Saturday, February 24, 2007

Linksys WRT54GL Wireless Router

I get a lot of personal questions and requests for computer help. One of the most frequent has to be related to wanting wireless Internet, and what to get. Here's my answer.

Get the Linksys WRT54GL. (Please don't ignore the "L", it makes a lot of difference.)

Off the shelf, this is already a respectable wireless router/access point:

  • I personally find it to be very stable and reliable.
  • The quality and power of the RF transceiver exceeds most needs. (Granted, it's not a Cisco Aironet or Router, but it also won't set you back $600+.)
  • Dual diversity antennas. The external R-TNC antenna connections also allow for easy upgrades when needed.
  • Includes a 4-port 10/100 Ethernet switch.
  • A 12VDC power input allows for easy Power over Ethernet (POE) if needed. (Linksys provides adapters.)

The best reason I like this wireless router? The firmware (software) in many of these consumer-level routers leaves a lot to be desired - limited or unfinished features, various bugs, etc. Need to forward some traffic other than TCP or UDP? You're probably out of luck. Many of these companies push out new products or revisions quite rapidly, and finding firmware updates quickly becomes almost impossible.

This is where the WRT54GL shines - it runs on open source firmware. My favorite is OpenWrt. This probably isn't something you want to do unless you have at least some familiarity with things like Linux, SSH, and basic TCP/IP networking. (Though remember, even if you don't want to upgrade the firmware, it's still a great router as-is, and you can always upgrade later if needed.) If you run into problems with OpenWrt, please be sure to read the FAQ. If you're having problems with wireless, particularly with encryption, be sure you installed the nas and wl packages, not included by default.

Sold? Great - but you'll probably have to buy one on-line, as these are very hard, if not impossible to find in a brick-and-mortar store. I've gotten in the habit of keeping and extra WRT54G on hand for the next time someone needs one right away.

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