4 Great Alternative Firmwares to Install on Your Router

If you’re familiar with routers, you’ll no doubt be familiar with alternative router firmwares. Often they are created to replace the stock firmware that come on routers, as the default firmware that comes on most routers just can’t deliver the features advanced users need.

Here’s a list of the four best alternative router firmware replacements available. Only four were able to make this list, but there are many great router firmware replacements that aren’t mentioned. Each one of them has their own strengths, weaknesses and use-cases.

router-firmware-openwrt

Too often, home router makers ignore the devices they create. With this firmware you’ll get the support you need. With OpenWRT this is not the case. It’s in heavy development and supports a ton of devices. If you replace your firmware with OpenWRT, you’ll know that your router is secure and filled to the brim with features.

The OpenWRT firmware has many, many features. The most notable is SSH. With this on your router, it’s possible to remote directly into your router to get a shell or use it to tunnel to any of the devices on your network.

Another useful feature is its ability to work with server software directly. Forget building a server! You can install your server software of choice directly to the router. Stock firmware can’t touch this!

Besides SSH and server software, here are some more notable features OpenWRT has:

  • VPN support
  • QoS/Traffic shaping
  • Guest network support
  • Network-attached-storage support
  • Network analysis
  • Network capture
  • IPv4/IPv6
  • Stateful firewall
  • port-knocking (with knockd/knock)
  • Network device support
  • Intrusion Prevention System
  • UPnP (universal plug and play)

router-firmware-ddwrt

A Linux-based open-source custom firmware for routers, DD-WRT is compatible with a wide range of home wireless routers and access points alike. What do you get when you install DD-WRT? You get a powerful feature set for your router. Most stock firmwares on routers really don’t let you do much, so this is a nice replacement.

Here are some notable features:

  • Wireless signal boost
  • The ability to use QoS to limit bandwidth for individual users
  • Detailed information about your Internet connection and speed
  • Robust port forward system
  • Powerful filtering systems (MAC and IP filtering)
  • IPv4/IPv6
  • SSH
  • Wake-on-lan
  • Dynamic DNS
  • OpenVPN support
  • UPnP (universal plug and play)

Overall, if you’re looking for an advanced replacement of the stock firmware on your home router, DD-WRT is worth a look. It might not be in heavy development, but the software is still compelling nonetheless.

router-firmware-gargoyle

Gargoyle is a router firmware based on OpenWrt and is designed for a myriad of Atheros- and Broadcom-based wireless routers. The firmware was created by Eric Bishop and is developed by him along with his team. Since it’s based upon OpenWrt, it sports just about all of the features listed in #2 in this list with a few tweaks.

The main goal of Gargoyle is to be an easy replacement to your stock firmware – something easy for new users. If you’ve tried out OpenWRT, but for some reason weren’t satisfied with how complex it can be, do yourself a favor and check out Gargoyle. The changes the developers have made could be right up your alley.

router-firmware-tomato

A (mostly) free firmware based on Linux for routers, Tomato was developed by Jonathan Zarate in 2008. He based his code on the HyperWRT project.Though development has slowed down, it still has a very active community. The firmware is designed to be used on a wide variety of Broadcom wireless routers.

Tomato has a lot of features, but the most compelling is the dedication to fixing bugs that have plagued broadcom based routers. It also has the standard content controls you’d expect from just about any modern firmware: QoS, dynamic DNS and a whole lot more.

Here are some other notable features Tomato firmware has that you can get excited about:

  • QoS/Traffic shaping
  • Traffic statistics for individual IP addresses
  • Network-attached-storage support
  • Virtual LAN
  • Advanced wireless modes (repeating, boosting, etc.)
  • Integrated bittorrent and TOR support

Tomato probably isn’t anyone’s first choice for firmware seeing as how the development of it isn’t as steady as it once was. Still, if you have a broadcom router, and you’re really looking to make it better, Tomato is a solid choice.

Regardless of whatever your favorite router firmware is, at least we can all agree that the stock router firmware leaves something more to be desired. They’re all too simple. Thankfully, alternatives like OpenWRT, DD-WRT, Gargoyle and Tomato exist to bridge that gap.

What’s your favorite alternative router firmware? Was it on the list? Tell us what it is below in the comments!

15 comments

  1. Any guarantees that any of the recommended firmware won’t ‘brick’ the router, and if so, is it possible to recover the original firmware?

    • Just like with any other update, you are urged to do a backup before proceeding. IIRC, OpenWRT and Tomato sites outline procedures on how to “unbrick” your router. However, if you feel uncomfortable installing new firmware, maybe you should not.

    • Backup, backup, backup…when in doubt ALWAYS BACKUP!!!

      Plus you should make sure you have the EXACT MODEL information to get the correct firmware package. Most router software is available on the manufacturer’s site. Download it as a failsafe, before you brick your router…just joking…you should always have a copy of your software!!! Hard Drives are cheap!!!

      Get all your ducks in a row, before you make any change!!! It’s a good idea to perform a backup on your OS before you install patches!!!

      Once it’s broke you’ll wish you had a backup… :-( trust me…

  2. This article seems to be geared towards those who own their own router. What about all of us Wi-Fi router users, that are connected with a Comcast Router or a AT&T’s U-Verse Router or a Charter’s Wi-Fi Router or a Dish Network’s Router – IF, we were to get another router ourselves would we be in non-compliance with our contract(s)?

    It seems to me, that AT&T commits your Wi-Fi Router to a 2-year contract like they do with their receivers. After 2 years, for the receivers, they become yours or when they become obsolete.

    • well take a simple, pricy wifi router like tp-link wr-841n (abt 20) and connect it behind your provider’s one …

      • Thanks, I didn’t even think of doing that. I have had friends who have routers in tandem, but, I have never done it. :)

    • “IF, we were to get another router ourselves would we be in non-compliance with our contract(s)?”
      You need to read the small print in your contract. You may also be able to find out online at your cable providers site or at their office by talking to somebody.

      I have Optimum. They provide me with a modem for free. They will rent me a router or I can buy one myself on the open market. They have a list of 6-8 routers that are “compatible” with their service. If I obtain my own router, I just have to register it with Optimum.

      No, I did not change the firmware on my router yet because 1) I’m planning to get a more modern one and 2) I do not want to brick it.

      • As I commented above, backup your router software BEFORE you change it.

        Drive space is cheap!!! Get a clue!!! Download all current firmware from the manufactures site, BEFORE YOU start!!! Also, download your configuration file from the router…. Just print the directions from your selected firmware provider before you start… You might want to keep a journal of each step in the process, that way if you need help, from here, you can repeat what you did…

        Just a thought… B-) B-) B-)

  3. @Timmy
    Various builds of Tomato are still regularly developed. Shibby Tomato USB is very actively developed and very good.

  4. I have been doing this stuff for several decades, have made or seen made all possible screwups, just ask someone BEFORE you make a change you are NOT confident of making. Slow steps are the BEST!!!

    Good hunting … May. The. Odds Ever. Be. In. You’re. Favor.

    B-) B-) B-)

  5. Oh, I looked up my routers and found OpenWRT & DD-WRT had them all listed. The last 2 suggested firmware do not support much.

    So check out the offerings!

  6. Hey Derrik,

    After reading the comments by Dragonmouth & RealInIT I’m thinking twice about updating my router’s firmware – especially since it’s not clear that I’ll reap any obvious benefits and you gave us too many choices ?!

    So how about an article on how to backup the firmware?

    Dan

    • “So how about an article on how to backup the firmware?”
      There is no universal backup for routers. In your router configuration screens there is an option for Backup. Read the manual or ReadMe file for your router model to find out how to get to tit. For example, I use a Linksys WRT54GL router. To backup my firmware, I go to Adminstration -> Config Management -> Backup.

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