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June 16th, 2006

Of all technology that exists today, all networking related hardware is my least favorite. Normally I would sink to hyperbole to say it’s by far my least favorite, but video cards and their tangled drivers are pretty high on the list. The networking components that have a special place in my heart are routers and their platonic friend, the wireless adapter. I think anyone who has ever had to wrestle with any wireless device before can likely attest to considering drilling gaping holes in the floor and stringing the wires through just to avoid the convenience of wireless technology. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start from the beginning.

And then God created Netgear MR814v1

When we first got a cable modem in our house four years ago, we needed a way to split connection among the computers without turning the walls of our house into honeycombs. I had read about wireless routers in one of PCMag’s ad-ridden articles, so I set out to Staples to buy the necessary components. Being inexperienced with any networking outside of dial-up modems, I made the assumption that all routers had the same stability. Oh the naïveté!

I picked the router that had the greatest features to price ratio. Enter Netgear MR814. The setup was simple on all counts, both with the router and with all wireless adapters.

Life was goo—

Woops, looks like the router died again. Someone go unplug the adapter, wait 30 seconds, then plug it in again. [Ok, ok – that gag would have worked better if this were a video blog, but I’m not your dancing monkey].

Needless to say, life was not so good. The router frequently dropped dead on any sign of high internet activity (i.e. downloads of large files from torrent, http, ftp, or emule). Firmware upgrades were available for download on Netgear’s site, but they only lessened the problem, and firmware development ceased early 2004.

I had read through the comments on and that the latest hardware revision of the MR814, hardware version 3, would solve the router-drop-dead-syndrome of the earlier versions. I wasn’t going to chance it.

All hail Cisco Systems

I decided it was time to dump the Netgear for a stable replacement. Where oh where would I find such a replacement without making a deal with the devil? Well, it turns out that the Linksys WRT-54GL used linux as its backbone, and the open source community had hacked together a fairly stable replacement to Linksys’ own firmware. This open source firmware, named DD-WRT, added numerous professional features that normally would add hundreds of dollars to the price of the router (just visit if you don’t believe me).

To say the router is without flaws would be a lie. One of the glaring problems that exists both in Linksys’ official firmware and in the DD-WRT is the lack of support for mixed-mode wireless (802.11b and 802.11g wireless at the same time). Luckily we only have 802.11b wireless adapters for our computers which allows me to enable the ‘b only’ in the firmware, effectively fixing the problem. If you are considering buying this router and run computers with both ‘b’ and ‘g’ style adapters, I recommend checking over at the DD-WRT forum to see if the problem has been fixed (as of writing this, it has not).

All in all, my vote goes to Linksys’ hardware and the unsupported, but highly efficient, open source firmware DD-WRT.

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