Open source wireless access point (Wi-Fi) routers

Recently, one of my coworkers had asked me to recommend a good wireless router for home office use. Based on my past experiences, I suggested looking at products from Linksys and Netgear. It should be noted right away, that Cisco sold the Linksys business to Belkin earlier in the year, so I am not sure if the products and their support will get better or worse as time goes by. My colleague ended up buying the Netgear N300 Wireless Gigabit Router (WNR3500Lv2). While looking at the specs and features of this Netgear model, I noticed the bullet point advertising it as a “Open-source router for Linux developers and opensource enthusiasts” and a link leading to a community website (http://myopenrouter.com/).
wndr3500l_back
WNR3500Lv2 is a fairly good router with pretty decent Wi-Fi range. All ports are Gigabit Ethernet (including WAN, which matters if you are using 100+ Mbps FiOS), Broadcom BCM5357 480 MHz MIPS 74K processor, and 128 MB NAND flash and 128 MB RAM. Two neat hardware features that differentiate it from most other models on the market, are the power and wireless on/off buttons. Most other routers simply lack these. Returning to the topic at hand, the Netgear spec claims that DD-WRT, Open-WRT, Tomato and other popular Linux firmware is available for this model, which I have to admit did intrigue me. Serdar Yegulalp’s article in InfoWorld, 6 slick open source routers, is good overview of each firmware distro.

linksys_wrt54glI missed out on the whole open source Linux router phenomenon, which started with the release of the Linksys WRT54G a decade ago, for the simple reason that my home office has always been wired, so I had no need for a wireless router, that is until I bought my first tablet. Linksys WRT54G to this day is the most widely supported router in the open source community. As of this writing, Linksys is still marketing the WRT54GL model, which is an updated WRT54Gv4.

The current WRT54GL is powered by a Broadcom BCM5352 200 MHz processor, with 16 MB RAM and 4 MB Flash. The fact that it supports Wi-Fi up to 2.4 GHz 802.11g only, and has 4 MB Flash memory are a problem. The current full DD-WRT distribution (v24 preSP2 Mega) is nearing 8 MB, so it’s no longer possible to flash it on to WRT54GL. This is where the Netgear WNR3500Lv2 with its 128 MB NAND begins to shine. Stop Telling People to Buy WRT54GS was posted about a year ago by Nerd|Vent, and I completly agree with the argument that the WRT54GL hardware is completely outdated by today’s standards.

The Netgear WNR3500Lv2 uses a newer Broadcom chipset, so there is no “official” support for it in DD-WRT just yet. If Netgear actually continues to manufacture the router as it is, it should gain popularity with the open source community. Meanwhile, looking for current production model routers to use instead of the WRT54GL or the WNR3500Lv2, I stumbled upon Peter Zaborszky’s list of 5 Best Routers for DD-WRT with VPN. The list includes Linksys E1200 and E4200, D-Link DIR-632, Netgear WNDR3700, and Asus RT-N16. It should be noted that the Asus routers have been getting very high marks in most recent reviews.

About Dan Perelman

IT management professional focused on messaging and collaboration systems, server/desktop management and virtualization, backup/disaster recovery.
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