Huge Improvement for my Router with DD-WRT

I have found home routers to be hugely problematic.  Typically, they do OK at basic wired network routing functions, but they often have awful reliability in their wireless connections.  Go to any review site, and find their top-rated routers.  Then go to Newegg or Amazon and read the reviews for even these best devices -- you will see a litany of unreliability, particularly with the wireless functionality.

Some of this can be chalked up to interference issues, but I possess moderately sophisticated tools for ferreting this out.  A bigger problem for me is with routers that have to be reboot every 2-3 days to keep them working.  My most recent router I purchased had some software issue where mobile devices like iphones could not access Google.com and a few large sites through the wireless, a problem I eventually decided was due to some issue with handling sites that have dual ipv4 and ipv6 functionality (which I could never fix).  My Cisco E3000, otherwise a fairly solid modem, had an awful setup program whose first time settings for things like the guest network could never be altered.

So I finally in desperation burned dd-wrt onto my pile of unsatisfactory routers.  DD-WRT is a third-party, free, presumably open-source firmware that works with many commercial routers.  So far, all of my old routers now work great, and the prior problems I saw are all gone.  DD-WRT lacks the friendly automated setup routines of commercial firmware, and a few things are harder than I would wish them to be (it would be nice to have one-click reservation of an IP address to a device, rather than having to retype its MAC address).  But the defaults tend to work fine and it is a huge relief to come home from work and not have to immediatley help diagnose some family network issue.  I have been able to re-purpose one of the old routers into a bridge so I can get wireless in my backyard now.

If you have reliability problems with your router or home wireless, this might be something to try.  For certain routers, like my Cisco E3000, the process of flashing to DD-WRT is a bit complex. There are lots of web sites and ebay retailers who will sell you modems with dd-wrt already installed, and I think that Buffalo is actually selling a dd-wrt version of one of their routers.

  • Daublin

    Good to know that that firmware is reliable. I have wondered about that in the past; it's a little scary to replace factory firmware and possibly brick a device.

    On one issue you mention, have you tried going scorched earth on IPv6, disabling it on every device where you can? I don't know what IPv6 will gain for anyone until the day that there are IPv6-only sites, and the way things are going, I don't see when that day will ever come.

  • OldNHMan

    I replaced my dual-band wireless router's software with DD-WRT once the warranty ran out. The difference in performance was night and day. I have to admit that I wasn't pleased with its performance when I first got it as it didn't work any better than my old 'G' router, but reading the customer feedback on Amazon clued me in that the problem might be the software. Now that it's running DD-WRT I have better connectivity and throughput, particularly on 5.8GHz, and I have never had to reboot it

    Considering my wireless router's hardware was based on a proven reference design (there were a few tweaks here and there) one would think they would have gotten the software right. Even the software upgrades from the manufacturer didn't fix the problems, or in some cases, made them worse. So once I felt it was safe warranty-wise to make the change, I did. It's been rock solid since then and I have no complaints.

  • ErikTheRed

    One of the nicer side-effects of my job is that I've got a house full of enterprise-grade networking gear (reliable to the point where I can just forget about it until I need to make a change), but for the rest of you: if you have the skills to install it, then DD-WRT is just flat-out awesome. Frankly, these home router vendors should just not even bother making their own software. As mentioned above, it's all pretty much crap. DD-WRT is as close as you get to "enterprise-grade" reliability and configurability in software in that price range. The hardware is still mostly crap, but with only a few simultaneous users that's OK if you can keep it from overheating.

  • ErikTheRed

    Most ISPs don't pass IPv6, so for the average home user it makes no difference. It'll be interesting to see what happens once it takes off. People are highly reliant on IPv4 NAT (Network Address Translation) - "hiding" all of the devices at one location behind one public IP address, which effectively blocks inbound connections unless you specifically and explicitly allow them (or a piece of malware does it for you). It's a crude but extremely powerful security measure, and probably what keeps most home networks from being just ridiculously and thoroughly pwn3nd (well, even more than they already are - maybe by a factor of 10 or 20). With IPv6 NAT is no longer necessary, so users and manufacturers will likely be dealing with security on a device-by-device basis. This is very likely a recipe for disaster. Yes, it's still possible to do stateful inspection and filtering but these are usually something that is actively set up by people who understand what they're doing. NAT is just "free" and I suspect it will be badly missed...

  • ErikTheRed

    A few more bits of advice for home WiFi routers: a lot of them are built to run on the ragged edge of the thermal limits of their components. In other words, they can overheat if you so much as look at them cross-eyed. Give 'em room to breathe. Don't put them in unventilated cabinets. Don't bury them under 8 inches of junk or a rat's nest of cables (that will also interfere with the signal).

    Also, they almost all use shaped antennas, so be sure they're in the "correct" alignment - sitting flat, or on end, or whatever. It can decrease your signal strength quite a bit if they're in the wrong position. That being said, many homes are so small that it will not make a difference.

    Real-world WiFi speed is usually somewhere between 5% and 10% of what's advertised on the box. It's extremely rare to see more than 40%. I've seen as low as 2%. Running wires is a major pain, but once in place they tend to be much faster and more reliable.

    There are also the problems associated with people blasting their WiFi radios at maximum strength, especially in apartment buildings and small offices. Everyone will generally get more speed if they all crank the radios down so that they're not constantly trying to overpower and broadcast around each other. This, however, requires coordination and I have yet to see it actually happen. But just throwing it out there.

  • NWreader

    As a long-time reader of your blog, I know you aren't too excited about Apple products. As a Windows Server Administrator, I'm caught in both the Mac and PC world.
    I have owned a couple Apple Airport Extremes over the years. The only reason they have ever needed a reboot is to apply software updates or because of power outages. They are hands down the most stable consumer grade routers I have EVER used.

  • Rich R

    I have been toying with putting DD-WRT on one of our routers and I think you guys have convinced me to do it. I currently manage a rather odd wifi network that I think you guys may find interesting. I think I finally have it running well but maybe you guys have some helpful insights. The network is in the officer stateroom area of an aircraft carrier and consists of a cable modem linked to a three year old Belkin router and three other routers (another Belkin and two Linksys EA4500 routers) wired to the first Belkin or each other.

    When I first arrived in Japan and moved aboard the ship (my family stayed in San Diego) the ship just had the old Belkin in the wardroom lounge. It was absolutely horrible. Not only was this one router being used by all the other geo-bachelors but nobody had ever put a password on it so everyone else in the area that could see the signal was using it. The router would re-boot several times a day and often simply stop wifi altogether. No doubt this was from the heat issue you guys mentioned; when I logged on to the routers page there were over 100 users in the active client list.

    Long story short, I added the additional routers to cover not only the lounge but the passageway outside the lounge and the two officer stateroom areas aft and one deck below. All of this is fairly close together (the router furthest aft is probably only 100ft from the main router in the lounge). But as you can imagine, wifi does not go through metal bulkheads. Now, the system is working awesome. The two Linksys EA4500 routers are in my opinion the main reason (that and I have it all password protected to limit the users somewhat) but there are occasional hiccups. The new Linksys Smart WiFi routers seem to just work. Once I hooked them up and turned them on, they knew they were connected as access points and did all the setup themselves, all I had to do was set the password, turn off guest access and name them. I think the weak link is the old Belkin though...I'll DD-WRT it soon and let you know how it goes!

  • OldNHMan

    Erik, I have solved the co-channel problem by using InSSIDer to see what's on 2.4GHz and 5.8 GHz, signal strengths, and link quality. (The 'Home' version is free and is all most folks need to check their local wireless environment.)

    You'd be amazed at how many people leave their routers set for the default channels (usually Ch 6 on 2.4GHz), though most will change their SSID. (Then again, maybe you wouldn't be surprised). With 'everyone' on the same channel, co-channel interference is a given and "with people blasting their WiFi radios at maximum strength", it's no wonder throughput can be so low even with a fast wireless router.

    With only a few exceptions I run all of our wireless devices at home on 5.8GHz.(The signal doesn't extend outside of the house, unlike 2.4GHz.) A couple devices only have 2.4GHz, but I've set the router to use Ch 1 as I haven't found anyone in my local area using it.

  • ErikTheRed

    Just announced: A new, high-end home WiFi router with DD-WRT build in to start with.

    https://semiaccurate.com/2014/01/06/linksys-wrt1900ac-spritual-successor-wrt54g/