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10 PC projects: how to boost your Wi-Fi

Add features to your router, boost range

Your wireless network may be growing, but that doesn't mean you need to purchase new hardware.

How to add features to your Wi-Fi router

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Time: 45 mins

As your network expands, you can use third-party firmware to add features to your existing wireless router, matching or exceeding the abilities of a new device.

Using the method we describe, 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 virtual private network (VPN) and much more.

The X-Wrt firmware supports many router brands, such as Asus, Buffalo and Linksys; check the site to see whether yours is listed. If not, search online for "[your model] firmware hack" (without the quotes), in case a workaround exists for your device.

Connect the router directly to your PC using an ethernet cable, then log into 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.

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 re-establish 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 upwards to reach longer distances or downwards to keep the network from spilling over to neighbours' houses.

Under Network, QoS, enable the default settings that give 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 upgrades that you can add to the router.

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