Time for a quick nerd-spot.
A few weeks ago our ADSL router / modem / wireless access point started misbehaving, regularly dropping our internet connections at inconvenient times (side note, you haven’t heard swearing until you’ve heard Mrsdave’s game of Battlefield: Bad Company interrupted by a network outage) requiring it to be replaced quickly.
I had been waiting for an opportunity to replace the last router, although it did 90% of things quite well, the last 10% was often an exercise in frustration. My ultimate goal is to build an OpenBSD based router, using a Soekris embedded computer, so I chose to replace the all in one unit with a Linksys AM300 ADSL modem and a Linksys WRT54G2 router / access point.
I had used Linksys equipment in the past and found it, for a consumer level product, to be quite reliable, with a good range of features. Since Linksys had been purchased by Cisco, the de-facto standard when it comes to networking, I figured that their gear could only have improved. That assumption was not entirely correct.
Initial attempts to configure the modem and router were stymied by the lack of useful documentation and the awful configuration ‘helper’ software. Considering these two products came from the same vendor, getting them to play nice was much harder than it should have been. Eventually I had to fully set up the modem as a router and then switch it to Half Bridge, thereby negating the router part of the setup, before connecting the WRT54G2 before anything would work.
After finally getting on-line things seemed to be getting better, wireless range and performance was good, the WRT54G2 feature set was more to my liking than the D-Link that it replaced and our downloads were coming down at a good rate. The whole exercise seemed to be a success until Mrsdave and I tried to jump online for a quick blast of Battlefield, only one Xbox could log on to Xbox Live at a time. This would not do. It seemed that there was some problem with the UPnP implementation on this router, a firmware update didn’t help and neither did trying to place one of the Xboxes in a DMZ.
Perhaps foolishly, I thought that Linksys support would be able to help me. I used the “Live Chat” link on Linksys’ Australian website, but it routed me to European support personnel who were determined not to help me. Some excerpts of my interactions are below.
Ryan (30044E): Thank you for the information, however, I am afraid you seem to have contacted the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) support.
Dave from Albury: I selected live chat from the Australian page – I guess it just finds whoever is available [05:02:17 AM]
Dave from Albury: All I want is some help with my router [05:05:26 AM]
Ryan (30044E): The support region is differnet. [05:10:47 AM]
Dave from Albury: I’m pretty sure that TCP/IP is fairly uniform though [05:07:00 AM]
Ryan (30044E): But you have been misrouted to the EMEA support. [05:13:18 AM]
Dave from Albury: That doesn’t really worry me – all I want is some help with my router [05:09:22 AM]
Dave from Albury: What’s the point of having follow the sun support if you refuse to answer people’s questions? [05:12:55 AM]
Dave from Albury: Ryan, we have a simple situation here. I am a customer, you are a customer support rep. How about you just give me some support [05:17:41 AM]
Dave from Albury: ? [05:17:43 AM]
Ryan (30044E): Sir the configurations for each region are different. [05:24:50 AM]
Dave from Albury: it’s TCP/IP, it’s the same world wide, it runs this thing called the internet. [05:21:36 AM]
Defeated, I re-installed the old D-Link, which mercifully seemed to be have abandoned the more random elements of its behaviour.
The Linksys gear sat unused for a few weeks until I remembered the DD-WRT project, which provides alternative firmware for some Linksys routers. Luckily my model is supported, so this week I embarked on the project of updating to the DD-WRT firmware. It’s not a straight forward process, the WRT54G2 has to be flashed using TFTP, but only responds for about a 2 second window at boot time. After a few attempts to flash the router, and worrying that it had been bricked more than once, the initial image finally took. From there on in it got easier, the subsequent images loaded easily and the configuration was simple to do.
The acid test came this afternoon when we fired up the Xboxes, would the UPnP code in this open source project be better than the professionals at Cisco? In a word, yes. The DD-WRT firmware plays nice with Xbox Live, restoring peace and happiness to the Dave from Albury Compound.
In addition, when I do finally get around so building that OpenBSD firewall, DD-WRT offers many more features as a basic wireless access point than the Linksys firmware does, so that’s a win too.