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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.

Make sure you heed all warnings!

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).

Step-by-step: Update your firmware to DD-WRT

And finally
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.

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Step-by-step: Discover some of DD-WRT's advanced features

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