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Tomato: An antioxidant for your router

Every few months my Linksys WRT54G V4 home wireless router stops working and nothing short of a full reset gets it going again. This weekend it happened again. I got fed up and started Googling. I found out I’m not the only one to suffer from this problem. But then I found out that in 2003 Linksys, under pressure to comply with the GPL, released the router firmware and immediately afterward people started coming out of the woodwork improving it. (Doesn’t anyone have better things to do with their time?) Seriously, this has to be one of the best open source success stories ever. Some open-source variations of the firmware provide more features, giving this $60 router functionality similar to a $600 router. Others allow you to boost the RF signal. Still others provide a simplified and improved user interface. Most allow SSH or Telnet access to the router’s Linux kernel. All of them reportedly improve its reliability. I researched several of these and tried DD-WRT for a few hours. It’s very powerful and I was almost sold, but then I discovered Tomato. It’s perfect and I’m never going back.

From the Tomato home page: “Tomato is a small, lean and simple replacement firmware for Linksys’ WRT54G/GL/GS, Buffalo WHR-G54S/WHR-HP-G54 and other Broadcom-based routers. It features a new easy to use GUI, a new bandwidth usage monitor, more advanced QOS and access restrictions, enables new wireless features such as WDS and wireless client modes, raises the limits on maximum connections for P2P, allows you to run your custom scripts or telnet/ssh in and do all sorts of things like re-program the SES/AOSS button, adds wireless site survey to see your wifi neighbors, and more.”

It installed like a dream on top of DD-WRT, and the user interface is simple and clean. Most of the complexity is devoted to QoS functions, which I actually care about (unlike many of the obscure routing options provided by the original Linksys firmware) since I use my home computers for streaming music, Skype, and other network-intensive applications. Furthermore it provides nice usage monitoring and visualization tools. The user interface is a nice red color, the exact same shade as Campbell’s tomato soup.

After installation, my home network seems noticeably faster, but that may just be cognitive dissonance. (After all, if I spent an entire evening not making my network faster, that would make a pretty poor blog entry.) The main question now is whether my router’s reliability will improve, but from reviews online and my initial experience, I’m optimistic. We’ll see over the next few months.

If you decide to try installing Tomato, make sure your router hardware version is supported. For example, Tomato isn’t supported on the Linksys WRT54G V5 or later since Linksys removed half the RAM in all versions after V4.

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