Niall’s virtual diary archives – Friday 8th February 2019

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Friday 8th February 2019: 9.56pm. Link shared: https://openwrt.org/

Last night I completely replaced the proprietary firmware on the house wifi router (the excellent value 3x3 11ac Archer C7 that just about everybody techie uses for their home wifi) with https://openwrt.org/. Why? The proprietary firmware was actually not awful, but my phone kept losing signal when I'm on the toilet, and it began to bug me that I can't do things like increase the transmit power, or use all of the 5Ghz frequencies available.

Anyway the switch was as easy as feeding its web interface an OpenWRT firmware file (mine is the v2 hardware, they made it not as easy on the v5 hardware). Very, very easy. And OpenWRT is completely different to the last time I used it years ago! It's now got a super easy GUI, a very recent Linux kernel, an enormous collection of installable packages, and of course more knobs and twiddles than you can imagine for configuration. It's a proper full fat Linux distro now, and while the GUI isn't quite as excellent as pfSense's, it's getting close.

Where I am typing this now used to get two bars of signal, and occasional wifi dropouts requiring me to hang the laptop off the edge of the bed to regain a connection. Now that I've quintupled the transmit power and moved my 5Ghz range outside that of my neighbours, I'm now on four bars of signal. Much better. And decent reception in the toilet now as well, so this has been a big win for very little cost or effort.

I did however lose a bit on peak transfer from LAN to WLAN. The Qualcomm chipsets implement hardware data routing for LAN => LAN, LAN => WAN, and LAN => WLAN of which the OpenWRT firmware only uses the LAN => LAN. The proprietary firmware could push Samba => Windows from a Gigabit LAN to the wifi at 77Mb/sec. OpenWRT copies the data in software, and the relatively slow CPU gets pegged at max, dropping Samba => Windows to 60-65Mb/sec. So about a 20% peak transfer performance loss.

This is unfortunate, however it's rare I bulk transfer data over the wifi. And 60-65Mb/sec is plenty fast when the broadband can't exceed 8Mb/sec anyway. So I can live with it in exchange for much improved wifi range.

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