Router hacking you off? Hack it back with DD-WRT

When Virgin installed my 50Mb broadband, it also brought along a D-Link 615 router. This is necessary because with the 50Mb modem (at the time) there was only a single Ethernet socket included, and no wireless. The D-Link ups your Ethernet ports to four, and provides 802.11n wireless as well.

The problem is that the D-Link router never really worked for me for some reason. I never worked out what, it just consistently lost the ability to route DNS requests - meaning that you can only access websites if you happen to have committed their IP address to memory. Their standard URLs became useless. There were other problems too, like crashes that would knock out the Wi-Fi and general frustrations with the router user interface. This was not what I'd expected on a premium subscription.

I've known for a while that it was possible to replace the firmware on some routers, but I never actually bothered to look in to it, largely because I was worried about breaking it. But recently, the problems with the D-Link were causing me trouble at a time when I really needed a reliable router. Now working from home and part of the Pocket-lint team, this wasn't just personal anymore. This was business.

With that, I furiously downloaded DD-WRT from the official website. Installation seemed easy from the guides provided on the site, so I took the plunge and got on with installing it. To do this, one simply goes to the update firmware option on the router, browse to the DD-WRT firmware you've downloaded and you're good to go.

Mere minutes later, the router was back up and I was using a new firmware that had a user interface that was logically laid out and seemed to work better than the official version. A few configuration changes later - setting up a couple of static IP addresses to make the remote desktop and BitTorrent apps actually work this time, and a fiddle with the Wi-Fi security - and I was up-and-running.

Since installing DD-WRT, I've had a much nicer Internet experience. The DNS seems to be fixed. I can visit websites again - quite important when you're trying to browse the Internet - and the Wi-Fi has been completely free from lock-ups. What's more, there's a far more comprehensive database of FAQs and help topics than I've ever seen from a hardware manufacturer.

DD-WRT also features more stats and useful information about your router than any first-party firmware I've ever seen. There's incoming and outgoing traffic monitoring, on both your home network, and for the data you're sending out onto the Internet. Setting up fixed IPs and port forwarding is also easier than most routers' standard operating systems.

Another really handy function for some people is also the signal boosting options whereby you can increase the strength of the wireless output to make sure that you can still get on your Wi-Fi in the furthest flung corners of your property. Do follow the DD-WRT recommendations of how far to push this, though, otherwise you might find a molten pile of black plastic where your router once stood.

If that's not enough for you, you can even set up some rules - know as Quality of Service rules or QoS - which throttle certain applications and ensure that they don't hog too much bandwidth while letting other more important ones have their fill. The same can be done with individual IP addresses on your network to prevent certain people who use your Wi-Fi from taking the lion's share of the traffic. And if you don't like the look of DD-WRT, you can always try the equally well-respected Tomato.

Of course releasing your router doesn't come without its risks. There's a list of disclaimers on the software sites that could reach a mile long. Firstly, re-flashing your firmware with a third-party version is risky. As much as DD-WRT is well-trusted, installing a third-party firmware on your router is a bit like giving someone the keys to your house. They might not take anything but they can see everything you do.

And then there's the risk that you'll "brick" your router during the upgrade. Pick the wrong firmware and you're in potentially big trouble. Sometimes even the right firmware might fail. This can happen with any firmware re-flash, even a manufacturer sanctioned one. If it does, you'll be left with a useless box in the shape of your old router.

But, most seriously, perhaps, you'll invalidate any warranty you might have. You'll annoy a service provider who has lent you the hardware and you may well have to pay for it when you decide to change ISPs. It is possible to put the manufacturer firmware back, in a lot of cases, but not all. So you should be aware of the risks before you start.

And when you've finished installing DD-WRT? Well, then you'll be able to get to Pocket-lint.com quicker, and you'll wonder why routers don't just come with this brilliant Linux-based solution installed to begin with.

Tried it? Then why not tell us how you got on. Scared? We don't blame you, but tell us why.