As any Linux aficionado can tell you, Microsoft Windows-designed wireless routers are sometimes finicky about working properly with Linux systems and networks. Some routers do just fine, some need a little hand-holding, and a very select few allow open-source firmware to be installed. Then there are the advanced users who develop commercial-grade applications for wireless routers to add and extend features.
Either way, there's definite demand for routers that support open-source firmware, like the very popular Tomato and DD-WRT.
Netgear Inc., Santa Clara, Calif., announced the WGR614L Open Source Wireless-G Router earlier this summer to attract that open-source community. Based on the Broadcom Corp. 240MHz MIPS32 CPU, the router has 16 MB of RAM and 4 MB of flash memory built in. It has one external antenna, an internal fixed-position antenna and a built-in four-port 10/100 switch for wired connections. It is available for a street price of around $60.
This isn't Netgear's first foray into open-source routers; the previous one, the KWGR614, will be discontinued.
The WGR614L supports Tomato and DD-WRT, both popular open-source packages for routers. OpenWRT also is supposed to be supported, but the CRN Test Center didn't test for that.
The WGR614L Open Source Wireless-G Router supports static and dynamic routing with TCP/IP, VPN pass-through using both IPSec and L2TP, Network Address Translation, PPTP and PPPoE. It also has support for a DHCP server and client. The router features a Stateful Packet Inspection firewall and the wireless connection can be secured with WPA, WPA2-PSK and WPS. It also supports 40-, 128- and 152-bit WEP encryption. Advanced security features include DMZ, MAC address authentication, URL content filtering, logs and alerts. The SPI firewall protects the network from denial-of-service attacks.
For anyone who's not running Linux, or not interested in the customization options available with open-source routers, this router is too limiting. Because it's restricted to "G," it's not future-proof, with so much N-gear already available. It will work fine with Windows systems—it is Vista-capable, after all—but the WGR614L is very much for the non-Windows and Mac users.
After being used to the boxy look from Linksys and D-Link, this Netgear router is a very nice change. It's white, measures 6.9 x 1.1 x 4.7 inches, and is about the size of a mass-market paperback. It's light, too, at less than half a pound. The router can be placed vertically using the stand included in the box.
Netgear also provides documentation and source code downloads on its www.myopenrouter.com site to encourage community development for the WGR614L. There are discussion forums as well as other community resources available. Instead of voiding the warranty on its products or resisting attempts to develop applications for the router, Netgear has chosen to embrace and assist the developers. Some of the applications already developed for the WGR614L include traffic-shaping applications, redirections to captive portals for hot spots, a separate SSID for guest access, upstream and downstream QoS tools, and bandwidth monitoring.
The site even has instructions on how to perform minor surgery on the router to recover it in case of accidental bricking. Sometimes bricking happens, and having the option available to try to fix it using the serial console is a nice feature.
Using a Fedora desktop, CRN Test Center reviewers downloaded Tomato from the myopenrouter.com site and found it easy to install on the router. Once the package was downloaded, reviewers compiled the code. Reviewers set up the router the default way, using the included CD and then using the Web-upload function available on the Web-browser-based interface. The executable created after compiling the source code was uploaded and installation occurred automatically. The DD-WRT firmware also was straightforward to install using the same process.
Performance was on par with other wireless routers from competing vendors—no need for power cycling even with extensive use (10 wireless devices, two wired devices). The range also was standard, working through multiple walls and even extending two floors. There didn't seem to be much interference with cordless phones.
The one big drawback of this unit is that the wired ports don't support Gigabit. Not supporting wireless N is not that big a deal, but Gigabit seems like a crucial omission. Overall, however, Netgear has delivered an excellent router and one that gives advanced users an option, since there's only a handful of routers out there that support open-source firmware without massive amounts of hacking. It also provides an open-source option that VARs can discuss with customers when deploying or upgrading this type of networking solution.