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June 21, 2008

Flashing a WRT

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To complement my recent XBox softmodding project, I bought a Linksys WRT54G router to install DD-WRT on. For those not in the know, DD-WRT is a third-party, linux-based, model-specific router firmware. It basically does to routers what Ubuntu does to your desktop or notebook, XBMC does to your XBox, and RockBox does to your MP3 player: it unleashes it from the chains of crippling OEM firmware, and unlocks all (or most) of its potential. In the case of DD-WRT, you can control wifi strength, implement QoS, and, with the right settings, use it as a wireless bridge for the modded XBox in your living room. :)

As always, it helps to have the right tools. There are tons of guides to installing DD-WRT, but the one that I ultimately (and successfully) followed was the official DD-WRT installation guide. Given that, you need to know what feature set you want. The Standard version has all the main bells and whistles, minus a couple mass-user-nonessential features, and weighs in at just over 3MB, thus requiring the standard 4MB of flash memory. The Mini version has enough to make you want to install it over your standard firmware, at a lighter requirement of 2MB of flash memory. Check out the file versions for all the details. If you're going for a WWRT54G and want the standard set, then you'll want something between a v1.0 and a v4.0, inclusive. If you look at the Linksys compatibility table, you'll notice that the flash memory and RAM are cut right in half starting with v5.0. Any WRT54G v5.0 or later will require you to install the mini or micro distros (unless you install a card reader or something like that). You'll also notice that v4.0 takes a step down in processing power, from 216MHz to 200MHz. These cutoff points, in my mind, make WRT54G versions 2.2, 3.0, and 3.1 the ideal versions to grab, especially for a first attempt. I ended up getting a v3.0 off of eBay, go figure.

Once you've got your router and guide handy, have fun flashing. Be sure to use Internet Explorer and a wired connection to the router (disable your computer's wifi to be safe) so as not to brick your router. Also keep in mind that, just because you have 4MB flash memory, that doesn't mean that the Linksys firmware will let you use it. Upgrade to the DD-WRT Mini Generic version first; once that's running, you can then upgrade to DD-WRT Standard Generic. Don't use the WRT54G-specific files for an upgrade via the Linksys web interface, as those files are meant for use with TFTP flashes. Follow your guide to a fault and don't panic if something doesn't go right.

Once you've fixed yourself up with DD-WRT, you can turn your WRT into a wireless bridge with 5, count 'em, 5 ethernet ports. As with the installation, there are many guides to turning the router into a bridge, but the one I had success with was the official DD-WRT Wireless Bridging guide. Once you have your bridge set up (be sure to disassociate your computer with the router, and reassociate with it, to ensure that the bridge is working properly), you can head to Setup -> Basic Setup and check Assign WAN Port to Switch. This, theoretically, makes the "internet" port on the router act like a fifth ethernet switch. Although I haven't tested it yet, so I guess I shouldn't be promoting it too heavily. :)

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