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The ASUS RT-N16, Tomato & 802.11n

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asus-rt-n16

I was planning to upgrade my gateway router after I moved to my new house, but a sale caught my eye and changed that.

I’ve been using factory firmware and routers for a long time. It started with Linksys, followed by another Linksys and then two identical D-Link routers. This ASUS RT-N16 router is my first custom firmware capable router.

ASUS RT-N16

I chose this particular router because it was affordable and recommended as one of the best custom firmware capable routers. It also featured 802.11n, four gigabit ports and 2 USB 2.0 ports.

And I got all of it for $90 some odd dollars after shipping and taxes. There was also a $10 mail in rebate offer, but it’s coming in as an inconvenient MasterCard debit card. I hate those things. Maybe I’ll donate it to Child’s Play or something.

Tomato

While waiting for the router to arrive, I was looking through forum threads and webpages debating which of the two major custom firmware choices was right for me.

DD-WRT seemed to be the cold, technical, feature filled choice for networking gurus who want it all. Tomato, on the other hand, appeared to be the super user’s choice. It seemed like it was the right choice for those who want advanced home features without requiring a CCNA certification.

The Tomato installation was painless. I was pleasantly surprised.

802.11n

Wireless N has been around for quite sometime, but I wasn’t going to hop onboard until more devices I owned supported it. With the sudden influx of Apple products and the HP TouchPad, the time to take advantage of wireless N had arrived.

I don’t have a real opinion on wireless N yet despite being bathed in its magical waves.

The Benefit

Improved signal strength is the key benefit for moving to the new router. With Tomato, I was able to increase the transmit power with a minor adjustment in GUI interface.

I took some measurements, but before I get into those, you should all read this wonderful FAQ explaining how to read signal to noise ratios.

Here are some measurements from my bedroom on the top floor.

  • Linksys WRT54GC (802.11g) located in the living room: -60 dBm / -92 dBm
  • D-Link DGL-4300 (802.11g) located in the basement: -80 dBm / -83 dBm
  • ASUS RT-N16 (802.11n) w/ default 17 mW located in the basement: -83 dBm / -92 dBm
  • ASUS RT-N16 (802.11n) w/ 55 mW located in the basement: -78 dBm / – 91 dBm

A nice improvement with the default transmit power, but an even nicer one with the tweak.
I could have gone with the recommended 60 mW, but I tested with 55 mW and saw no difference so I stuck with the lower transmit power value. Why use more if I don’t need it, right?

But as nice as the improvement is, it’s not enough for a stable video stream. My GiantBomb videos are still pausing and waiting for buffers to fill. To truly live in the wireless N future, I may have to invest in other wireless N access points.

UPnP “Fix”

I have a home server using Windows Small Business Server 2011 that likes to punch a few ports open for itself using UPnP. It worked great in the past, but it stopped working with this new router running Tomato.

It turns out that this was by design.

I didn’t care for the restrictive UPnP setup so I used Putty to Telnet into the router and ran these commands:

nvram set upnp_min_port_int=80
nvram set upnp_max_port_int=65535
nvram set upnp_min_port_ext=80
nvram set upnp_max_port_ext=65535
nvram commit

Now everything is working fine.

Conclusion

It’s been a pleasant change thus far. If things hold up and I don’t experience any issues with this setup, I may replace my living room router with one of these as well and set it up as an access point. Tomato is easy to use and I’m sure that I’m just scratching the surface of what it can do. I’ll revisit this home networking thing in a few months or at my new house.

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