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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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Featured image copyright, and courtesy of, My Open Router.

I've been, over the past few years, through about 3 different routers. I had a Thompson Speedtouch, a Netgear DG834GT and, most recently, a Netgear DGN2200. The problem I have always experienced, though, is that when I open a large number of connections (say, using BitTorrent), all these models die a miserable death. DHCP keels over so no new devices can get on the network and my connection crawls to a halt, sometimes veering between 1MiB/s down, then at 0KiB/s for five minutes plus.

Anyway, in a burst of anger at this situation, I did some research last week and came up with a solution that I thought would work; I bought myself a Netgear WNR3500L: billed as the first "open" router on the market. Now, by "open" it is meant that the end user has the ability to flash whatever software they want onto the device and Netgear has embedded a recovery mode into the device that can be accessed by USB serial so that, in case of emergency, the device can be "unbricked". This was, from my ideological perspective, ideal!

I spent a long time debating whether to get this device. It doesn't, after all, come with an ADSL2+ modem built-in. However, the solution was simple: I simply put one of my old devices into Bridge Mode (whereby the router acts purely as a modem and delegates all routing to the attached host, in this case the WNR3500L).

Once the device arrived, I flashed ToastMan's build of the "Tomato", USB, VPN-enabled firmware. This allows direct setup of an OpenVPN network on the router, as well as turning it into a USB NAS; simply plug in a hub and your USB devices and they can be shared over the network. My next task is to get a PXE server running off this environment so that I can install Ubuntu Alphas/Betas and have them boot over the network, directly from my router.

Overall, in the few days I've had it, this has proved an excellent device. I mention it here as a review for anybody interested (there are more comprehensive guides), but also because it is fantastic to see hardware moving in the right direction: towards openness.