Linksys is resurrecting the hackable Linksys WRT54G router in a new WRT1900AC model, with dual-band 802.11ac, a dual core CPU, and open source Linux code.
Before there were open source development boards and phones, one of the most popular playpens for embedded Linux hackers was the Linksys WRT54G WiFi router. It was one of the best-selling routers in the first decade of the millennium, and its OpenWRT Linux distribution was easily hackable (see farther below).
At CES this week, Linksys, which Belkin acquired from Cisco, announced it was bringing back the original Linksys WRT54G design, but updated with the latest 802.11ac technology. The new WRT1900AC is designed to appeal to open source embedded hackers and hobbyists who started out on the router. However, it’s not just a retro novelty product for aging geeks. The open source router will be “the most powerful router in its class on the market,” stated Mike Chen, a VP at Belkin’s Linksys subsidiary. “We have brought back the WRT because our customers have asked for a router that had the reliability, functionality and open source capabilities but with today’s AC wireless technology.”
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The dual-band WRT1900AC supports 802.11ac speeds of up to 1.3Gbps on the 5GHz band and up to 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz band, says Linksys. The router transmits data using the AC standard of three spatial streams, but it offers four removable antennas, so the router can choose the best three signals out of the four available, says the company. This is said to translate into better range and coverage.
The WRT1900AC is built around an unnamed dual-core, 1.2GHz ARM-based processor. (One possibility here is the 802.11ac-focused Broadcom StrataGX BCM5862x.) The router is further equipped with 256MB DDR3 RAM and 128MB of flash. Additional features are said to include a USB 2.0 port, a USB 3.0 port, four gigabit Ethernet LAN ports, and a gigabit WAN port. There’s also something new to the WRT: an eSATA port for faster access to storage.
Smart WiFI app
The device supports the Linksys Smart WiFi setup and management tool, letting users access the router from a browser or from an Android or iOS app on a smartphone or tablet. The management tool lets you tap into your network remotely to check on connection status, provide access to a guest, or block children from accessing selected sites. The router is debuting a new Smart WiFi feature called Network Map, which offers a visual topology map that shows all device connections. This lets you point and click to change parental settings, select wireless band, filter by device type, or remove devices from the network.
The router supports 64/128-bit WEP and WPA/WPA2-Personal and Enterprise security, as well SPI firewalls. It also supports DLNA, as well as FAT, NTFS, and HFS+ file systems.
The WRT1900AC will ship with open-source firmware such as DD-WRT, OpenWRT, and Tomato, says Linksys. OpenWRT developers will be given hardware and SDKs and APIs to begin creating custom firmware for the WRT1900AC, says the company.
WRT history in a nutshell
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The Linksys WRT54G arrived back in 2003, shortly before the company was acquired by Cisco. The first four generations of LinkSys’s WRT54G router were based on OpenWRT embedded Linux, which resulted in a large community of router hobbyists adopting the devices and creating new firmware distributions.
In 2005, Linksys switched from Linux to VxWorks, which caused an uproar among WRT lovers. Later that year, Linksys responded by releasing a Linux-ready WRT54GL model (pictured) especially created for Linux hackers. Too little, too late, said the hackers, who in 2006 hacked into the mainstream VxWorks device to reinstall Linux.
Linux hackers and commercial developers used both models to add features such as Radius authentication, bridge capabilities, VoIP QoS, and uClinux based remote network management firmware.
In 2008, Linksys parent company Cisco was sued by the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) for not publishing GPL source code for the WRT, as well as other devices. In 2009, Cisco settled the lawsuit with the SFLC, promising to comply with GPL licensing requirements.
Also in 2009, Linksys released the first 802.11n WRT router, the Linux-based WRT160NL. The new device abandoned the old blue-fronted design for a sleek, black look. In 2010, the company left the WRT nomenclature behind with an updated line of E2100L routers.
Other versions followed, and the company now offers E2500, E1200, and E900 routers, and it still sells the old WRT54GL for $50.
Now that Belkin and Linksys are bringing back the WRT, maybe it’s time to bring back the SLUG. The LinkSys NSLU2 (aka “SLUG”) was another much beloved and hacked device, in this case in the network-attached storage (NAS) category. The SLUG was discontinued in 2008, superseded by the NAS200 and other devices. But that’s another bedtime story.
The Linksys WRT1900AC will debut in the spring for $300. More information may be found at the Linksys WRT1900AC product page.