5 minutes read
— 1060 words
When you search online for lists of recommended routers to run DD-WRT on, Asus comes up frequently, even in non-SEO-driven listicles. This is quite frustrating, because for the past few years Asus have blocked (most) third party firmware from being installed. When you try to upload firmware using the admin UI, you get a message that says roughly “for compliance reasons, we do not permit third party firmware”. That’s not entirely true though, as they do permit the third party Asus Merlin firmware to be installed; when I asked their tech support if they endorsed or recommended it, they said no, and told me to revert to stock firmware if I’d installed it (which I had, as an experiment.)
There’s a workaround mentioned in the DD-WRT wiki: power cycle the router with one of the two reset buttons held down (the inset one), and keep the reset button held down after it comes up until the power light starts blinking; you’re also supposed to make sure you’re on the same subnet as the IP it comes up on, and need to be connected via ethernet cable. This is then supposed to surface an alternate thin web application which permits uploading replacement firmware, a failsafe that allows bricked routers to be recovered. Just one problem: it is extremely buggy. I attempted this routine somewhere around a dozen times; often, my computer wasn’t even able to negotiate a wired connection with the router. On several of the times that it did, I wasn’t able to navigate to it by IP. Nmap couldn’t see any open ports on it. It was only after I’d set the router to a static IP in Media Bridge mode, and rebooted into rescue mode, that I was able to get to it by IP, and then only sometimes. Twice I got the thin webapp to come up and uploaded the DD-WRT image, but in both cases the router decided to reboot 2 or 3 minutes in, and left itself on the stock Asus firmware.
Why did I want to use DD-WRT anyway? I had only moderately non-traditional requirements for it; I wanted it to bridge a wireless connection from the main house router to my desktop computer, also act as server for a USB laserjet printer, and not broadcast as an access point itself (part of the goal here was to replace an aging Intel NUC which I have set up as a print server, running CUPS; it frequently stalls in booting up when it gets inadvertently power cycled, leading to wife frustration at the printer not being available.) I did set it up in Media Bridge mode relatively easily, but on the first two attempts at doing so the router didn’t come up with an active connection (despite showing full bars on the access point that I wanted to connect it to, in the setup wizard). Third time was the charm, however, and I was able to get a good connection to the internet through the router. One initial issue was that I wasn’t able to get back to the router’s admin UI, and neither Fing nor Nmap were able to find it on the subnet for whatever reasons, possibly pebkac; Asus have a windows app called “Device Discovery”, which does the necessary magic to locate Asus devices and provide the IP, but since I don’t run Windows I was temporarily blocked, until I discovered that they also have an Android app - which worked, after I installed it.
Once I got back to the admin UI I was able to connect the printer, and the router showed that it had a connection. However, none of the computers in the house were able to print to it, using LPD/LPR - they would be able to send print jobs, and get acknowledgement, but there was no logging within the Admin UI, and nothing was received by the printer. Tech support were no help at all on this issue, and their official documentation has no substantial troubleshooting. (Ports were up, both for jetdirect and LPD.) It is entirely possible that Media Bridge mode doesn’t support exposing printers (even over the ethernet connections), but the UI doesn’t make this clear.
There were other issues. After leaving everything powered on and stepping out for a couple of hours to run some errands, the media bridge had lost its wireless connection to the main router when I returned, and the router was apparently stalled trying to recover. After power cycling it, everything came back up. Sometimes, negotiating a wired connection from my computer would take 3-4 minutes after the router was initially powered on. Also, despite operating in bridge mode, the router was itself advertising itself as an AP, which I’d wanted to avoid, and there was no way to disable this in the UI.
Finally, I don’t know if Asus still do this, but back in 2019 an Asus router I was running had firmware updates pushed to it by Asus and installed without my acknowledging them, triggering a reboot, and adding/enabling some minor functionality. I get that most consumers are not actively logging into their router admin UIs to apply firmware updates, and that for the security of the fleet this might seem like a necessary idea, but it’s completely counter to my particular needs.
So, for all of these reasons, I wanted to go with non-Asus firmware.
Aside from DD-WRT, OpenWRT was not an option. Despite appearing in OpenWRT’s “supported devices” lists on their own wiki, when you actually click into the router details page you will see helpful notes like: “WiFi for the AC68U is completely unsupported! 2.4Ghz WiFi is not partly supported as was previously thought!” or “No wireless support. This means Wifi is not going to work. This really means NO WIRELESS.” This is because Broadcom devices aren’t well supported by OpenWRT, since they don’t have full access to the drivers, unlike the DD-WRT project. Um guys, maybe remove devices without wifi support from the “supported devices” list to make the list an actually useful resource?
I burned easily half a dozen hours on trying to get this router to work, and it was nothing but frustrating. Tech support were borderline useless, and not at all technical. In summary, if you want to run DD-WRT or OpenWRT, don’t buy Asus. My router’s being shipped back.