Want to give your router more features and enjoy better network performance for free? Discover how DD-WRT might make it possible
hen it comes to tweaking or configuring your network connection, the obvious port of call is your router's built-in utility, which is a user-friendly frontend for accessing the router's firmware (the operating system used to control it).
Manufacturers occasionally release updates for firmware that add new features or fix bugs, but if your router continues to disappoint you, maybe it's time to consider replacing the manufacturer's firmware with a custom-built firmware designed to expand its feature set in the form of DD-WRT.
Why choose DD-WRT?
DD-WRT overwrites the firmware supplied with a wide selection of routers with a new Linux-based operating system that gives you access to new tools, features and options that can give your router a new lease of life. You won't get a free upgrade from 802.11g to 802.11n wireless networking, but you may enjoy vastly improved wireless performance with DD-WRT's support for AfterBurner technology. You'll also get new and improved features like support for uPnP devices, the latest WPA2 encryption technology (for greatly improved security) and WDS (enabling you to extend your wireless network with the help of a second router or wireless access point).
DD-WRT is released with different builds for different routers, so it's important you identify your router's exact make, model and revision number before you begin - look for a serial number on the router itself or contact the manufacturer. Once done, click here to see if it's supported by DD-WRT; if it's listed, you'll be able to take advantage of its many improvements.
Click here and you'll see there are many versions of DD-WRT to choose from, depending on your needs. Not all will necessarily be available for your router, but the table will help you pick the version you want based on what is available and what features you require. Whatever version you pick, make sure you install the Mini version first to ensure a trouble-free upgrade; once done, update to the version of your choice. In most cases, Standard should be more than ample for your needs.
Make sure you heed all warnings!
Installing any kind of firmware upgrade for your router comes with risks, particularly if the upgrade process is interrupted (power failure, for example). This is doubly the case with DD-WRT, because it's not simply upgrading your router's firmware; it's replacing it entirely.
You should be aware that installing DD-WRT may "brick" your router, or render it completely useless. Therefore you must accept that you install DD-WRT completely at your own risk, and we can't take responsibility if you run into any problems. This is definitely a tutorial for experienced PC users only; novices should stay well away.
Before you begin
The "Read this first" box above is required reading before you venture any further - we "bricked" our test router due to not following the instructions carefully, but were luckily able to rescue the router using the TFTP method outlined here (we'd suggest you access this page now and save it to your hard drive for offline viewing from your browser's File menu later if necessary). Once rescued, we were able to complete the upgrade - as per the instructions - with no further problems.
Once you've digested this information and if you're willing to take the risk and responsibility for trying DD-WRT, you're ready to continue. We recommend you read and digest all the information at the DD-WRT Wiki online here - in particular, look in the Install and Support sections.
Start by visiting your router manufacturer's web site to locate your model's support pages. Look in the Downloads section for the latest version of your manufacturer's own firmware and download it to a safe location on your hard drive. This may enable you to restore your manufacturer's firmware should you "brick" your router.
Once done, click here. We're using version v24 SP1 in this tutorial, so click v24-sp1 followed by Consumer. Select your router manufacturer followed by the exact model and revision number - in our case this was WRT54G_V2.
Download the right version
You'll see there are a bewildering number of files to choose from. Check out the "Which version should I use?" sidebar for more advice on picking the correct one. To confuse matters further, you'll find multiple variants of the same version - pick the generic version as this can be installed through your web browser.
Start by installing the mini version as advised, then - if necessary - upgrade the firmware again to the Standard or whichever version takes your fancy. Before installing DD-WRT following the advice in the step-by-step guide below, take the time to make a note of your current settings - including encryption settings, port-forward rules and DHCP server settings - as these will all be lost once you perform the upgrade.
You should perform the upgrade itself on a mains-connected PC that's attached to your router via Ethernet cable - do not attempt this through a wireless connection. Make sure you use Internet Explorer for the initial upgrade process (once done, you can happily use your favourite browser to configure your settings or perform further updates).
If the upgrade fails, chances are you'll find your router non-functioning after you switch it off. Follow the advice given from the web page you saved earlier, and make sure you've downloaded TFTP if you're a Windows XP user (see the Top tip box below right).
Windows Vista users can enable TFTP from the Program and Features Control Panel (click Turn Windows features on or off; XP users should download a client from here (direct link). Make sure you download this prior to upgrading your router to DD-WRT.
Update your firmware to DD-WRT
1. DOWNLOAD UPDATE AND LOG ON TO ROUTER
Once you've browsed to the folder matching your router's make, model and revision number (see the main text), download the Mini Generic release - you can update to a different release later. On a PC connected to your router via Ethernet cable, type your router's IP address into Internet Explorer, log on and then locate the screen or option where you update your router's firmware.
2. PERFORM INSTALLATION
Click Browse to select the .bin file you downloaded in step one. Click the Upgrade button and sit back while the router updates its firmware - make sure the process isn't interrupted.
3. LOG INTO NEW INTERFACE
When the successful upgrade message appears, click Continue. You'll be prompted to log in again: the username is root and the password admin. Enter these and click OK to gain access to the main control panel. Switch to the Administration tab and change the username and password to something only you will remember to protect it from the possibility of being remotely hacked. Click Apply Settings.
4. RECONFIGURE BASIC SETTINGS
Go through the rest of the control panel settings reapplying the settings you recorded before installing DD-WRT. Everyone should then regain access to your network and the internet.
The step-by-step guide below reveals some of DD-WRT's best features - what they are and how to access them. For more advice on using DD-WRT, check out the program's Wiki and keep an eye out for updates that will add even more features to this exciting and useful firmware replacement - these are simply installed over the existing firmware from the Administration > Firmware Upgrade menu.
Discover some of DD-WRT's advanced features
1. CUTTING-EDGE SECURITY
If your PC (Windows XP SP3 or later) and wireless adapter support it, enable WPA2 Personal from the Wireless > Wireless Security section - your wireless PCs will need to reconnect.
2. QUALITY OF SERVICE
QoS enables you to allocate network (LAN and WLAN) and internet (WAN) bandwidth so certain IP addresses, devices and traffic (like BitTorrent) get more or less priority than others. Select NAT/QoS > QoS.
3. CONFIGURE QOS
Benchmark your maximum upload and download speeds here, then set these figures as advised before configuring QoS settings as you require using the Help guide for advice.
4. PARENTAL CONTROLS
Select Access Restrictions for options that enable you to impose time limits on certain PCs with IP or MAC address, plus filters to block unsuitable web sites and other internet protocols like P2P.
5. FRAME BURST
Select Wireless > Advanced Settings. Enable Frame Burst if you have no more than three wireless devices on your network; consult the Help menu for advice on other advanced settings.
This works will all wireless G routers, despite what Help says. Enable this, then click Start > Run, type devmgmt.msc and press [Enter] to open Device Manager. Locate your wireless network adapter and double-click it. Switch to the Advanced tab and enable Afterburner if the option exists.