Most people who buy wireless broadband routers will just use it as the manufacturer designed it to be, with whatever firmware the manufacturer put in there. Some adventurous folks, however, replace that firmware in their wireless broadband router with something not from the product manufacturer. It’s similar to how some users flash a different firmware into their smartphones.
There are a few reasons why people flash different firmware into their wireless broadband routers. Sometimes, it’s because of improved performance. The bigger reason, in my opinion, is the many added features offered by custom firmware.
These other firmware from organisations and communities other than the manufacturers are also referred to as custom firmware. DD-WRT is one of the most popular choice among these custom firmware, but there are many more of them. Another popular choice, although to a lesser degree, is Tomato.
The Linksys E3200 I have is supported by DD-WRT and Tomato. However, DD-WRT does not support the 5GHz radio in the E3200. I wanted to use all the hardware capabilities of my E3200, so it was obvious to me that I had to go with Tomato.
I did a bit of research on the features and installation steps. This is my first time installing a custom firmware in my wireless router, so I’ve not actually studied these things in detail previously. It’s one thing to simply want to have an idea about what using custom firmware is about, and another to actually want to install and use it. The biggest fear, of course, is the risk of bricking the wireless router.
But it turns out the installation was pretty straight-forward.
- Download the firmware into your PC. Head to http://tomato.groov.pl/download/K26RT-N/build5x-116-EN/Linksys%20E-series/, and grab the E3200USB (check the filename) file. If you have other Linksys routers, you can look around in the directory for your model number.
- Perform a 30-30-30 reset of the Linksys E3200. While the E3200 is plugged in with the power on, and no other cables connected, press and hold the reset button for 30 seconds. Still keeping the reset button depressed, unplug the power cable, and hold the reset button for a further 30 seconds. Finally, with the reset button still depressed, reconnect the power cable, and wait 30 more seconds before releasing the reset button. Altogether, you would have held the reset button for at least 90 seconds.
- Login to the E3200. It’s default IP is 192.168.1.1, username is admin and password is admin. I suggest to connect via an Ethernet cable to the LAN port.
- Go to Administration, Firmware update.
- Select the file you downloaded above. Press Update.
- Wait for 5 minutes.
- Repeat the 30-30-30 reset again as above.
- Login to 192.168.1.1, username is root, password is admin. Again, I suggest to connect via an Ethernet cable to the LAN port.
You’re pretty much done at this point. It’s pretty straight forward. If you’re thinking about flashing custom firmware, you should be able to figure out the Tomato web interface easily. It’s quite pretty actually, and really fast, compared with the Linksys firmware.
Tomato is built on a Linux platform. So if you’re familiar with Linux, you can enable SSH access, then SSH into the Tomato router and look around the system. If you want to do something fancy, being able to SSH into the router gives you the ability to troubleshoot issues from inside the router. You get greater visibility about what’s happening. It’s really cool.
One of the reason for me wanting to install Tomato is to setup a designated wireless network that has a dedicated VPN connection to a VPN service provider. I chose to buy VPN service from Astrill, and they provide their Astrill VPN applet for DD-WRT and Tomato. Now, Tomato does have OpenVPN (and PPTP, etc) out of the box, but the Astrill add-on provides a nice UI for customising the tunnel, including the ability to choose what traffic goes into the tunnel.
If you’re looking for nifty new features for your router, do check out Tomato!