The operating system inside WiFi routers is commonly called “firmware”, all manufacturers develop their own firmware to make it work on their own devices. Typically a single manufacturer has a common firmware GUI for all router models, but internally the drivers and embedded software may be different. However, although all routers come with the “official” firmware installed, sometimes we have the possibility of installing other firmwares to our router. Today in this article we are going to explain the advantages of installing another firmware on our router.
Can I install other firmware on my router?
Routers are made up of a board with all the components such as CPU, RAM, FLASH memory, WiFi controllers and also the switch chipset if it is not integrated into the main CPU. For everything to work properly, it is absolutely necessary to have the corresponding drivers for the different components, otherwise, the developers of third-party firmwares such as OpenWRT, DD-WRT or Tomato RAF among other firmwares will not be able to compile it to work properly. all functions. The manufacturer of the different components may or may not release the different drivers, so that the developers can develop the firmwares based on this, sometimes the developers must use binaries and adapt them to their firmware so that everything works correctly.
The main third-party firmwares are OpenWRT, DD-WRT and also Tomato, these firmwares are cross-platform and multi-manufacturer, that is, they are compatible with a large number of router manufacturers and specific router models, however, it is possible that for a We have compatibility with DD-WRT, but not with the other firmwares, therefore, if you want to install a third-party firmware on your router , before buying it you should carry out the following actions:
- Check the compatibility of the router you intend to buy on the official OpenWRT, DD-WRT and Tomato websites.
- Within the same router model, it is possible that the manufacturer has sold different hardware revisions , this is essential for a firmware to be compatible or not. If a certain firmware is compatible with revision A1, but the manufacturer sells version C1, then this latest hardware version will not be compatible with the firmware, because some component has been changed and the full firmware is no longer compatible.
- Check if the firmware is in alpha version (very early version for testing and with multiple bugs), beta version (test version but quite stable) or final version (stable version and no known bugs).
Finally, it would also be highly recommended to access the forums of a specific firmware to read comments from users who already have the router and are using the firmware, it is possible that it has some limitation or important bug and the selected firmware will not serve you, or at least, you have to wait a certain time until there is a final version.
Some brands of routers that are compatible with third-party firmwares such as OpenWRT or DD-WRT are D-Link, NETGEAR or TP-Link among many other manufacturers, Tomato has a smaller list of compatible equipment, in addition, there are several different versions of Tomato with different compatibilities between models.
A very special case of a third-party firmware is Asuswrt Merlin , this firmware is only available for certain models from the manufacturer ASUS. The developer creates its own firmware based on the official firmware, in fact, both the graphical user interface and the internal software are shared with ASUS, but it adds new advanced functionalities that the current firmware from the manufacturer ASUS does not incorporate.
If you have an ASUS router compatible with Asuswrt Merlin, and you want to have all the functions of the original firmware plus the possibility of having more advanced configuration options and even installing additional software through Entware, we recommend that you try this firmware.
Advantages of using other firmware on my WiFi router
The advantages of using a third-party firmware in the WiFi router are many, we must bear in mind that these firmwares are developed by a community of advanced developers, which incorporate very advanced firmware functionalities, something that the manufacturer’s default firmware normally does not have. . We must also bear in mind that, it is possible that the manufacturer of your router has stopped providing firmware updates because it is EOL (End of Life), so installing a third-party firmware with updates is very important.
Some of the advantages of using third-party firmware on your router are as follows:
- Regular updates , providing the latest versions of internal firmware software, improving performance, security if vulnerabilities have been detected, and more.
- Access to hundreds of advanced configuration functions that were not present in the official firmware, some of the advanced configuration functions that a third-party firmware and official firmware may have are not the following:
- Configurable services such as Samba, FTP and DLNA media server if the router has a USB port. With more advanced configuration options.
- Integrated ad blocker (PiHole or AdGuard Home).
- Built-in FreeRADIUS server to configure WPA2 / WPA3-Enterprise with user / password authentication securely.
- OpenVPN type VPN server, IPsec IKEv2 and even WireGuard, allowing secure remote access to our local network. We might also have the ability to configure Site-to-Site VPN tunnels.
- Advanced configuration options in wireless networks.
- Possibility of configuring VLANs in the LAN to segment traffic and use manageable switches.
- Possibility of creating Virtual AP to generate several WiFi networks (SSID) and segment network traffic.
- Installation of additional software through software repositories such as Optware or Entware.
- Possibility of unlocking functions in the router that you could not do before, such as generating several WiFi networks, blocking the LAN ports you want, or configuring QoS in a very advanced way to prioritize traffic.
- Optimize router performance . Normally third-party firmwares are very light, consume very little CPU and RAM, so we can perform a large number of actions and raise processes to have more services.
As you can see, we have a large number of advantages if we use another firmware in our router that is not the official one, ideal for making the most of the WiFi router hardware and making available hundreds of advanced configuration options, different servers for offer us services, and we can even install more functions that third-party firmware does not incorporate, such as other VPN servers, a reverse proxy to access web services on the local network from the Internet and much more.