Give your router new superpowers by installing DD-WRT

Frustrated by the software limitations of your router? Replacing it with the Linux-powered DD-WRT firmware can be a big upgrade. Maybe you want to use an old router as a second access point for your home network or as a Wi-Fi extender. Maybe you want more precise control over how your bandwidth is used so you can prioritize bandwidth for your gaming sessions, or perhaps you just hate the firmware that came with your router and prefer something with more features.

Whatever you want your router to do, odds are that DD-WRT can do it. Installing DD-WRT can be complicated, but the most common method includes using the “upgrade firmware” functionality built into your router’s default firmware.

That said, there’s is no universal way to install DD-WRT. Different routers require different versions of the firmware, and many require specific steps. We can’t even begin to outline all of these in a single article. Instead, we’re going to outline how installation works in the easiest cases, while also explaining where to find the correct information should you encounter more advanced scenarios. Let’s get started.

How to make sure your router is compatible with DD-WRT

The first thing you need to do is ensure that your router is compatible. Head to the DD-WRT database, then type in the exact model number of your router. This database will tell you your router is one of four things:

  • Supported, which means you can install DD-WRT. This is signified by a green “yes.”
  • A work in progress, meaning you can’t install DD-WRT right now, but people are working on making it work. This is signified by a yellow “wip.”
  • Possible in theory, but no one is working on it, meaning you can’t install DD-WRT. This is signified by a red “no.”
  • Impossible to install because of hardware limitations, meaning you can’t install DD-WRT. This is signified by a gray “not possible.”

You’ll also find out if activation of DD-WRT is required for each router.

Odds are that your router isn’t supported if it isn’t listed here, but you could also try searching the DD-WRT wiki, or simply Googling your router model number followed by “DD-WRT.” Note that “close enough” doesn’t work — you need the exact model number. Often, a different letter or number in a model name can signify an entirely different router.

For this article, we’re going to install DD-WRT on a Netgear Nighthawk R7800 as a demonstration. Here are our database results:

Image of Netgear Nighthawk R7800 Router Database
Daniel/Martin/Screenshot

As you can see, our router is supported. But knowing that isn’t enough. To install DD-WRT, you need to find out about any specific steps your router might require, and you also need to be absolutely certain you’ve found firmware compatible with your router.

How knowledge is the key to success with DD-WRT

It’s important that you read as much as possible before downloading the firmware. The router database often contains outdated information or subpar firmware, or it may not tell you the whole story. More information is always necessary.

Image of Nighthawk R7800 Wiki Entry
Daniel Martin/Screenshot

From the database’s page for your router, click the link to the wiki under Documentation. Read the instructions there, if there are any. If there is a forum post linked, read through that as well.

See if anyone has had any trouble installing the firmware and read other people’s suggestions for solving them. You should also, if possible, find out which firmware users have had success with most recently. Router threads will usually offer downloads that are known to work, with other users confirming that they work. You want to know about that before proceeding.

This sounds like a hassle, but there is a chance you’ll brick your router without complete information, so take the time to read as much as possible. In many cases, you’ll discover firmware that you can simply download and flash, but the process will be much more involved than that for many other routers. If that’s the case for your device, you need to know, and you need to completely understand the extra steps before proceeding.

Image of DD-WRT Forum Page
Daniel Martin/Screenshot

To give you an idea of what I mean, let’s get back to our example: The Netgear Nighthawk R7800, a newer router, but one that can benefit from flashing. We found the proper firmware in a forum thread and encountered a post about downloading and installing outdated firmware, which ended up bricking the router. If the original poster had started off by reading the forum guidelines, they would have encountered setup guides and a list of supported devices, thus preventing the accidental bricking.

It bears repeating: Don’t skimp on the research. Once you’re certain you’ve found firmware that precisely matches your router, and you understand the steps necessary for installation, go ahead and download it. Don’t download anything until you’re sure.

How to begin DD-WRT installation

If your router is currently in use, we’ve come to the dangerous part. You need to unplug everything plugged into your router, including the power supply.

reset-button

Now we’re going to reset your router to factory settings. How to do this will vary from router to router, so we recommend you consult the official documentation before proceeding. Typically, however, this involves unplugging your device and holding down the Reset Button on the back of the router for 30 seconds.

How to install DD-WRT from your router admin page

The following instructions assume that the research you did in step two told you to simply flash the firmware using your router’s default upgrade tool. This is sometimes not the case, so make sure you’ve done your reading before continuing. It is important to note that if you don’t, you might brick your router.

Step 1: Once your router is reset, plug it back into its power supply and connect to it from the computer you used to download the firmware earlier. You can either directly connect with an Ethernet cable or via Wi-Fi. Also, remember that you previously reset your router to its factory settings, so the network’s name has changed to the default. Consult your router’s manual if you’re not sure what that is.

Step 2: Now you need to connect to the router’s admin page, which, in most cases, means typing 192.168.1.1 into your browser’s address bar and entering the default username and password. Consult your router’s documentation if that IP doesn’t work or if you’re not sure what the username and password are. Alternatively, check out our list of default usernames and passwords for routers. In the case of the Netgear Nighthawk, you can update the firmware via the router’s iOS or Google app or by going to routerlogin.com.

Step 3: Find the Firmware Upgrade section on your router — which is typically found under Administration or something similar — and click the Browse or Choose File button. Select the firmware you downloaded earlier, then tell the firmware to upgrade. Again, only do this if you confirmed this is the proper procedure while researching.

Step 4: Patience is essential at this point. The firmware will upload to your router, which will then restart. Do not unplug it or turn it off until all the lights come on, which may take a while. Unplugging things too early could brick your router, so wait.

Eventually, your router will restart, and you can begin the configuration process. If you are connected to the router using an Ethernet cable, you can access it by browsing to 192.168.1.1. For wireless access, open your wireless adapter and browse for a network called dd-wrt. Once you connect to this network, browse to 192.168.1.1. If you can’t log in to DD-WRT at this IP, use this guide to find the correct IP address, regardless of your connection method.

Step 5: If you see the DD-WRT login screen, you will need to clear your router’s NVRAM. A 30/30/30 hard reset will accomplish this. Using this method, you will depress and hold the reset button for a total of 90 seconds. First, with the router plugged in, hold the reset button for 30 seconds. Then, unplug your router’s power supply, and continue holding the reset button for another 30 seconds. Finally, still holding the reset button, plug the power supply back in and wait another 30 seconds. Release the reset button when you’ve completed all the steps.

dd-wrt-working

Step 6: Once connected to the dd-wrt network, open a browser window and navigate to 192.168.1.1. You should now see the configuration screen for your router and be ready to explore all the new options. You can find detailed instructions for your new features at The DD-WRT wiki. There you can learn everything from bridged Wi-Fi networks to using QoS to prioritize particular traffic, and much more. Be sure to check everything out.

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