Saturday 2 April 2011

Linksys WRT54G v1... A True Work-Horse!

Apologies for this very long (and probably tedious) blog post.  The short version is this: "The Linksys WRT54G v1 wireless router is indeed a true work-horse!".  The long version starts ten years ago....
Linksys WRT54G, v1.0

The Linksys WRT54G (v1 .0) was the first wifi router I purchased, way back in 2001.

I bought it in Fry's in San Francisco while over there for a few weeks working. The router cost about 75USD back then (after an instant rebate of 30USD or something like that). The default OS that shipped on the unit worked fine without any issues for a few years.  Supported all the security formats available back then.  It was a true work horse.  Ran constantly for years.
I then purchased an Apple Airport Express and wanted to get the two working together. The Apple Airport Express supports Wireless Distribution System (WDS) allowing multiple wireless access points to work together broadcasting the same wifi network.  However, the Linksys OS didn't have native support for WDS.  So, following some research, I found that Sveasoft's Alchemy firmware had support for WDS.  So, a quick upgrade of the linksys firmware and we are in business.  Now I have a WDS network with the Apple Airport Express extending the range of the Linksys WRT54G, giving perfect signal throughout the apartment.
Apple Airport Express

Only when we moved from an apartment to a house about 5 years ago was the signal a bit weak in some rooms downstairs (router lives on top of a book shelf in the office upstairs) with all the solid concrete walls between the two routers.  So, following another trip to the US, I brought home a set of high gain antenna.  Boosting the signal greatly around the house.
Linksys High Gain Antenna with BNC connectors

In an effort to try and clean up the office and with clutter and cables running up to the top of the book shelf, I purchased an extension kit so that you can have the router sitting up to two meters away from the antenna. Again, this helps take some of the interference out of the wireless LAN.  And for only 20euro, it was a steal! The router now sits on a shelf under the desk, beside the firewall and the antenna are sitting on top of the book shelf as before. The WLAN is working great!
Linksys Antenna Stand for BNC connectors

However, in 2008 the Linksys WRT54G started developing an issue where it would stop serving wifi access temporarily.  A power cycle always fixed this until one day when it never recovered from diagnostic mode.  So, my workhorse was now nothing more than a paperweight, after a good 7years innings.  Time for a replacement.... Having had such good luck with the Linksys WRT54G v1.0, why change.  So, I bought a WRT54G v7.  Newer Linksys firmware, shinny new box. Takes the same antenna connectors... And now only 50euro!  Bargain.

Linksys WRT54G, v7

However, my purchase was a bit hasty... It would appear that the firmware on this version (v7) is different to the others are can only run the Linksys firmware.  So, there is no Sveasoft or DDWRT firmware equivalent.  So, no WDS.  However, I noticed the power connector on the v7 was the same as the v1 unit.  With a stroke of luck, plugging the new power supply into the WRT54G v1, the unit powers up AND gets past the diagnostic mode without issue!  Wahoo..... The Workhorse is BACK IN ACTION!
With the new lease of life, our wifi network was working comfortably for a few more months.  Until I noticed the devices associated with the Airport Express then started dropping off the network every now and then.  Powering of the Airport seemed to fix the issue. I checked for firmware updates, none available. Looks like the Airport Express is dead in the water, but the Linksys WRT54G Workhorse marches on!
Was happy to work away with the weak signal downstairs, as the media box off the TV was still able to receive a signal fine. However, I had decided to start using Wireless Protected Access (WPA2) instead of Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) just to make it easier to get visitors onto the WLAN.  Unfortunately the Linksys WRT54G v1 with the Sveasoft firmware doesn't support it, so time for a change, again). Decided to swap out the Linksys WRT54G for a pair of Cisco Aironet 1121 that I had lying around.  One of the advantages of these units is that they can work with Power Over Ethernet (PoE), of which my firewall have two ports!
Cisco Aironet 1121

Configuring WPA (no support for WPA2 on these old models) was a bit of a pain as it was not as straight forward as selecting it from a drop-down list, but how and ever WPA was configured. But could not get the two units talking to each other, so they could not be used to share/extend the wireless LAN.  Tried to do a firmware update on them.  One dies completely, the other was fine.  So, left it running, via PoE up on top of the bookshelf in the office... All was good..... Or so I thought.
After a few days, I noticed the media box downstairs was not seeing the new network... Further investigation showed that the network was indeed there, but the Ubuntu system just could not see/connect to it. Then I noticed that it was not limited to the media box.  My Dell D820 running Fedora 14 could not see it either...  , none of the linux machines could connect.  So, back to the drawing board..... Time to try the WRT54G v7 as it does have WPA2 support.  Remember, the only reason I couldn't use it before was because it didn't support WDS.... Powered it up, configured WPA2 and off we go.... All the linux machines can see it, even the media box.  Sorted....
Well, not quite!  Now my Android phone can't see the network!?!  God Dammit!  This is becoming a pain in the proverbial!  There has to be a way to get all this working again.... Time to see if there are any updated firmware options out there for the v7.... None!  But there are some for the WRT54G v1... Tried the Sveasoft Talisman, but this all but bricked the WRT54G v1. But not content with nailing the lid on the coffin of the work horse just yet... I played around with it for a bit, was looking for a way to get it into firmware recovery, by shorting some of the pins on the flash chip, but could not find definitive instructions for the v1.0, only the v1.1 which has a different board.  Played around with it some more, noticed when it boots, it was momentarily pingable on it's factory IP.  So, installed an Trivial File Transfer Protocol (TFTP) server on my laptop, Downloaded the latest Linksys firmware and pushed the image to the unit on next boot..... Took a couple of attempts to get it working, but now I have a WRT54G v1 running v4.21.1 of the Linksys firmware and running my WPA2 wireless LAN. The Media box, the laptops and the phones can all connect without issue!
So, after 10 years, the only wireless router I have that still works and supports all clients, is the very first unit I bought.... It has seen off stiff competition from the Apple Airport Express, the Linksys WRT54G v7 and two Cisco Aironet 1121.....

The Linksys WRT54G v1 wireless router is indeed a TRUE WORK HORSE!  

UPDATE: The WRT54G v1 has now failed. Still need to determine if it is fatal, but for the time being have switched to the WRT54G v7... May be time to invest in new kit?!?

UPDATE2: The WRT54G v7 is buggered, have now switched to Ubiquity Unifi.

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