[conspire] Props to Daniel

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Mon Dec 14 02:40:38 PST 2009

Daniel Gimpelevich did an amazing job, this past Saturday, of overseeing
the upgrade of both of the aforementioned Linksys WRT54G v.3 wireless
routers, reloading them both with the svn-checkout head version (i.e.,
latest development source code) of OpenWRT.  I'm grateful for Daniel's 
generous sharing of his expertise and gift of his time.

Here's the backstory:  Last month, Mehma Sarja said on the SVLUG mailing
list (http://lists.svlug.org/archives/svlug/2009-November/032872.html)
he was giving away two such routers.  I figured CABAL could put one to
good use, and so inquired, and then showed up at Mehma's house in Morgan
Hill.  (Interesting fellow, by the way.)  He said nobody else had
inquired, and so gave me both.  I vaguely recall that he'd said one had
original Linksys firmware, and the other DD-WRT, which he recommended.
Whether I remember this correctly or not, neither had that software
load:  Both turned out to have a somewhat old version of OpenWRT (some
release of v. 0.9 "whiterussian").

As Grant mentioned, OpenWRT is a really good, and truly open, Linux 
project for these and similar wireless routers.  To my good fortune, it
turns out that Daniel has quite a bit of experience with OpenWRT, and
was that project's representative to (if I recall correctly) last year's 
SCALE conference.

I wouldn't dream of complaining about Mehma's gift, but the WRT54G
series (including the v.3 model I have) has a couple of challenges:
One is that it's a pretty anaemic device:  no USB ports, 4 MB total
flash storage, 16 MB total DRAM, an a pretty minimal MIPS-family CPU
made by Broadcom (a 200 MHz Broadcom model 4712).  The other is that,
well, everything's from Broadcom, including the integrated 802.11g-class
wireless chip.

The shortage of RAM means you can't run much on it.  (I mean, think
about it:  16 MB total RAM for a Linux server machine is pretty
paltry.[1]) The shortage of storage -- 4 MB of flash -- means you can't
even store much.  The lack of USB ports means no ancillary storage.
There are OpenWRT-supported units aimed at the same functionality
without those problems for, say, $60 that one can occasionally find from
other manufacturers.  Daniel showed me the entry about one on
Amazon.com: currently out of stock because Linux enthusiasts keep buying
them up.

The reliance on Broadcom chipsets means zero cooperation with the Linux
community, and consequent, inevitable driver problems.  Daniel
recommended, for _my_ unit, against reliance on any of the OpenWRT
binary release versions to date (latest release, 8.09.1 "kamikaze"),
because of their problems:

o  Installing the release versions compiled for the "brcm-2.4"
   target would give me an old setup for Broadcom 47xx-based boards 
   that is based in a 2.4 Linux kernel.
o  Installing the release versions compiled for the "brcm47xx"
   target would give me a modern 2.6 kernel, but with severe 
   stability problems.

He felt that compiling the svn head code from source and compiling a
system with a proper 2.6 kernel would be the best option given the
severely proprietary hardware, which is logical.  So, we did that.

Daniel rather reasonably estimated 3 hours for compilation of the entire
OpenWRT system -- partly based on my saying (from memory) that my
home Linux server, where we were compiling OpenWRT, is a PIII 800 MHz
system with 1.5 GB RAM.  I was misremembering the CPU speed:  It's
actually 650 MHz.  In any event, it took 8 hours.   And then installed
beautifully onto both units -- and, as far as I can tell, is going to
work great.

(If you're buying a wireless router, look for one based on an Atheros or
Infineon chipset, not a Broadcom one.)

And, by the way, what with the incredibly small amount of RAM on most of
these devices and the fact that most users have nothing _but_ their
border routers on static IP, I realised on Saturday that my advice that
people run their own recursive nameservers (such as Unbound) might be a
bit difficult for many people to follow.  My thanks to CABAL attendee
Roger Chrisman for pointing that out, and I'll be addressing that matter
in a separate posting.

[1] The determined can double these units' RAM to 32 MB, through careful
work with a low-power soldering iron:

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