Switch home router to DD-WRT: FAIL

Intro
I am having problems with my home router, a Cisco E1200, especially with the wireless connections. I thought it might be interesting to try to run it using the open source routing code DD-WRT. Since I am a Linux geek DD-WRT had some attraction for me and I figured it really couldn’t make matters worse. Boy was I wrong.

The details
Dropped connections, slow response, degradation over time – that is all par for the course for my E-1200. Again, mostly affecting WiFi.

Starting from this bare-bones installation write-up, http://www.dd-wrt.com/wiki/index.php/Linksys_E1200v2, I did indeed manage to upgrade the firmware to DD-WRT.

Things they don’t tell you that you probably want to know

Initial login password is blank, and the username is root, not admin.

I wanted to have the SSID I had been using preserved with the same password as well, so that, ideally, I would not have to revisit my devices to get them to learn about a new SSID setup. This was especially important to me due to a wireless Canon 3600 series printer which is particularly difficult to set up. You do it once, fumbling around until it works, and hope to never have to do it again.

And…yes, it auto-created that SSID and I saw client logged into it, so I guess it preserved the password as well. I don’t really know the characteristics that a client uses to decide this is the same SSID as before. The MAC address may be part of that decision. But since this was the same hardware the MAC address was preserved as well.

The results
My hard-wired connection worked pretty well. But WiFi, if you can believe it, was even worse than before! My Office Dell PC just would not pick up an IP address although it did connect to it. When you run ipconfig and only see an address beginning with 169.254. you are in trouble, and that’s what I had. My Dell 2-in-1 laptop could connect OK. But sometimes it worked, sometimes not, over WiFi, and worse than before.

And although some of the Linuxy type things looked somewhat familiar, like bridging with a br0 interface, I didn’t want to invest a lot of time debugging my issues. And the web GUI was a little slow.

ssh was disabled by default. No idea how to turn it on. Do I didn’t have the usual comfort of a Linux command line in working with it.

Issuing commands via the web GUI was just too painfully slow.

Also, come to think of it, it did not grab an IP over its WAN connection. Now I have an unusual ISP that permits me two valid Internet addresses. My Cisco Meraki takes the other address. But rebooting cable modem, Cisco router, etc in any combination just did not permit me to get that 2nd IP address I had been using. Eventually I knocked my Meraki offline. I wasn’t expecting that as it normally runs flawlessly and I hadn’t touched it.

So needless to say I was pretty disgusted and gave up. Question is, could I go back to the Cisco firmware??

Back to Cisco’s embrace
Well it turns out you can go back. Cisco meanwhile had released a newer version of firmware for it and made it available for download over the Internet.

I got the initial Cisco-looking page but had a really tough time logging in! None of the default of previous username/password combinations worked!! root/(blank), admin/admin, (blank)/root, admin/1234, admin/previous_password, none of it let me in! I tried a reset. No go. I read different directions on how to reset. Someone mentioned a 30/30/30 rule. No go. (I guess that was 30 seconds reset, 30 seconds wait, 30 seconds without power). The more official recommendation seemed to be 10 seconds reset. Eventually one of those resets did work – I think the 10 second one, and the default admin/admin got me in. That was a relief!

I figured if my SSID carried over to DD-WRT, surely it would carry over going back to Cisco. But, strangely, it did not. The name was similar, but not the same. Old name: Cisco76538. New: Linksys76538. No way to change it. Thanks Cisco, that was really helpful. CORRECTION. You know how you get used to certain settings? I had WPS enabled. For some reason you enable it in two places. Well, the one place, if you turn it off, allows you to change the SSID! But I need WPS (WiFi protected setup) for some basic Canon printers I have. So I don’t think this is an out.

So I had to visit all my clients one-by-one to re-enter the WiFi info, I still haven’t gotten to that one printer though! And my Wink Hub was no fun to re-configure either.

And performance is inconsistent once again, but much better than under DD-WRT. It’s too early to tell if it is an improvement over the older firmware.

And I gave up on using a 2nd IP address at home. I just channel everything through the Meraki.

Some more thoughts on why the office computer did not get an IP address though it was connected to the DD-WRT network
I’ve seen this problem just this week with a different DHCP server. I think you may only get a 169.254… address if your DHCP server already has your MAC address in its table, so it decides you don’t need another IP, or something like that. But things didn’t seem to get any better after a reboot of the router. So I don’t know.

Some more thoughts on why WiFi performs better through Meraki
The Cisco E1200 is a cheap, 2.4 GHz-band router. It can be set to auto-hop if one of the channels gets interference – that’s one of the WPS buttons. I’m beginning to suspect that is what is happening as I do see the neighbor’s SSIDs. Meraki is dual band, 5 GHz + 2.4 gHz and has the intelligence to use both as needed. I think it has MIMO as well. So it’s almost always going to do better than a cheap home router.

What I ended up doing
In the end I bought a dual-band router: Linksys AC1200 for $91 from Amazon. Turns out my Dell computers do not support 5 gHz. who knew?

Conclusion
Upgrade firmware to DD-WRT? Maybe with enough effort I could have gotten DD-WRT to work. It allows more control than Cisco’s firmware. But with the minimal configuration I was willing to do it was basically useless – very inconsistent and just not working with some devices.

References and related
Very brief DD-WRT install instructions for an E1200: http://www.dd-wrt.com/wiki/index.php/Linksys_E1200v2
Official E1200 download site: http://www.linksys.com/us/support-article?articleNum=148523

This entry was posted in Linux, Network Technologies and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


seven − = 1