The Ultimate Linksys WRT32X DD-WRT Guide For Your Home

Router specs & lethal features

The Linksys WRT32X is the very pinnacle of next-generation routers. Sporting a dual-core 1.8GHz ARM CPU, 512MB of RAM, and 256MB of flash, the WRT32X is more powerful than many ChromeOS ultrabook laptops, with all the capabilities of a modern desktop PC — even sporting an eSATA (@ 6Gbit/s) interface.

This leaves the precious USB3 port (@ 5Gbit/s) free for another high-speed peripheral. But no display, you say?

Well, you can access both its WebGUI in your browser, and its command-line interface with either telnet or secure shell, after you’ve spent the easiest 5 minutes of your life upgrading your stock Linksys firmware to DD-WRT’s bleeding-edge open-source firmware. 

It’s not for everybody, sure, but if you’ve got the prerequisite mojo, you can run your OwnCloud (like Google Drive, with options for cooperative project development) on it, along with a BitTorrent client that auto-downloads to your connected hard drive, as well as an IRC bouncer, a dynamic DNS client so you don’t need to remember your IP address, and much more. 

Winter’s coming up, but the WRT32X only eats 12.5 watts of power on average, so it won’t keep you warm. But the low energy consumption means you’ll be running a green network, and saving the planet a bit. That’s heart-warming. 

Even my modern laptop uses 30 watts on average. My bad 🙁

The WRT32X is more than enough for a small college dorm — the WRT32X’s gigabit backbone with 4 LAN ports + WAN lets you rock out with your games, while also delivering a smooth and responsive connection for those long nights of crunching study material online.

If you’ve got a large apartment, or live in a house, you’ll definitely want to wire up ethernet to your low-latency gaming devices. There’s a big difference in latency if you compare it when using WiFi, and ethernet. Try the trusty commands ‘ping google.com’ and ‘tracert google.com’ in cmd.exe, you’ll see. You can run each CAT5e/CAT6 cable 100m/328ft (should you so desire). You can choose from 1ft to 14ft lengths of snag-less gigabit cable here, and I’d really recommend using black, blue or red for your low-latency systems. Why? The inevitable schmutz will be invisible in these colors. And what’s not to love about color-coding?

Simply measure the distance from e.g. your gaming rig to your WRT32X powerhouse, and use a cable hider if you have to run it any more than 5-6 feet. 

I use this cable hider to stealth out my many, many cables. 

My cable hider runs 6 meters and only required 6 screws to hold it in place. It has corner modules for corners. No hacksaw hanky-panky to make ‘em myself. Invisibility!

As for the WiFi on the WRT32X, it alone supports 20/40/80/160MHz channel widths with 600 Mbit/s on 2.4 GHz, and a whopping 2600Mbit/s on 5 GHz, setting you up to comfortably ignore a future full of flopping third-rate routers from less reputable vendors. 

All this, while you’re kicking back watching 4K video on KODI, streamed directly from your cool sci-fi router’s super-fast hard drive. The WRT32X does look an awful lot like a robot’s detached head, and your robot sidekick is here to assist you in all your gamin’-for-the-win, fraggin’ and gibbin’ all weekend long — Amirite?

Can the WRT32X hook up with your gaming rig, for consensual QoS optimization sessions? Yeah! No dinner, no setup — it’s automagic!

QoS tagging of packets is usually a hit and miss thing, where e.g. VoIP/video traffic gets tagged to skip to the front of the queue. But seldom is the case where you can say “my CS:GO game needs to be perfect and lag-free”, and expect your tech to serve exactly what you want. Your WRT32X is exceptional; it knows you, it loves you.

Your router will connect to it promptly, tag your gaming traffic for the highest priority, and lower the priority for boring things like Gmail. You can prioritize your gaming rig in the DD-WRT web interface easily.

I know Linux geeks who’d spend whole days and weeks optimizing their netfilter rulesets, just to prioritize the exact things that needed to move fast. I know they’ll be buying a WRT32X, just to bask in its uncluttered glory! But they won’t kiss and tell, because: pride.

DD-WRT: The bleeding edge of low-latency gamer firmware

The DD-WRT and OpenWRT projects are well-known to Linksys, and their entire line of WRT routers, from the glorious WRT54G, up to the galaxy shaking WRT32X, have been open-source. That’s just a statement of fact. That gives cool hackers like the guys at DD-WRT.com a carte blanche to cook and bake the most modern features for their own enjoyment. And yours!

Amazingly, the firmware for the WRT32X is free to download. If this is your first time around, let me first unroll a quick FAQ about flashing new firmware onto your router’s flash memory. Lots and lots of people are careful about doing this because they hail from the dark, olden days when flashing could easily mean bricking. Not so any longer!

FAQ:

  • Can you brick your WRT32X router?
  • No, you can’t. Not unless you do it on purpose. It is nearly impossible. The dual partition layout of the WRT32X ensures that even a bad flash will result in you booting back into your previous, known-good firmware.

This is something of a standard now, and even my humble WRT1200 has this feature. So it’s been a while since I’ve bricked something. 

For frags & gibs: Getting the firmware, flashing the firmware

I have many a time flashed my Linksys routers, and if ever anything went wrong, I’d just pop right back to my previous firmware. How’s that for next-gen user-friendliness?

You want to take a peek at what your WRT32X does before, during and after flashing, for debugging purposes? All you need is a USB-TTL adapter (3.3V logic only, never connect 5V, or even 3.3V, to your router’s pins. It’s already got the power, see?) and you can view the shutdown, flash, boot-up sequence, all in glorious HD text. You can stop bootup if you want, and change the order of things. It’s not necessary, but you can.

I’ve included a link to a beefy USB-TTL adapter here, and you can get the drivers for it here! Yes, you can operate your WRT32X over serial from Android, using a USB OTG adapter.

Amazingly, you won’t be limited to only connecting to your WRT32X, and commanding it like a boss. This adapter has enabled me to connect to the Linux firmware on my DVD player many moons ago, so I could clean its cache and make it work really well… only to then notice that DVD was a legacy format, and streaming was the new black. And then I went out and bought a 4K-streaming WRT32X 🙂

Connecting USB-TTL to J1 header

And all you need is a USB-TTL adapter with a few wires, and a righteous hand with which to hook these wires onto your WRT32X’s serial header marked J1. 3 pins, 3 connections. “Use the force, Luke?”

Sure. But first, use this DD-WRT resource to guide you. The J1 header is to the right on the front of the WRT32X when you’ve popped the lid off.

From your USB-TTL adapter, the wires TX (green) goes to RX, and RX (white) goes to TX, and GND (black) goes to GND. Why? Well, your WRT32X sends data on TX, and you receive on RX, and the same goes for RX to TX. It’s not intuitive. 

Use TeraTerm or PuTTy to connect, using 8,N,1 at 115200 baud over serial, and once you’re connected, it’s peek-a-boo time… But it’s not mandatory to delve so deep.

This is only for emergency cases, and most of the time, all you need to do is first upload the firmware via your browser. Happy times!

Visit the DD-WRT router database here, and enter WRT32X in the search field:

Searching the DD-WRT router database

It’s there — click that link, right now!

Found it, let's download it!

Now you’re either upgrading (and moving away from) the stock Linksys firmware, in which case you’ll need to flash one file, or upgrading an already existing DD-WRT/other firmware you’ve got installed on your WRT32X. In the latter case, you’ll need to flash another file. 

In both cases, you essentially upload a file to your router and confirm you do want to flash a new firmware. Then the WRT32X does all the lifting for you.

If you are upgrading from the default Linksys firmware, see this.

Guide to MANUALLY upgrading the firmware

But before you do anything have a good look at the DD-WRT page for the WRT32X firmware. Those two files… what’s the difference, boss?


Description             Filename     Date Size

DD-WRT Factory image    FW_WRT32X_1.0.666_DDWRT.img 2019-08-06  11,06 MB

DD-WRT Webupgrade ddwrt-linksys-wrt32x-webflash.bin 2019-08-06  38,63 MB

You’ll want the “DD-WRT Factory image” if you’re upgrading from the stock Linksys firmware to DD-WRT. This is important, or you will lose. Well, you’ll fail to boot, then failsafe reboot into your old firmware again. Really you’ll be winning. Pretty amazing and also quite confusing the first time! 

If, however you’re upgrading your DD-WRT firmware, use the “DD-WRT Webupgrade” file. The default admin page is at http://192.168.1.1, or perhaps https://192.168.1.1 — visit it and login. If you’ve not changed your login, the login is “root” and the password is “admin”. 

Visit the “Administration” tab, highlighted in green below.

DD-WRT Administration Page

And then go to the “Firmware Upgrade” tab, as shown below.

DD-WRT Firmware Upgrade page

From there, select the “ddwrt-linksys-wrt32x-webflash.bin” file, and be sure you have “After flashing, reset to” set to “Don’t reset”, or you’ll lose your DD-WRT configuration. When ready, hit “Upgrade”. 

There’s gonna be some blinking and thinking going on, but after a few minutes, you’ll be able to login again. Be absolutely sure that you let it cook for at least 5 minutes, or be ready to start over again. This is a bad gotcha that can’t be mentioned often enough. It can actually take 5 minutes, and that’s not too long to wait for DD-WRT. 

Setting up USB/eSATA Network Attached Storage (NAS) 

Buying a large redundant RAID diskstation just for your home data (such as movies and pictures) is not necessary, if you occasionally take the time to back up your critical data to another hard drive. But your WRT32X can handle even RAID systems like a champ. Sounds expensive? 

If you’re anything like me, you’ve got stacks and stacks of old 3.5in and 2.5in SATA harddrives stowed away, saved for… today! The WRT32X has both eSATA/USB2 (6Gbit/s and 480Mbit/s, respectively) and USB3 (5Gbit/s) ports, and it’s powerful enough to serve all your data while also streaming 4K video and supporting a crew of dug-in gamers fraggin’ it out on the wild, wild Internet. My favorite is eSATA, but USB3 does just as well, and in any case, for a single spinning, magnetic disk (i.e. not SSD), you’ll likely never see speeds above ~720Mbit/s (~90Mbyte/s). SSDs are faster, use one if you’ve got one laying around. 

I really like this 1TB Seagate Ironwolf SSD, to avoid getting capped at ~85MByte/s, which is pretty much the uppermost limit even for fast USB3 magnetic disks. You’ll get far more *oomph* with a SSD!

Let’s set up a NAS on your WRT32X, and you’ll see just why you’ll never need another home for your data, except in your home. This should please all those who’ve been somewhat offended by various companies harvesting private data from customer’s Cloud data. 

And everyone else, really, because being able to upload the contents of your entire documents folder, and access it from any other computer in your home is a lot cooler than walking around with a thumb drive. Yeah!

First turn off your WRT32X, then connect your disk in any way you want, USB2, USB3, eSATA; it doesn’t matter, and eSATA disks just show up on the same page as USB disks anyway. Power your WRT32X on, wait a moment, then login to your router.

Visit the “Services” tab, then the “USB” tab. You should see something like this:

Prepare your disk for storage!

Note that this is a disk connected via the eSATA port, formatted to FAT32, and mounted to /tmp/mnt/HDDp1

Where is the disk mounted?

That’s the location we want to share, or export, on our network. At the time of writing, we can share data via FTP, SMB/CIFS (Windows shares, called Samba here), MiniDLNA, and NFS. The FTP and SMB/CIFS options are easiest for KODI and MacOS/Windows users. The FTP option loads your router the least, because it doesn’t encrypt traffic, and the Samba option is just automatic in every way on both MacOS and Windows; enter a username, password, and *pop!* goes the weasel.

Visit the “Services” tab on your WRT32X …

And then click the “NAS” tab. 

Click “Enable” for ProFTPD, enable anonymous login, and set the “Anonymous Home Directory” to the mount point you noted down earlier. In this case, it’s “/tmp/mnt/HDDp1”. Also, be sure to check the “User Password List” option; we’ll add a user a bit later. Also enable “Samba”, enter “DDWRT” as the “Server String” and “WORKGROUP” under “Workgroup”. As you can see above, I’ve added a user called “user”, and assigned a clever password (it is “password”). This user can modify the contents of my disk, while the anonymous user can only read data from it. Make sure the “Access Shares” option is checked correctly, and that it is checked for both “samba” and “ftp”.

In the “Drive Manager” we can double-check that we’re sharing the right disk partition. “/dev/sda1” is just Linux-speak for “C:”, which has been assigned the name “HDDp1” for partition 1 on that disk. 

Before you log in from Windows or MacOS, be sure to reboot your router. The changes won’t take effect until you’ve done that. 

Now you’re able to stream at relativistic speeds from your cache of legal media, directly into KODI, VLC, or whatever you’re using. I really recommend using FileZilla to handle your NAS; you can download it from here. It makes it really easy to upload, organize and download from the DDWRT system!

Antennas, angles and WiFi coverage

Antennas! Everybody needs ‘em, and the RP-SMA antennas for the WRT32X specifically need to be able to receive and transmit both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz waves. The best thing about them is that they’re removable, as they’re not much good beyond 5-7 meters. Because they aren’t up to par with modern demands, you’ll likely never get the full throughput on your WiFi. 

But first, let us cover how to polarize your antennas. The Linksys leaflet in your box didn’t cover this.

If you have an antenna that’s pointing UP (vertical polarization), that’s great for receivers whose antennas are also pointing UP. The tiny WRT32X RP-SMA antennas are omni-directional, and radiate a signal in all directions. But if you have a receiver whose antenna is pointing to the side, that’s horizontal polarization, and it’s less than ideal — unless you have many antennas, and can angle them any which way you please! 

To clarify, your laptop likely uses tiny patch antennas, one vertical and one horizontal. Newer phones also mix it up, but it’s best to assume they don’t. To give them the best signal, angle antennas in for both skewed, vertical and horizontal polarization. 

On my WRT32X, I have one horizontal antenna, one vertical, and two which are angled to cover the upstairs and the downstairs. It’s working perfectly. My original antennas didn’t punch out to the garden too well, so I had to use some shielded antenna cable running to a patch/sector antenna, which now gives me a nice 75-90% signal when I’m out in the yard. A directional antenna (such as a yagi) would have given me greater range, but narrower coverage… Patch antennas really shine for wide coverage!

Also note that 2.4 GHz has greater penetration, and is more suitable for punching through walls, than 5 GHz. 5 GHz on the other hand, can deliver greater throughput. Should you want to abandon the puny antennas on your WRT32X for an upgrade, optionally skim this.

A rule of thumb for a 4-antenna unit like the WRT32X is:

  • 1 large horizontally aligned omnidirectional antenna!
  • 1 patch/sector antenna!
  • 1 vertically aligned small omnidirectional antenna (stock is not enough, see 5.1.2)
  • 1 horizontally aligned omnidirectional antenna (stock is not enough, see 5.1.2)

ALWAYS online: Get the antennas you need

Extending WiFi in one direction

The most common antenna you don’t know you need is the patch/sector antenna. This is the type you’ll see on towers that serve mobile networks, angled slightly downwards. They offer ridiculously cool directional coverage, and unlike a yagi have a wide field of coverage. I really like ALFA, because: cheap! It’s not going to fail to perform, ALFA is a pretty big company, and have provided many a geek with fantastic WiFi hardware for over a decade! You want to provide WiFi coverage in your yard, or upstairs at the other end of the house? This antenna will not let you down. 

If you’re looking to stream 4K/UHD video, however, the ALFA above isn’t rocking enough bits. Enter the TerraWave 333918 MIMO Patch Antenna. What’s excellent about this, is that it supports true MU-MIMO. 

Just like your WRT32X. It’ll keep your extended WiFi coverage snappy and responsive, like a gamer kid who’s just had 5 (FIVE!) energy drinks. He be twitchin’ and fraggin’, amirite? With 6 RP-SMA connectors, this patch antenna will take your whole WiFi network in the direction you want, and can very plausibly completely remove the need for wired ethernet to your WRT32X. I call it the ‘Blast-Off!’ antenna.

If you want to mount your antenna somewhere up on high, you’ll get excellent results — just remember to angle your patch antenna down about 25-35°. But how do you get your antenna up on high? You gotta have faith, and a TRENDNet shielded antenna cable

No loss kinda means high gain, and while this is not zero-loss cable (because almost zero-loss conductors don’t exist outside of big expensive labs), it is very low-loss. 

You won’t feel any difference, because the gain from mounting your antenna up on high is just mind-blowing. Pure testosterone, boss! 

To cover a yard, mount it on the first floor, facing the yard. To cover a neighborhood, point the antenna at the neighborhood from your highest window. Good to go!

Extending WiFi in all directions

If you want to increase the local *oomph* on your WRT32X, have a look at these omni-directional antennas. They will cover everything in 360° around their axis, so just lay them down horizontally to cover the upstairs/downstairs, and keep them upright to cover the room you’re in and adjacent rooms. These are better than the stock antennas that come with the WRT32X.  Really, all they lack are small blinkin’ LEDs on their tips, so they’d look like the wings of an airplane at night. 

Another cool method of increasing WiFi in all directions is by using a repeater. That lets you keep your WRT32X by your Internet modem, and somewhere else, a less powerful device is shuffling WiFi data packets for you. Because of the picture-perfect 20/40/80MHz channel width support on the WRT class of Linksys routers, I really recommend using a WRT1900AC. Many a time, I’ve set up a repeater, only to find that firmware from ZyXEL and Linksys (for example) wouldn’t agree on setting up the link. Using DD-WRT removes this headache, and using another Linksys unit makes it all so consistent and hot diggity. The Linksys WRT1900 is obviously the wireless router of choice.

A repeater works best if it’s invisible — no need to add an “_EXT” at the end, just the same network name and password for the WiFi. Unclutter. The best part of the setup is that you can avoid running cable from one floor to another, which is never fun to do. A repeater link is much easier to set and forget, and invisible to all devices on the network. Simply follow this guide. You’ll get the best range between your WRT32X and WRT1900 if you connect the repeater to the 2.4GHz network — but if the signal is good on 5 GHz, use that — it’s got that 4K.

WiFi & 4G/LTE

Yeah. Bring your WRT32X on vacation, and avoid hostile networks in hotels. Do it. Lots of people are unaware of the amount of stupid malware script-kiddies that infest hotels with their captive-portal, credit card pilfering mini-computers. Be a boss in the know, and avoid them. The WRT32X is a 12V/3A device (so max. 36W with peripherals), and would happily run off a car battery. But then you’d have to sit in a car. RV down to Florida for spring break?

How’s about you just bring your WRT32X, laptop and a 4G/LTE dongle along on vacation? TRULY, wherever you go, your WRT32X can come along, and it will impress whomsoever looks upon you while you frag & gib. A nice device to give you a connection running at 150Mbit/s (18.75Mbyte/s) is the HUAWEI 4G/LTE USB dongle, which readily works with DD-WRT. 

You just plug it in, boot up your WRT32X, and enter the relevant info into the WebGUI. You’ll never know the difference, except with a few milliseconds higher ping. Better than having your credit card info stolen, and also a lot better than having no WiFi while you’re out sailing in the Mexican gulf. Rock it! Chicks dig WiFi, do you have WiFi? You do, don’t you?

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