I recently upgraded my home network with a new router. I have Linksys WRT54GS router, running a custom firmware called DD-WRT. DD-WRT provides a lot of extra functionality that wasn’t available with the stock firmware. It’s the closest thing to a free lunch that you can get, computer-wise.
I’ve had the WRT54GS for a couple of years and it was starting to show it’s age. I needed to reboot it about once a week or so, or I would lose network connections. It also predated the 802.11n protocol, and my iPad and one of my laptops support N. I also wanted a router that supported gigabit speed LAN ports. So I’ve been in the market for a while now.
Last year, Netgear released a few new N ready routers. The WNR3700L was designed to be used with custom firmwares. Netgear even created a website, MyOpenRouter, to support the enthusiasts. It has a fast processor (480mfz), gigabit ports, and supported G & N on the 2.4ghz band. I came this close to buying one.
Then I read up on the next size up router from Netgear, the WNDR3700. This is a dual band router. You can configure B/G/N on the 2.4ghz band, and A/N on the 5 ghz band. You can keep the N devices at the less crowded 5ghz, and leave the G devices at 2.4ghz, It also has a faster (680mhz) processor. This router was listed as a powerful router on the DD-WRT site. So I spent the extra money and bought that one instead.
The first thing I learned was that I bought a WNDR3700v2, the 2nd generation model. DD-WRT was not supported for this model. It turns out that Netgear based their firmware on the OpenWRT project, so out of the box it came with nearly every feature that I wanted. It had support for updating my DynDNS account, static IP addresses, IPv6, guest networks, a shared USB drive, DLNA, etc.
It doesn’t have everything that DD-WRT has. It doesn’t have a VPN server. With DD-WRT, you can run PPTP and OpenVPN servers. I use PPTP for a few reasons. The main one was to be able to get a secure connection to my home network so that I could open a remote desktop session to my home PC. I could also use the VPN connection to access sites that would be normally blocked by the network that I was connected to. The WiFi network at my local car dealer blocks all of the social networking sites. When I’m waiting for my car, I would open a VPN connection so that I could check Facebook and Youtube.
Using a VPN also provides a level of security when you are on an unsecured WiFi network. By encrypting your traffic, your are less likely to have someone capture your data. The pptp protocol is not completely secure, OpenVPN has better security. Apple, in it’s infinite wisdom, does not provide OpenVPN support on iOS. I could open a PPTP VPN connection from my iPad, but there’s no way to get OpenVPN to work. Well, there is a 3rd party OpenVPN client for jailbroken devices, but I’m not going down that route. At any rate, PPTP is still more secure than unencrypted traffic.
So the WNDR3700 was pretty close to being good enough with the OEM firmware. Since the WRT54GS was running a PPTP server just fine, I decided to keep it around and use it just as an access point. That’s part of the joy of DD-WRT, it’s vary easy to customize a router for special needs. On the DD-WRT site, there are pretty clear instructions for turning a router into wireless access point. This is all I needed to do:
- Change the IP address of the old router. Since the WRT54GS would be wired to the WNDR3700, they couldn’t have the same IP address. I changed the WRT54GS from 192.168.1.1 to 192.168.1.2.
- Configured the DHCP server on WNDR3700 to use the range 192.168.1.5 to 192.168.1.254 for handing out IP addresses. This would make sure that nothing else would get the 192.168.1.2 address.
- On the WRT54GS, set the WAN type to disabled and disabled the DHCP and DNSmasq services.
- Set the WAN port on the WRT54GS to be a LAN port.
- Configured the WNDR3700 to forward the PPTP port, 1723, to the IP address now reserved to the WRT54GS. Any request for a PPTP connection from the outside would now get redirected from the WNDR3700 to the WRT54GS.
After making those changes, I wired the routers together, I opened a VPN connection to my office PC and RDP’ed into it. From my office PC, I opened a VPN connection to my home network to verify that the PPTP server was accessible, It worked the first time. That’s rare for me, but I’ll take that for a dollar.
I’ve been using this router for a week and it has been rock solid. There are a few quirks, the UPnP had some issues with Windows Home Server, but that was easy to work around. The wireless range is much better than what I had with the Linksys. I probably would have been good with the single band WNR3700L, but I am happy with it’s dual band big brother.