Sauce Up Your Router with Tomato
The firmware options for a given router are typically limited to those provided by the manufacturer of the device. But on some routers you can install third-party firmware versions that may enhance the router's existing features and even add some new ones.
by Joseph Moran
The firmware options for a given router are typically limited to those provided by the manufacturer of the device. But just as you have a choice of operating systems to run on your PC, on some routers you can install third-party and open-source firmware versions that may enhance the router's existing features and even add some new ones. (Some would say they often improve the administrative interface as well.)
One alternative firmware I recently came across is Tomato, which is compatible with some of the most common Linksys and Buffalo routers (which use a common wireless chipset from Broadcom). You can download a copy of Tomato at www.polarcloud.com/tomato (there are some screen shots and flash videos to check out there too).
But before you attempt to install Tomato, there are a few caveats to consider. First, it will only run on certain router models and hardware versions routers bearing the same model number may have several different hardware versions because they were built with different chipsets over time and is generally more likely to work with an older version of a router than one you'd find in a store today. That can be a good thing, because manufacturers eventually abandon firmware development for older devices, while third-party firmware tends to be frequently updated. In any event, be sure to check thsi FAQ to make sure Tomato is compatible with your hardware.
Second, it helps if you have some networking familiarity and/or a willingness to tinker and experiment, because Tomato includes no online help, and offers scant documentation aside from the aforementioned FAQ file and a ReadMe file included with the download.
I installed Tomato on a Linksys WRT54GS to see what it offered compared to the router's stock firmware (the upgrade process was the same as for Linksys firmware). Here are some of the feature highlights:
Added WLAN Modes
Wireless Site Survey and Transmit Power Control
Wake on LAN
Bandwidth Usage Monitor
Other Tomato enhancements include improved QoS features and access control and scripting support. (Depending on the particular router model and version you're upgrading from, some of the features cited above may already be present in your router.) On the downside, not all native router functions are supported for example, the one-touch security SES or AOSS buttons found on many Linksys and Buffalo routers are reconfigured to toggle wireless access on and off.
Fortunately, if you decide you don't like the Tomato firmware, you'll be able to revert back to the manufacturer's firmware without too much difficulty in most cases (Buffalo routers are an important exception-consult the ReadMe file for details).
Last but not least, although it doesn't cost anything to download Tomato, if you do decide to keep it, consider making a donation to the author as a token of appreciation for their work.
Joe Moran is a regular contributor to PracticallyNetworked.
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