Tomato for Linksys, making Wi-Fi better

I tried using Google's DNS servers instead of AT&T's and, for a while, it looked like the problem was fixed. Alas, this was not the case …

Gad! I complained a few weeks ago about frequent DNS lookup errors on my AT&T DSL connection. I tried using Google's DNS servers instead of AT&T's and, for a while, it looked like the problem was fixed. Alas, this was not the case …

A few days later the problem started up again. I used the Web interface to check out the DSL modem (made by 2Wire) and found it was really slow to respond.

Then this morning, my network and DSL connection appeared to be working but nothing was getting in or out. I reset the DSL modem several times and eventually things began to work and the modem finally displayed the broadband stats page indicating various comms errors. Being wise to the ways of AT&T I settled in for a long call to customer service and or support.

An hour and a half later, after talking to four people of which only the last had a clue, it appears that my DSL modem may be on the fritz (which was what I had been saying for most of the 90 minutes). Have any of you seen DSL modems, particularly 2Wire products, becoming flaky in ways that can't be easily diagnosed? Let me know your experiences.

While we're on the topic of feedback, a couple of weeks ago I asked for your thoughts on using alternative firmware on Linksys wireless access points and the overwhelming vote was for the Tomato firmware.

The reason for the enthusiasm was that Tomato is considered by most people to be a huge improvement over the original Linksys firmware without being as complex as the major alternative to Tomato called dd-wrt. Dd-wrt has its own fan club but it seems the general feeling is that Tomato is easier to use, more stable and more useful.

Installing Tomato, at least on the compatible hardware, is ridiculously easy. Compatible hardware includes the Linksys WRT54G v1-v4, WRT54GS v1-v4, WRT54GL v1.x, WRTSL54GS (without USB support), Buffalo WHR-G54S, WHR-HP-G54, WZR-G54, WBR2-G54, WBR-G54, WZR-HP-G54, WZR-RS-G54, WZR-RS-G54HP, WVR-G54-NF, WHR2-A54-G54, WHR3-AG54, Asus WL500G Premium (without USB support), WL500GE, WL520GU (without USB support), Sparklan WX6615GT, Fuji RT390W, and Microsoft MN-700 but definitely not the Linksys WRT54G/GS (Tomato will brick these devices).

The base features of Tomato include an AJAX-based user interface that supports real time graphing and status updates, a command line interface using BusyBox), which is the Swiss Army knife of Unix utilities for embedded systems, TELNET access, SSH access (using Dropbear), a more sophisticated DHCP server than the original firmware provided, traffic filtering, Wake-on-LAN support, advanced quality of service control, support for multiple wireless modes including access point, wireless client station (STA), wireless Ethernet (WET) bridge, wireless distribution system (WDS aka wireless bridging), simultaneous access point and WDS (otherwise known as wireless repeating), dynamic DNS service, a CIFS client, control of transmit power, antenna selection, and support for 14 wireless channels, startup, shutdown, firewall, and "WAN Up" scripts and CRON jobs (scheduled scripts), wireless survey (to view other networks in your neighborhood) and last but not least, fixes for known bugs in Broadcom-based Linksys firmware.

When I write "installing Tomato" I should really add "or one of its variants" because, being open source, developers have created a number of alternative distributions to add even more features.

These distributions (some of which have great hackerish names such as "hardc0re", "roadkill", "SgtPepperKS", and "Neorouter") add support for various enhancements such as increased maximum connections (10,240 in the case of the "Teddy Bear" variant) and support for secure FTP, OpenVPN, SNMP, USB, and VLANs.

So, the installation process: Download the firmware in ZIP file format, unzip the firmware into a local file, log in to the access point, go to the firmware upgrade section, locate the unzipped firmware file, select it, let the upgrade process do its thing, reconnect, reconfigure, and voila! Wi-Fi access nirvana.

That is, unless you are unfortunate enough to power down in the middle of the upgrade in which case, so I am told, you will no longer have an access point, you will have a brick. The same problem will occur should you try to load Tomato or one of its distributions on an unsupported hardware model.

I tried upgrading a LinkSys WRT54GS to Tomato and it was about as painless a process as I could hope for and BAM! I had a whole new set of features to play with. There's also lots of documentation, FAQs, and forum discussions about Tomato so learning how to use features and solving problems is really easy.

Tomato is simply amazing and a testament to the creativity of open source development. I'll give Tomato a rating of 5 out of 5.

Gibbs has better wireless access in Ventura, Calif. Connect to gearhead@gibbs.com.

Read more about anti-malware in Network World's Anti-malware section.

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Tags unixConfiguration / maintenanceLinuxWi-FiNetworkingwirelesshardware systemsData Centeroperating systemsTomatoGoogleat&tsoftwareWLANs / Wi-Finon-Windowsserver

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Mark Gibbs

Network World
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