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© Rakhesh Sasidharan

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Asus RT-AC68U router, firmware, etc.

Bought an Asus RT-AC68U router today. I didn’t like my existing D-Link much and a colleague bought the Asus and was all praises so I thought why not try that.

Was a bit put off that many of the features (especially the parental control ones) seem to be tied up with a Trend Micro service that’s built into the router. When you enable these you get an EULA agreement from Trend Micro, and while I usually just click EULA agreements this one caught my eye coz it said somewhere that Asus takes no responsibility for any actions of Trend Micro and so they pretty much wash their hands off whatever Trend Micro might do once you sign up for it. That didn’t sound very nice. I mean, yes, I knew the router had some Trend Micro elements in it, and I have used Trend Micro in the past and have no beef with them, but I bought an Asus router and I expect them to take responsibility for whatever they put in the box.

Anyways, Googling about it I found some posts like this, this, and this that echoed similar sentiments and put me off. It was upsetting as a lot of value I was hoping to get out of the router was centered around using Trend Micro, and since I didn’t want to accept the EULA I would never be able to use it.

I briefly thought of flashing some other firmware in the hopes that that will give me more feature. Advanced Tomato looks nice, but then I came across Asus WRT Merlin which seems to be based on the official firmware but with some additional features and bug fixes and a focus on performance and safety rather than new features. (Also, the official Asus firmware and also the Merlin one have hardware NAT acceleration and proprietary NTFS drivers that offer better performance, while other third party firmware don’t have this. The hardware NAT only matters if your WAN connection is > 100Mbps, which wasn’t so in my case). Asus WRT Merlin looks good. The UI is same as the official one, and it appears that the official firmware has slowly embraced many of the newer features of Merlin. Also, this discussion from the creator of the Merlin firmware on the topic of Trend Micro was good too. Wasn’t as doom and gloom like the others (but I still haven’t enabled the Trend Micro stuff nor do I plan on doing so).

The Merlin firmware is amazing. Flashing it is easy, and it gives some nifty new features. For example you can have custom config files that extend the inbuilt DHCP/ DNS server dnsmasq, have other 3rd party software, and so on. This official Wiki page is a good read. I came across this malware blocking script and installed it. I also made some changes to DHCP so that certain machines get different DNS servers (e.g. point my daughter’s machine to use the Yandex.DNS). Here’s a bit from my config file in case it helps –

This dnsmasq manpage was helpful, so was this page of examples. Also this StackOverflow post.

I liked this idea of having separate DHCP options for specific SSIDs, and also this one of having a separate SSID that’s connected to VPN (nice!). I wanted to try these but was feeling lazy so didn’t get around to doing it. I read a lot about it though and liked this post on having separate VLANs within the router. That post also explains the port numbering etc. of the router – its a good read. I also wanted to see if it was possible to have a separate VLAN for an SSID – lets say have all my visitors connect to a different SSID with its own VLAN and IP range etc. I know I can do the IP range and stuff but looks like if I need to do a separate VLAN I’ll have to give up one of the four ports on the back of the router. Basically the way things seem to be setup are that the 5 ports on the back of the router are part of the same switch, just that the WAN port is in its own VLAN 2 while the LAN ports are in their own VLAN 1.  The WLAN (Wireless) are bridged to this VLAN 1. So if you want a separate WLAN SSID with its own VLAN, we must create a new VLAN on one of the four ports and bridge the new SSID to that.

In the above port 0 is the WAN, port 1-4 are the LAN ports, and port 5 is the router itself (the SOC on the router). Since port 5 is part of both VLANs the router can route between them. The port numbers vary per model. Here’s a post showing what the above output might look like in such a case. As a reference to myself this person was trying to do something similar (I didn’t read all the posts so there could be stuff I missed in there).

Lastly these two wiki pages from DD-WRT Wiki are worth referring to at some point – on the various ports, and multiple WLANs.

At some point, when I am feeling less lazy, I must fiddle around with this router a bit more. It’s fun, reminds me of my younger days with Linux. :)