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How New Firmware Can Improve Your WiFi Router

Alternative firmware is a way to supercharge your WiFi router. Here are Tech Talker's tips for choosing and installing the right software to make your router reliable and lightning fast.

By
Eric Escobar,
March 22, 2013

 

If you’ve been following my mini-series on How to Boost Your WiFi Signal (Part 1 and Part 2), you know that one way to improve the strength of your WiFi is to download new firmware for your router. Firmware is the software that makes your router work.

What Is Firmware?

Alternative firmware is a way to supercharge your router. Generally when you get a router from the store, it is severely limited by the type of firmware that runs the device. The reason that the software serving these routers is limited has to do with the company that creates the firmware. They generally make many different types of hardware and will create one piece of software that runs on every device. From there they can selectively create or remove features. These features drive the price, and are an effective way for companies to create different tiers of each of their products.

Alternative firmware basically installs unlocked software to your device, giving you full control over it. This is by no means nefarious in any way, but it will void your warranty.

See also: How to Root Your Android Device

The three main flavors of alternative firmware that I recommend are DD-WRT.com, Tomato, and OpenWRT. These are all open source projects, meaning their code is freely available for the public to see (and edit for yourself if you have the skills).

What Are the Benefits of New Firmware?

So what exactly does this new firmware unlock? Many, many, many options! After installing or “flashing” this new software to my router, the device has been completely stable for over a month. I used to have to unplug or reset my router once a week because it got hung up or disconnected. This new firmware made the router stable. That alone was enough to convince me!

However, new firmware has a bunch of other neat tricks. I’m able to combine multiple routers into one giant wireless network, which is extremely useful if you’re trying to cover multiple stories of a home, or a wide area.

You can also create separate wireless networks, one for guests, one for children, and one for adults so that none of the traffic overlaps.

This firmware also gives you the ability to modify your broadcasting transmitting power. You can increase it for farther range, or you can decrease it if you don’t want it to reach to the neighbor’s house.

You can also connect your router directly into a VPN which can be great for connecting two geographically different networks, or for adding an extra layer of security.

How to Install New Firmware?

Okay, you’re sold. Now what? It’s time to install. The bad news is that installing new firmware is pretty complicated. But the good news is that there are plenty of instructions and even video tutorials online.  Simply visit any of these three sites (are DD-WRT.com, Tomato, and OpenWRT) to see if your model router is compatible. Then search your router model and the keyword “firmware” to find step-by-step instructions. I recommend reading through the instructions a few times and watching a few of the videos online before taking a stab at it.

What Could Go Wrong?

I’ve learned the hard way that if you don’t follow the directions to the letter, you might end up turning your router into an expensive paperweight. Installing new firmware to your router will void your warranty, and there’s always the risk that something could go wrong.

Here’s what happened to me. I began the process by downloading the new firmware, and installing or “flashing” it to my router. I forgot a step and unplugged the power cord before the firmware was done installing. With the old firmware gone, and the new firmware not installed, there was no way to start the router, and that was all she wrote! It was completely my fault and could have been avoided if I wasn’t distracted by watching a movie while trying to complete the install. Simply follow the instructions carefully and you’ll be fine.

If you’re looking for some great routers, check these out:

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Wireless Router photo from Shutterstock.

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