I said “goodbye” to a couple of good friends today when I asked them to step down and retire after years of stellar performance. These two old friends were the last remaining Linksys WRT54G routers in use on any of my networks. I replaced them today, and in doing so, I can’t help but wax a tad nostalgic.
The original version (v1) of the Linksys WRT54G — whose the designation comes from Wireless RouTer capable of 54 Gigabits per second WiFi speeds — originally launched in December 2002. By any measure, the product was a wild success for Linksys. It boasted four 10/100 LAN switch ports, in addition to a single WAN port for connecting to a DSL or Cable modem, and broadcast WiFi on the 2.4GHz spectrum using the then-newest Wireless-G technology at a then-blazing 54 Gbps. It was relatively inexpensive, easy to install and configure (especially since there weren’t a lot of configuration options in the early firmware versions), and straight-up bulletproof reliable. In fact, the only thing that ever went wrong with any of the WRT54Gs I’ve owned was a dead power supply, which was easy to replace with a quick trip to Radio Shack for a generic 5V 2A wall wart. The WRT54G wireless router is what every respectable geek employed to broadcast WiFi signals throughout their house or apartment, and even thirteen years later, I still see plenty of them (and their variants) in service.
The WRT54G was good on its own, but what truly launched it into Geekdom’s Hall of Fame was the arrival of of third-party open source Linux-based firmwares, such as Sveasoft, Tomato, OpenWRT, and DD-WRT. Technically considered “hacking” your own router (though completely legally, since you own it), these replacement firmwares converted the $60-ish dollar WRT54G into a $300 business-class router… or at least gave you the essential functions of one. They also allowed you to violate FCC regulations by cranking up the power level of your router for better WiFi coverage. Linksys didn’t welcome widespread hacking of its routers at first, but realizing the floodgates could never be closed, it eventually started selling the WRT54GL (the “L” stands for “Linux”) variant of it’s router, which was designed specifically to take advantage of the burgeoning third-party Linux-based firmware market (Linksys even added additional RAM on the unit to support larger and more feature-rich third-party firmwares).
I used a WRT54G as my primary router at home for years. I even used the 7dbi larger antennae to boost coverage. I eventually upgraded to a WRT54GL, and moved my old router out to our cabin. As time went on, I picked up a few more WRT54G and GL units (sometimes new, sometimes used) and using DD-WRT configured some of them as additional access points throughout the house, and some as client bridges to connect wired network devices to the WiFi network at the house and at the cabin.
As a general rule, whenever I’d upgrade something at the house, I’d move the older stuff out to the cabin. As that hand-me-down process continued over the years, I settled on the Linksys E4200 dual-band device as my new router of choice, and eventually replaced all of the WRT54G units on my networks with hacked Belkin routers at access points that could support the faster Wireless-N protocol… with the exception of the last two WRT54Gs configured as wireless client bridges at the cabin to connect the two DirecTV DVRs to the network.
Last week, I replaced all four Belkin Wireless-N units at the main house with a single Ubiquiti UniFi Access Point PRO. That thing is a beast, and provides stronger, faster, and more reliable WiFi coverage in the house than all four Belkins combined (look for a full review of the Ubiquiti UAP-PRO soon). That left me with four unused Wireless-N routers, so I brought them out to the cabin this weekend, and configured them as client bridges to take the place of those last two WRT54G units.
I was a little surprised at how nostalgic I felt when I unplugged those two WRT54Gs today and thought about the fact that they’d probably never be plugged in again. Newer 5GHz band devices, and faster wireless protocols like N and AC, have rendered the once ubiquitous Linksys WRT54G totally obsolete, and their glory days are now behind them.
But it just felt wrong to unceremoniously unplug them and add them to my old hardware pile in the basement, so a blog post like this felt appropriate. So thank you Linksys, for giving the the world what is arguably the most important WiFi router in history, and for providing me more than a decade of fun and learning as I flashed countless versions of hacked firmware and spent hours tinkering with the settings.
The hand-me-down Belkins I put in service today have some big shoes to fill.
As always, I welcome your questions, comments, and feedback below!