OpenWRT first impressions

I decided to get yet another new router, a TP-Link Archer C7 on the WireCutter recommendation. Mostly for 5GHz radio, but also as an excuse to play with new firmware. I’d really like some sort of reboot watchdog. My impression is both Tomato and DD-WRT are a bit long in the tooth and it’s time to try something new. OpenWRT has a lot of mindshare right now, I first noticed it because it’s the home of the fq_codel work for better QOS. Worth a try.

My first impression of OpenWRT is it’s definitely not for civilian use. Really it feels more like a nice custom stripped down Linux distribution you use from the command line, not a network appliance. If you just install it and run it you do get a basic working router. But some fundamental features like detailed bandwidth monitoring, Dynamic DNS, or UPnP/NAT-PMP aren’t enabled by default. And the Luci web GUI, while nice, is very technically oriented. For instance the default configuration screens are yammering at you about bridging and WLAN1 and a bunch of confusing stuff that I understand but your basic user won’t. I get the impression that really I shouldn’t be using the Web GUI at all, just log in via ssh and editing text files.

One specific reason I installed OpenWRT is that it has a lot of third party packages. In theory a lot of this is manageable via the web GUI but I couldn’t even find the “update package list” button so ended up running “opkg update” on the command line instead. It is awesome that OpenWRT has a sane package management system!

I like that OpenWRT is clearly designed to support IPv6 well.

Some interesting packages:

  • tcpdump: for network diagnostics
  • luci-app-sqm: fq_codel QOS. traffic shaper.
  • wget curl netcat: some basic things on hand. these have to install SSL, so it’s a significant download / disk space.
  • nano, less: unix file utilities
  • luci-app-statistics and collectd-mod-*: historical stats for router
  • luci-app-vnstat: more historical traffic stats
  • luci-app-upnp miniupnpd: UPnP and NAT-PMP port forwarding
  • watchcat: reboot if ping fails for a long time
  • luci-app-*: applications that have a Web UI for them. Many useful things here.

All in all OpenWRT seems great for someone lwho wants to build and maintain a custom router software installation. If you just want a basic router that works I think stock firmware may be a reasonable choice these days. Or else Tomato/Shibby, but that’s pretty wonky.

Now I’m trying to figure out my weird network setup to talk to the usually-transparent Ubiquiti boxes.

7 thoughts on “OpenWRT first impressions

  1. How did you pick your router? It seems like with DD-WRT and OpenWRT it’s always a gamble.

  2. Nelson, which router did you choose? Just bought a 2.4Ghz only TP-Link WISP compatible 843ND but wouldn’t mind having 5Ghz and OpenWRT compatibility (which it might have) but so far the stock firmware has worked with WISP on the cable wifi hotspot using a MAC spoof.

  3. I got a Linksys Archer C7, based on WireCutter’s recommendation. I’ve updated the blog post to make that clear; sorry for the confusion!

    I’m not sure exactly what the “WISP compatible” 843ND means, but on a quick look it seems like it lets you receive your Internet via WiFi and then also use it as a router for your own computers. That’s kind of unusual and I’m not sure the Archer C7 supports it.

    1. Ooops we posted at the same time. I also have an ASUS RT-AC66U. Went with the TP-Link Archer C7 this time mostly because it’s cheaper. Still $90 though.

      1. Got it. Thought I was crazy there for a second. Yes, I’m “redistributing” a hotspot into an AirPort Express. Works surprisingly well honestly. I happen to dislike large cable companies. Bandwidth is a bit variable sadly with the ebb and flow of public traffic on the hotspot, none-the-less, a proof of concept for “public WISP” reuse on LAN.

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