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We have been looking to replace our two internet routers for some time now. Those two routers were normal (aging) PCs running Linux and serving as our internet gateways and firewalls (via iptables). We wanted to replace them because

  1. they were really overkill for handling max. 6mbit internet traffic and up to 1 (one) VPN connection,
  2. they were consuming a lot of power needlessly and
  3. we feared that their old hard disks were about to die.

We wanted some kind of appliance that is able to handle some VPN connections and let us specify some more complex firewall rules, doesn’t consume a lot of power, doesn’t have any moving (and potentially breaking) parts and doesn’t cost over $500.

The last part was what was making this hard. Sure, there are lots of cheap routers out there (and I looked at some of them), but they have rather limiting firewall capabilities and VPN isn’t available for most of them. Even routers for $300 – $500 looked like a step backward when comparing their firewall rules to our iptables firewall. We were almost giving up and were ready to buy two cheap off-the-shelf PCs as a replacement, but we found something better: the Linksys WRT54GL router and OpenWRT.

WRT54GL

The Linksys WRT54GL is a cheap router and WiFi access point that runs Linux. The default Linksys firmware isn’t great but you can replace it with a flexible and open Linux firmware called OpenWRT. OpenWRT has everything you need for a router: Linux kernel 2.4.x and iptables (with lots of different iptables modules), network diagnostic tools like nmap and tcpdump, VPN solutions like OpenVPN and FreeSWAN, a useful shell (busybox) and a SSH daemon (dropbear). Other things like DHCP/DNS/web servers are available and can also be useful on a router.

OpenWRT Shell

For $120 and a Saturday of work we were able to get two fully functional Linux routers with 5 routable ethernet ports (you can separate the ports with VLAN to build a DMZ for example), WiFi and WPA2 with AES encryption, a flexible firewall and VPN. What could be better? If you are looking for a powerful router and if you are comfortable with playing around with Linux and using a third-party firmware, this is the way to go.

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