Router notes

The Internet router continues to be the most important computer in a house. It’s also the most likely to be garbage. For a long time I’ve done well with Tomato firmware on a WRT54GL, but that config is starting to get long in the tooth. Tomato hasn’t been updated in a couple of years, the WRT56GL doesn’t do 802.11n, and in general the world has moved on.

After some research I settled on what I think is the new consensus setup, confirmed in part by Jeff Atwood’s suggestions.

Router hardware: ASUS RT-N16. It’s the popular hacker router now and at $80, a reasonable price. The big drawback is it’s 2.4GHz only, no 5.0GHz. I don’t much care about 5GHz. If I did, I’d consider an ASUS RT-N66U instead. But that’s $160 and at that price you start wanting a real PC, not a router appliance. My understanding is 802.11n will work on 2.4GHz co-existing with 802.11g and 802.11b, albeit at reduced performance.

Router software: a TomatoUSB variant, the Toastman builds. TomatoUSB is the continuation of Tomato but it itself stopped seeing development about a year ago. Toastman has picked up the mantle. The key feature he added that I need is per-IP bandwidth monitoring. Another popular choice is Tomato by Shibby, an alternate TomatoUSB variant. It looks good too. (Aside: it’s a shame none of these firmwares are nicely packaged. Half of what made Tomato so good is it was a very professional release with a great manual and UI. Very unusual for fan-produced hackerware.)

Toastman releases a zillion different builds. The one I picked was tomato-K26USB-1.28.7500.4MIPSR2Toastman-RT-Ext. Note the file is hosted at some ghetto download service you have to register for free with. Ugh.

First installation is a challenge; the stock ASUS firmware doesn’t like the build and ASUS’ software to reflash a router is Windows only. These TFTP instructions seem reasonable and mostly worked on my Mac. The weird thing is the ping to the router sort of failed before the tftp; first 10 packets didn’t come back. I just left the ping running and the tftp magically worked.

After the tftp there’s no visible sign anything’s going to work. So I held my breath and rebooted, and there’s a stock Tomato/Toastman router. Hooray! Next blog post will be about configuration options; there’s a lot. The default config is reasonable except there’s a typo in the DHCP range and some dumb things like an FTP server running on the WAN port.