Notes from CentraLUG, 7-May-2007: Ben Scott on OpenWRT

Seven attendees got to enjoy the last CentraLUG meeting at the New Hampshire Technical Institute Library this academic year. The school will be closing on Friday, and summer hours will not accommodate CentraLUG. Stay tuned on an announcement of a summer location for June, July and August (September will have no meeting due to the Labor Day holiday).

Ben Scott was the featured presenter this evening, showing off the OpenWRT Linux distribution for embedded devices. The list of supported hardware goes far beyond the initial LinkSys WRT-54G model to include products from dozens of other vendors. Many attendees brought their own routers for show-and-tell or backup. I had a v.1 WRT54G which I opened for folks to inspect. I also brought the compact (and alas, not yet flashable) WRT54GC. Bruce Dawson brought the WRTSL54GS, a Linux-flashable unit that includes a built-in USB connection. While Ben wrestled with the network and projector, we entertained ourselves well (and heckled Ben).

Ben had a well-prepared presentation, with schematics of the units, pictures of the circuit boards and some of hacks performed upon them, and a live demo of upgrading the unit from stock firmware to use the OpenWRT firmware and X-Wrt interface [3]. The OpenWRT includes a package manager and a large number of packages have been ported to the OpenWRT environment, ready for download. and installation.

Installation was uneventful – the Murphy gods must have been busy torturing the students in their finals week – and simple: select the “upload” option from the web interface and point to the OpenWrt image. Installation takes a short time and requires the router to be rebooted. Ben strongly advised clearing your browser cache, since the “same device” is going to be responding with different responses.

Ben gave us a quick tour of the OpenWRT interface and plunged right into installing X-Wrt. X-Wrt extends the interface and makes management far simpler, with some pretty incredible tools, like live SVG graphs showing actual network usage. Pretty impressive stuff.

Folks considering buying a new WRT54 will want to look for a “GL” unit where the “L” is Linux, the “GS” versions “Speedbooster” with more RAM or the “SL54GS” “Storage Link” that includes the USB connection also.

Bill also notes that it is possible to “brick” a unit. Ben says there are ways to de-brick them. Google ought to help, as would a post to GNHLUG.

Thanks to Ben for the great presentation, to Bill Sconce for providing the projector and notes, and to all for attending and participating.

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