WRT54G Warning

Before you buy the popular Linksys WRT54G Wireless Router, read this first.

I bought my first wireless router, a v1.0 Linksys WRT54G, around 3 1/2 years ago. At least I think that’s about right… the fact that it’s a v1.0, the original with the 20 LEDs on the front panel, means I’ve had it for a while. In early ’04, I switched to a Sveasoft firmware – this was before they began selling subscriptions for GPL’d software (but that’s another rant). It was a great little router on the Linksys firmware, and only improved when I put the custom firmware on it.

Unfortunately, when I returned from Vacation in early July, I found it had died. Brick City. Shrug… after 3+ years (and with boosted power output), it happens. I wasted no time riding down to the local Circuit City (closest retail outlet for such things) and buying a new WRT54G. What I didn’t know at the time was that in late 2005, Linksys released V5 of the router, which eliminated the Linux operating system in favor of a proprietary VxWorks firmware. This in turn allowed them to halve the Flash RAM and RAM to 2MB and 8MB, respectively. Until very recently, this router couldn’t run third party firmware. This problem has been solved, but the reduced memory limits the firmware to “micro” versions of the various 3rd party offerings.

When I got it home, I configured the Linksys firmware, and decided to give it a go for a little while before flashing a 3rd party firmware. At this point I still didn’t know I had a crippled router. Everything seemed fine at first, but after a couple of weeks, the wireless stopped working one day. I power cycled it, and everything returned to normal. I made a mental note to put OpenWRT on it, but didn’t have the time, and let it slide. A week later, the wired network stopped working, and then the web interface would disappear. Each time a power cycle would resume normal operation, but I was getting tired of the problems.

Of course, by the time I got around to trying to upgrade it, and learned what having a V5 really means, the 30 day return period had lapsed. I also learned that Linksys now offers the WRT54GL, and the L stands for Linux. It is essentially the WRT54G V4, running the Linksys Linux firmware, and with the original memory amounts. It’s targeted at people who want to hack the box, run 3rd party firmware, etc. Very Cool… except that I’m stuck with a craptacular V5.

As far as I can tell, the GL isn’t sold at retail, only online. I did see a report of someone who got one at Fry’s, but I’m on the East Coast, and Fry’s is a West Coast outfit. I found a handy serial number reference which lets you tell which version of the 54G is in the box without cracking the shrinkwrap, but these things are very popular, and I’m guessing my chances of finding a V4 or older in a local store are slim to none. I’ll try a couple places this weekend; it I can’t find one, I’ll be ordering the GL from Amazon.

I used to recommend the WRT54G to everyone; I gave my Dad one for Christmas 3 years ago. Even with the standard Firmware, they were reliable and affordable. Now, whether you think you’d ever load a custom firmware or not, I recommend getting a WRT54GL. I’ve read alot of reports online, and spoken to three co-workers with V5s, and my reliablity issues aren’t unique. The GL is currently $15 more (after rebates, at Amazon) than the $49 WRT54G at Amazon (either a V5, V5.1, or V6), but to me, the extra reliability, and extra flexability, are worth the price.

Once I have a V4 or a GL on hand and running OpenWRT, I may try running a mini-distro on the V5, and run it as an open access point, segregated from the rest of my network. I’ve been running everything open for years, but I think someone’s started hitching a ride. I don’t especially mind as long as the bandwidth doesn’t get excessive, but I don’t want to let the general public inside my firewall, so to speak. I’d like to get a GL running with MAC address filtering and no SSID (secure enough, for now, in the burbs), and run the V5 wide open, on a separate sub net, perhaps with bandwith throttling, and with some logging… just to see what passes through it. If/when I make that happen, I’ll post the details.