Linksys EA6200 DD-WRT installation

I picked up a couple of refurbished Linksys EA6200 routers this past weekend. For whatever reason, DD-WRT isn’t officially supported on them, though it does seem to be a popular DD-WRT router. A lot of people make the upgrade far more difficult than they need to. With some simple hacks, Linksys EA6200 DD-WRT installation is pretty straightforward.

I came up with an 18-step process that I simplified just as much as I could. Unlike some methods I’ve seen, I don’t have you editing any binary files or creating custom startup scripts.

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When DD-WRT doesn’t work with Charter

I set up a DD-WRT router on Charter’s Spectrum broadband, and had a hard time getting it to work. It wouldn’t pull an IP address on the WAN side, or it would pull a 192.168 address rather than a Charter public address.

Here’s what I had to do to fix it.

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HP Compaq 6910p upgrades

I spent some time exploring HP Compaq 6910p upgrades because used HP Compaq 6910p laptops are dirt cheap these days. I picked one up for $75 as an alternative to a Black Friday cheapie.

If you look for one yourself, either look for one with a valid Windows 7 or Windows 10 license on it, or get one at a deep enough discount to make it worth your while.

Here’s what I did to turn an outmoded laptop from 2008 into something better than what I could have bought on Black Friday.

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Using a router as a switch

Most of us have an old router like a Linksys WRT54G laying around, or if we don’t, it’s very easy to find one–the nearest garage sale or thrift store is a good bet–but sometimes all we need is a switch, to hook up a couple more computers or other devices to a wired connection. Using a router as a switch wastes some of its capabilities, but it’s easy to do.

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Build the best, most secure wifi in your neighborhood

My neighbor asked me for advice on setting up wi-fi in his new house. I realized it’s been a while since I’ve written about wi-fi, and it’s never been cheaper or easier to blanket your house and yard with a good signal.

Blanketing your house and yard while remaining secure, though, is still important.

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What to look for in a wireless access point

A good way to eliminate dead zones in your house where wifi doesn’t work is to add one or two wireless access points to your setup.

Access points, thankfully, are no longer stupid expensive–they used to cost twice as much as a router in spite of being nothing more than a cut-down router–but almost every access point I’ve looked at has one or more compromises built in. That said, if you want something you can plug in and configure by filling out three or four things, you might be willing to live with those compromises.

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The TP-Link TD-8616. It’s a modem. It seems to work.

The TP-Link TD-8616 is a low-priced, acceptable replacement for whatever DSL modem your ISP issued you. As such, it’s less exciting than a can opener, but a DSL modem is one of those things that you shouldn’t ever think about. Just like your can opener, the only time you’re likely to have any opinion at all about your DSL modem is when it’s not doing its job well. This is my review of the TD-8616.

The TD-8616 is just a modem, but then you can pair it with a router with whatever capabilities you want, including the ability to run third-party firmware on it, which I recommend of course. Might I suggest a TL-WR841n running DD-WRT?

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The world’s fastest budget PC

So, a relative’s PC was getting a bit aged, and runs Windows XP, barely, so I talked them into an upgrade. I noticed that Micro Center had HP/Compaq DC5700s for $99. They were standard issue office PCs a few years ago, and there are a lot of them in the refurb channel. We went and got one over the weekend.

“What are you going to do with that?” the sales rep asked. “We only use them as cash registers.”

“Word processing,” I said.

“You sure you want to run Windows 7 on an 8-year-old PC?”

“I wrote the book on running Windows on older PCs. Literally. It’ll be fine.”

I hate calling rank like that, but sometimes it’s what you have to do.

And really, for $99, it’s awfully good. Web browsing is plenty fast, Libre Office runs fine on it, and think about it. Windows 7 retails for $100-$109. So it’s like getting the hardware for free. Or Windows for free, however you want to look at it.

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The Channel Master DVR+ is a cord-cutter’s secret weapon

One of the key things that keeps people from cancelling cable and saving themselves $100 a month is the DVR. They don’t want to lose the ability to time-shift their favorite shows and rewatch favorites during rerun season.

Channel Master has the solution for that: The Channel Master DVR+, an over-the-air DVR that works with any antenna and records shows,up to two at once, to an attached USB hard drive. There are no subscription fees, and you can plug in whatever sized hard drive you want. Plug it in to an Ethernet connection, or plug in a USB wifi adapter (a $40 option) if you want the DVR to pull down TV listings over the Internet for you.

The $250 price could be a bit off-putting, but it’s a one-shot purchase. Once you pay the $250, plus whatever hard drive you attach to it, and the wifi adapter if you want it, you’re done. No monthly fees. No losing your shows if you change plans. And if you want a bigger hard drive, just get a new one and plug it in. And since the hard drive is detachable, it probably means you can plug the drive into a computer and copy its contents to another drive for backup, so if the drive ever fails, you don’t lose everything.

To me, the flexibility makes up for the price. I’ve considered trying to build such a device in the past, but by the time I bought a case, motherboard, CPU, memory, and tuner card, I would be out $150-$200, and then I’d probably have to spend most of a weekend getting it all working together. And after that, there’s no guarantee anyone else in the house besides me would be able to figure out how to use it. Getting something I can just take out of the box, plug in, and let the family use is worth a bit of a premium.

And besides, even if I sunk $400 into the thing, that’s four months of cable.

I’m not exactly sure when the DVR+ will be available, but if I can buy one this summer, I intend to.

Extending wi-fi with a $20 TP-Link router with DD-WRT

There’s an addition on the back of our house, probably added in the 1970s or 80s, where the wi-fi reception is exceptionally poor. Something about the walls makes it tricky, and I also suspect we get some interference from the neighbors behind us.

TP-Link TL-WR841n
This is the TP-Link TL-WR841n.

My project to fix that began with a TP-Link TL-WR841N router. It’s inexpensive–frequently available for around $20–has a good enough reputation for reliability, and if you dig deeply enough, you can find a DD-WRT build for it. There are fancier routers available, with more antennas and gigabit ports, but this one would take care of my immediate needs while I wait for 802.11ac. I don’t have any 802.11ac-enabled equipment yet, so I’ll wait for the price to come down before adopting it.

I covered the upgrade process yesterday.

To solve the problem I was having, I configured DD-WRT as a wireless access point. Read more