Router firmware updates are just as important as updating the system for any device. The firmware upgrade introduces new features and security improvements.
If you’ve owned your wireless router for years, there’s likely a firmware upgrade you can (and should) install. However, unlike updating your computer software, which you can usually do with a simple update tool, router firmware upgrades are not easy to understand.
This may come as a surprise, but your router has an operating system and software running on it. This is known as firmware, and software designed for specific hardware.
And just like the operating system on your computer, you can change the software that runs on your router. Custom firmware can be installed on the router that provides additional features not previously available on the device. This could be anything from creating a paid hotspot to connecting via a VPN.
Keep reading to learn more about router firmware and discover the best firmware for your router.
- 1 Why should you use custom router firmware?
- 2 But does your router work with dedicated software? And is it something you should do?
- 3 What routers are compatible with custom firmware?
- 4 1. DD-WRT Firmware
- 5 2. Fresh Tomato Firmware
- 6 3. AdvancedTomato
- 7 4. Open Source Router Firmware: OpenWRT
- 8 5. Chilifire
- 9 6. Gargoyle Firmware
- 10 What is the best router firmware?
Why should you use custom router firmware?
The first and main reason you might want to install alternative firmware is to add many features. Additional features are often enabled on consumer devices but are not available for various reasons.
It’s understandable – manufacturers want to keep the device simple and easy to configure. In most cases, they sell more expensive devices to people who want these features. Luckily , Some users have been working on ways to get the fancy firmware on this regular device!
Some of the features provided by the alternative firmware are:
- Quality of Service (QoS) allows some types of traffic to take priority over others
- Wireless connectivity
- The ability to convert to a hotspot
- Add SNMP (Monitoring Protocol)
- Detailed diagnostic tools
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But does your router work with dedicated software? And is it something you should do?
Is it safe to install custom firmware on the router?
Installing custom firmware on your router provides new features. But this is not a choice everyone should make.
If you are not satisfied with voiding the warranty, you should avoid installing new dedicated software on your router.
Installing custom firmware will void the device warranty. If you’ve got a new $150 router, it might be best to stick with the manufacturer’s firmware.
Otherwise, there is also a chance that your router will stop working. This will render the device useless.
If you’re still reading this, I’m going to assume you’re OK with that and are willing to roll up your sleeves.
What routers are compatible with custom firmware?
This question largely depends on the configuration and router you have. Usually, devices from the most popular manufacturers are targeted by firmware developers.
This is simply because a lot of users use it more than others. The chips used by popular companies that represent the mind are also used in other models. As such, you will sometimes find that some unusual brands have custom firmware available.
Whatever the case, you are safer with the models tested with each alternative firmware.
However, before you proceed, always remember that you should check each firmware to see which models it supports.
Are you ready to learn more? Let’s move on to the different firmwares available.
1. DD-WRT Firmware
DD-WRT is the most well-known, distributed and tested alternative firmware. It has been in development for several years now and is considered stable. It is easy to install from the firmware upgrade page and it includes all the features mentioned above.
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Once installed, you will find that you are able to do things with the router that were not available to you before. Even if the features were previously included, you have upgraded to a secure and reliable firmware. Say goodbye to default router configuration vulnerabilities.
DD-WRT is free and available for quite a few routers – in fact perhaps more than any other dedicated router firmware.
You can check to see if your router is supported by visiting its router database.
2. Fresh Tomato Firmware
Based on Tomato firmware, Fresh Tomato is an improvement over DD-WRT. It’s easy to install, under active development, but not feature-rich. Fresh Tomato makes up for this by being easy to use and giving you advanced features like QoS and Shell.
However, Fresh Tomato is not available on as many routers as DD-WRT. Check their homepage to see if your router (and its version number, too) is listed as compatible.
Like Fresh Tomato, Advanced Tomato is an improvement of the original Tomato firmware. If you are looking for an improved user interface, then it’s time to move on to AdvancedTomato.
Featuring a modern, flat design, AdvancedTomato’s GUI is intuitive. This ships the basic Tomato firmware, providing a powerful alternative to DD-WRT.
The result is a router management experience that will completely change how you use your wireless router.
4. Open Source Router Firmware: OpenWRT
OpenWRT is known as Open Source Router Firmware. Instead of trying to be everything to everyone, they built a platform on which others could create packages. OpenWRT has a packet management system that allows you to extend the capabilities of your router in any way you can think of.
Of course, you will need the knowledge and time to program it.
However, firmware images are also available for download and installation on your router hardware.
OpenWRT itself does not have a built-in graphical user interface (GUI). Instead, X-WRT adds this functionality and includes the ability to monitor and manage your router remotely via the web interface.
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If you want to run hotspot, Chilifire is the preferred firmware. This professional firmware allows you to offer free or paid hotspot access from your consumer router.
the negative side? It has a free version that supports limited access methods and up to 10 users per month. If you want to get more than that, or charge for access, it takes a percentage of your revenue.
In return, you will get a very professional firmware that will take the headache out of running such an organization. Its firmware is available on many different routers, so check their website for full compatibility information.
6. Gargoyle Firmware
Based on OpenWRT, Gargoyle is another firmware that adds bandwidth management quotas and network access rules to routers. Supports most TPLink devices, along with some Buffalo, Netgear, and Linksys routers. However, since it is based on OpenWRT, the list of compatible routers should be the same (with some differences).
Gargoyle updates every few months and applies fixes that are rolled out from OpenWRT, keeping your router safe and stable.
Gargoyle is a good alternative if you are looking for something different.
What is the best router firmware?
By now you should have a good idea of the proper firmware to update your router.
If you are looking for the best router firmware, consider:
Each package has its pros and cons. Obviously you’re limited to the hardware you have or can buy, but then it’s your choice. If you are looking for easy-to-use firmware, check Tomato.
DD-WRT has the most features and the most support from the community so it’s a great option too.