Just add functionality. Alternate firmware for routers

We remind you that attempts to repeat the actions of the author can lead to a loss of the guarantee for the equipment and even to its failure. The material is provided for informational purposes only. If you are going to reproduce the actions described below, we strongly advise you to carefully read the article to the end at least once. The editors of 3DNews are not responsible for any possible consequences.

⇡ Prehistory

First you need to figure out what the firmware is. It is customary to name the part of nonvolatile memory of almost any digital device containing its firmware. And the term "firmware" appeared more than half a century ago, when computer systems began to use ferrite memory. Each memory cell was literally sewn with a wire. For flashing, you had to pull out the old wires and flash new ones. However, this is a greatly simplified explanation of the process and it has nothing to do with modern realities. Now, with a cheaper memory, more and more often, instead of classic microprograms, a full OS is flashed, albeit in a truncated form (for example, there is no possibility of working with graphics). Why not? In principle, many devices are not very different from any PC. They have a processor, memory, drive, a set of different microcontrollers and other components. Here, of course, you can argue, but we will not go into the terminology questions, since it is not so important for the end user that it is inside the box – if only it works as it should. Well, under alternative firmware is meant any firmware that is not created by the developers of the device.

Often the developers are quite jealous of the issues related to extracting, studying, modifying the firmware and then refilling them back into the device. Most often, these actions automatically lead to a loss of warranty. So if you decide to reflash something, then first read the license agreement. However, the loss of the guarantee is not limited to – cases of lawsuits from the developer to enthusiasts who are engaged in modification of firmware are not uncommon. Similarly, attempts can be made to hardware modification of devices, such as the well-known process of "chip" of some gaming consoles. Especially artful comrades can use open source software under a free license as a software base for creating firmware. In this case, even laid out the source code. However, at the hardware level, the possibility of using alternative firmware is blocked in one way or another. At best, you will be able to restore the original firmware, at worst you will get a useless "brick" (brick, "briqued" device) with which nothing can be done except to throw it in the trash.

Finally, the most important question. Why do I need an alternative firmware? There can be many reasons. Typically, these firmware are much more functional, they allow you to use the blocked features of the device (this is often the case, for example, with video cards), have a more convenient interface, work much more stable or lack any flaws in the original firmware. Some manufacturers for years do not want or can not fix mistakes in their software, and sometimes they just stop supporting a nice, in general, device with a subtle hint that it's time to buy a more recent version of the "piece of iron." In the end, much in this world is done just for fun.

⇡ # Alternate firmware for ASUS WL-520GU

The history of alternative firmware for routers began with the advent of the legendary series of devices Linksys WRT54G in 2002. After opening the software source code for the first router of this series, an alternative OpenWrt firmware was created on their basis. Soon there were similar projects, which began to develop rapidly, and at some point for the same Linksys WRT54G there were more than 30 (!) Alternative firmware. Now OpenWrt and other firmware support a much larger number of router models from different manufacturers. However, the most popular devices for flashing still are the routers of the same Linksys series, as well as ASUS devices of the WL and RT series. As an example, we will consider the ASUS WL-520GU router. Those who are already familiar with alternative firmware, nothing new for themselves will not find. For the rest, it will be briefly told about the most popular firmware for this model of the router.

So, what do we have? ASUS WL520-GU was released more than three years ago and at that time was a pretty good solution for organizing a home network at an affordable price. Hardware characteristics of the router by today's standards are rather weak: the Broadcom BCM5354 chipset with a frequency of 240 MHz, 16 MB of RAM and 4 MB of permanent memory. From bonuses only USB-port, intended, first of all, to connect the printer to the local network. In general, not particularly unfold, but something still can be done. The original version of the firmware caused users a lot of complaints, as it usually happens with new products. Part of the claims was satisfied, and some of the requests were not. The last stable version of the official firmware was released more than a year ago, so it's hardly worth waiting for serious updates. In addition, the line of routers replenished with fresh models. If there is a desire to squeeze more of an old friend, then the output is one – an alternative firmware.

⇡ # Preparation

We will use the standard ASUS utility to restore the firmware of the router. You can download it on the support site. In the same place, just in case, take the last stable version of the original software for the number 3.0.1.4_RU. So, go to the site and in the section "Home download" step by step we choose "Wireless equipment" → "Access point" → WL520-GU and press the "Search" button.

In the pop-up window, select the Windows 7 list and click "General search."

In the "Software" section we find and download the latest firmware (Version 3.0.1.4_EN).

In the "Utilities" section we download the archive with the programs (Version 4.0.7.9).

Firmware from the first archive somewhere unpack, for example, to drive C :, and from the second install the program from the folder Utility. It is better to immediately disable the firewall. It is necessary to disconnect all network cables from the router, except one, which must be connected to the network card of the PC. By Wi-Fi, you can not flip. In the LAN connection settings in the IPv4 properties, you must manually specify the address from the subnet 192.168.1.10/255.255.255.0.

Now we find a small recessed button with the inscription Restore on the back of the router and squeeze it for a few seconds, for example, using a rod from the handle. Let's release the button and disconnect the power cable. Press the button again and, without releasing it, connect the power cable. After a few seconds, the power indicator on the front panel will start blinking slowly. The device is now in recovery mode, and you can release the Restore button. In the main menu from the ASUS Utility → WL-520GU Wireless Router, run the Firmware Restoration program. We click on the "Browse" button, select the file with the desired firmware, click "Download" and wait until the firmware is downloaded to the router and installed. Usually it takes up to 5 minutes. After that, you must disconnect and reconnect the power cable, and in the settings for the connection over the local network, set the IP address automatically to be received. Now you can open the browser and type in the address bar

 192.168.1.1 

to access the web interface of the updated firmware. Further actions depend on the specific firmware version. If the first time you failed to update the router software, you must enter it again into the recovery mode and repeat all operations. To restore the original firmware, you just need to specify the path to it in Firmware Restoration. In some cases, the program may swear on an incorrect file. Then he needs to give the same name as the original firmware.

⇡ # Firmware from Oleg

Perhaps, the most well-known alternative firmware among Russian-speaking users. Perhaps, because our project is being developed by our compatriot Oleg Vdovikin. However, in other countries these firmware are also popular. In addition, the project is one of the oldest and most advanced in this field. The firmware interface is similar to the official version of the software for older models of ASUS routers. By the way, according to some information, Oleg's code is also used in official firmware. Initially, this firmware was developed for the ASUS WL500g series, but in the test versions, fresh models with the RT index are also supported. Now the development and support of the project is being handled by a group of enthusiasts. The latest builds are available here.

Among the main advantages of the firmware from Oleg is stability, functionality and ease of use. These factors contributed to the popularity of this project. To enumerate all the features of the firmware it would take more than one page – after all for so many years of development, a huge number of functions have been introduced. Key among them are: a variety of ways to connect to providers, support for IPv6 / IPTV / multicast, built-in traffic shaper, the ability to create a NAS on the basis of a router by connecting a removable drive to a USB port and with FTP / CIFS / NFS access, access and scheduler for them, support for USB modems 3G / CDMA / WiMax / Dial-Up, work with SNMP / Radius / LLTD, fine-tune the wireless connections, as well as support for printers and even web cameras. But this is not a complete list. Among the useful features of the firmware is also worth noting the availability of Telnet / SSH access and the ability to monitor CPU usage and network connections in real time. The only drawback is the weak extensibility of the firmware capabilities. In general, this is an ideal option for those who are not satisfied with the standard firmware of the ASUS router, and those who just want to try to deliver something alternative.

Initially the project was made for the Linksys WRT54G and Buffalo WHR-G54 series routers, but now there are many informal assemblies for other devices. Including for ASUS WL520-GU. In my opinion, this is one of the most successful and balanced on all parameters of alternative firmware. Feature of Tomato is a simple, beautiful and convenient web-based interface based on AJAX.

Tomato has a slightly smaller capacity than other firmware, but much depends on the specific assembly. In addition, those who wish can download a fully understandable SDK for creating their own firmware versions. In addition to the standard for any router features, there is support for VLAN, IGMP, Wake-On-LAN, the ability to create NAS, a good task scheduler, easy extensibility and customization through custom scripts, support for Telnet / SSH connection, work with multiple DDNS, and also wide possibilities on adjustment of a wireless access point in various modes. In various assemblies, a pre-installed torrent client, a VPN server, and much more are also available. On the other hand, it is possible to easily install additional packages into the internal memory or to a USB drive.

However, this is not all. Tomato has excellent capabilities for fine-tuning QoS and shaping traffic, port forwarding and support for a large number of simultaneous connections. There is also a paranoid set of possibilities for monitoring everything that happens to the router and transmitted traffic – logs, statistics, graphics and so on. But the most important thing is that all this is "wrapped up" in a very user-friendly interface, with which an unprepared user can easily understand. The verdict is simple – if you did not like the firmware from Oleg, then feel free to try Tomato.

The ancestor of almost all projects for creating alternative firmware for routers. Now it is positioned as a solution not only for routers, but also for other embedded systems, as well as for more serious products. One of the standard assemblies is suitable for ASUS WL520-GU. Curiously, the OpenWrt releases are named after an alcoholic cocktail. A set of basic functions of the firmware is pretty standard, and nothing spectacular in it. However, we must understand that OpenWrt is rather a basic platform for building other firmware. It is understood that the user will independently bring the functionality to the desired level. In many ways, this process is facilitated by the availability of a convenient package manager for installing additional options.

Nevertheless, it can not be said that this is a bad or inconvenient firmware. OpenWrt is unlikely to suit inexperienced users, but for knowledgeable people it is a very flexible and convenient option that can be easily and accurately adjusted to suit your needs. The default Web interface for the firmware is extremely simple, straightforward and not very convenient. Frankly speaking, it is much preferable to use Telnet or SSH to control OpenWrt. However, there are other implementations of web-muzzles, more convenient. Similarly, for solving each task, there are sometimes not one or two extension packages. In general, I would not recommend at first to put the "bare" firmware OpenWrt, it is better to use some more convenient ready-made assembly. The benefit of projects based on this firmware is very much. For example, the X-Wrt add-on package

Gargoyle is just one of the simplest OpenWrt builds with the least bad web interface. Also available are individual packages of ipkg. Gargoyle is based on the previous branch of OpenWrt, which means that this firmware is more stable, but slightly less functional. It combines a fairly simple interface for configuring the router by an ordinary user and all the flexibility of OpenWrt. In a sense, Gargoyle is a more humane way to try the same OpenWrt, so for the sake of experiment it's possible to install this firmware. It also provides simple tools for monitoring traffic.

And under the hood …

The most famous project for creating alternative firmware, also put on commercial tracks. There are paid options for assemblies that have a little more options than the usual ones. DD-WRT supports a very large number of devices. And for each of them there is, as a rule, not one version of the firmware. The DD-WRT feature is a fairly simple interface, a large number of functions and possibilities for fine-tuning the router by a simple user. However, when accessing the command line via Telnet and SSH, even more options are available. The firmware is constantly improving, updated and overgrown with new features, while preserving the stability of the work.

The project has good documentation on the basis of Wiki, as well as a forum for communication of users. On the one hand, this contributes to a more detailed description of all the nuances of working with the firmware. On the other hand, in places the documentation is full of confusion and finding the answer to your question or reading useful tips is extremely difficult. For each model of the router, a separate page is included from the list of supported devices, and the most appropriate assembly of the firmware is recommended. For example, ASUS WL520-GU offers a fairly old version. You can use it, but it's better to take a more recent release from Brainslayer. To do this, go here and select the newest version (see the date). If there is an assembly for any particular model of the router, then it is placed in a folder with the appropriate name. In our case, you need to go to the Broadcom folder and download two files: dd-wrt.v24_mini_asus.trx and dd-wrt.v24_usb_generic.bin.

Using the first file, the base flashing of the router is performed according to the instructions described at the beginning of the article.

When logging in through the web interface, DD-WRT will prompt you to set your own login and password to access the router settings. Enter them and click Change password. Then click on the Administration tab and enter the password you just selected in the pop-up window. Click the Firmware Upgrade tab, select the second file and click the Upgrade button. Within five minutes, a new firmware will be installed and installed. After that, pull and reinsert the power cable, go to the web interface (192.168.1.1) and again set the login with the password. Everything, now DD-WRT is ready to work.

Even in the basic assemblies of DD-WRT there are a number of interesting functions – all the same support for drives / printers, VLAN, QoS, IPv6, WOL, DDNS, 802.1x, Radius and even VoIP. For each of the branches of the project there is a decent amount of assemblies with additional or, vice versa, removed features like a torrent client or a server / VPN client. So for any router you can choose the firmware to your taste. Одним из главных достоинств DD-WRT и большинства других *WRT-проектов является расширяемость за счёт встроенного пакетного менеджера или системы Optware. В целом, DD-WRT также можно порекомендовать новичкам для перепрошивки роутера.

⇡#Заключение

В заключение хотелось бы дать несколько маленьких советов. Во-первых, выполняйте все операции по перепрошивке аккуратно и спокойно. Если соблюдать все инструкции, то шанс превратить устройство в «кирпич» минимальны. Спешить не надо, особенно когда происходит процесс заливки образа системы в роутер и непосредственно прошивка. Кстати, если вы уже установили какую-нибудь из перечисленных прошивок, то для перехода на новую или для возврата исходной, как правило, не требуется переводить роутер в режим восстановления. Достаточно воспользоваться веб-интерфейсом и стандартной функцией заливки новой прошивки. Наконец, ещё один нюанс для пользователей Windows 7. В этой ОС по умолчанию клиент Telnet не установлен. Установить его можно так: «Панель управления» → «Программы и компоненты» → «Компоненты Windows» → «Клиент Telnet».

На этом, пожалуй, всё. В статье мы коснулись только некоторых, наиболее популярных прошивок для роутеров. А ведь есть ещё и различные возможности аппаратной модификации. Но для человека, который никогда в жизни не держал в руках паяльника, это будет слишком сложно. Так что поэкспериментируйте с альтернативными прошивками. Это не очень сложно и чаще всего полезно. Удачи!

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