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The Linksys WRT54G

One of the most popular consumer access points currently on the market is the Linksys WRT54G. This access point features two external RP-TNC antenna connectors, a four port Ethernet switch, and an 802.11b/g radio. It is configured through a simple web interface. While it is not designed as an outdoor solution, it can be installed in a large sprinkler box or plastic tub for relatively little cost. As of this writing, the WRT54G sells for about $60.

Back in 2003, network hackers realized that the firmware that shipped with the WRT54G was actually a version of Linux. This led to a tremendous interest in building custom firmware that extended the capabilities of the router significantly. Some of these new features include client radio mode support, captive portals, and mesh networking. Two popular alternative firmware packages for the WRT54G are OpenWRT and Freifunk.

Unfortunately, in the fall of 2005, Linksys released version 5 of the WRT54G. This hardware revision eliminated some RAM and flash storage on the motherboard, making it practically impossible to run Linux (it ships with VxWorks, a much smaller operating system that does not allow easy customization). Since the WRT54G v5 cannot run custom Linux-based firmware, this makes it a less attractive alternative for network builders. Linksys has also released the WRT54GL, which is essentially the WRT54G v4 (which runs Linux) at a slightly higher price tag.

A number of other Linksys access points also run Linux, including the WRT54GS and WAP54G. While these also have relatively low price tags, the hardware specifications may change at any time. It is difficult to know which hardware revision is used without opening the packaging, making it risky to purchase them at a retail store and practically impossible to order online. While the WRT54GL is guaranteed to run Linux, Linksys has made it known that it does not expect to sell this model in large volume, and it is unclear how long it will be offered for sale.

If you can find a source of earlier revision WRT54Gs or WRT54GLs, they are handy and inexpensive routers. With custom firmware, they can be configured to work as an OLSR mesh or in client mode, and work very well as a cheap customer side solution. While the newer v5 model will work as an access point, it cannot be configured is a client, and it has mixed performance reviews compared to the v4 and earlier models.

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Last Update: 2007-01-18