5 Easy Hacks for Your PC and Wi-Fi Network

Add Advanced Features to Your Wireless Router

Difficulty: Moderate
Time: 45 minutes

Your wireless network may be growing, but that doesn't necessarily mean you need to purchase new networking hardware. As your network expands, you can use third-party firmware to add features to your existing wireless router, matching or (in many in­­stances) exceeding the abilities of a new device. With this hack, you can boost antenna power, configure a repeater to blanket a bigger Wi-Fi area, improve your wireless security, isolate Wi-Fi traffic from your wired network, set up a VPN, and much more.

X-Wrt's Graphs tab shows you real-time network traffic statistics.
The X-Wrt firmware supports many Asus, Buffalo, Link­sys, and other routers; check the Web site to determine whether yours is listed. (If you don't see yours, search online for "your router model firmware hack," in case a similar hack could work for your device.)

Connect the router directly to your PC, using an ether­net cable, and log in to the router's configuration page. Check for a system settings menu and scan it for a firmware option. Use the buttons there to select the new firmware file and upload it to the router. Don't unplug the router before the update finishes, or you'll risk permanently damaging the hardware. The process can take up to 15 minutes.

After the update is complete and the router restarts, use your browser to reconnect. The X-Wrt interface will replace the default design, prompting you to set a new password. You can now reestablish your wireless connection, but it's best to perform most management tasks through ethernet.

In the updated firmware menus, change your broadcast power by clicking Network, Advanced Wireless Settings, Transmit power. Tune the number upward to reach longer distances or downward to keep the network from spilling over to neighbors' houses. Under Network, QoS, enable the de­­fault quality-of-service settings that give certain peer-to-peer programs less priority, so you'll always have the most possible bandwidth for immediate tasks. Under the Graphs tab, you can see real-time charts that show bandwidth usage and other details. Be sure to click Save Changes on each page in the lower-right corner and click Apply Changes when you're ready to make an update. And if you ever want to go back to your stock firmware, download it from your router manufacturer and then upload it on the System, Upgrade page.

The modular nature of X-Wrt permits you to add and remove specific features. Click System, Packages to browse through other upgrade packages that you can add to the router. You don't have to use any of them, but their presence means that you might never outgrow your router.

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