's too soon to even *think* of commenting on how hearty or stable the unit is, but I will tell you this much:

    Buffalo's supplied firmware SUCKS BIG NASTY THINGS. I'm serious, and I don't just mean because of some biased personal agenda to put DD-WRT on it. I mean, I had nothing but frustration trying to get the stupid thing to work. It didn't want to talk reliably to my cable modem. It simply *wouldn't* fire up the radio, so I couldn't see it wirelessly. And then, when it did, it was intermittent with the wireless, too. Grr...

    I actually thought about just boxing the sucker back up and returning it. However...

    I did manage (finally and through a LOT of frustration) to get it to work sufficiently so that I could get over to DD-WRT.com and pull down the latest release of their firmware, v24 RC-3, and I got the thing (after a few false starts) to flash over. And once I did that, well...

    Every single glitch, every single problem, every last bit of instability or other snafus COMPLETELY and UTTERLY DISAPPEARED. In an instant.

    Now, the unit works flawlessly. I rebooted it multiple times, did several hard resets, the works, and every single time it found the cable modem and set itself up properly to work with it the first time. The radio worked perfectly. All settings alterations took, and took immediately and didn't throw the thing into a tailspin.

    In short, Buffalo's WHR-HP-G54 works so ridiculously better with DD-WRT's firmware that Buffalo should actually be ashamed their own firmware sucks that bad. Nevertheless...

    I have the unit set up to manage all IPs based on MAC address; I have it set up to port-forward as needed to my web server; I have MAC filtering turned on and, unfortunately due to the stupid D-LINK DWL-122 USB adapter I'm using on my iMac (because it's internal Airport circuitry -- not the card) is screwed up, I have to use WEP instead of WPA 1 or 2.

    I'll keep tabs on it, and if I remember (or if someone on here wants to remind me) I'll report back to you folks on my experiences every few months, since that's really the best test of how stable (or un-) that this unit is.


    Stay tuned, folks...
     

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