Upgrading my Netgear 3500L

The story so far...

My tablet could not access my ReadyShare NAS that ran on my Netgear 3500L. So far, it seemed as if the problem was with the router and it's implementation of SMB. After much wrangling of hands, cussing of SMB and praising the virtues of hackable gadgets, I decided to change the stock firmware on my router.

My Open Router, is a great resource for available after-market firmware. It also has that typical Open Source lack of polish, that makes the process of re-flashing a real journey - filled with uncertainty and trepidation. Here is an example, the initial page for the 3500L has a total of 5 open source options, and the very first article after the review is a “de-bricking” tutorial. If you were not aware, bricking happens when you mess things up so bad, that the only true use of your cuboidal device is to use it as - you guessed it - a brick.

The key with open source projects is to just jump in and start reading. Do not try to form an approach - you will mostly be wrong. The most useful nuggets are mostly hidden - like the curiously named Peacock thread, or Redhawk0's firmware recommendation thread. If you were planning on using DD-WRT, you should not be touching the reset button without reading both these threads.

After about 30 tabs worth of reading, I learnt a few things. In no particular order, but relevant to me were...

  • Doing the 30-30-30 reset.
  • If you do not do a 30-30-30 before and after a firmware upgrade, you could brick your device.
  • There are two kinds of kernels used in firmwares - 2.4 and 2.6, use the wrong one and you could brick your device.
  • There are different types of builds - using a Mega build could brick my particular device.
  • If you try to reboot routers too quickly within the flashing phase, you could brick your router.
  • Trailed builds, are builds specific to a particular router. They do not have all the features or a regular build, but are critical to get off the original stock firmware. Use the wrong trailed build, and you could brick your router.

And everything you learnt above had caveats, which could also cause you to brick your router.

Anyway, after several days of researching, and figuring out what my priorities were, I decided to skip the DD-WRT in favor of a different sort of firmware called Tomato, and in particular a fork called TomatoUSB, that seemed most appropriate. I still had to upgrade to the DD-WRT trailed build to get off the stock firmware, but that was only a rest-stop on the upgrade path.

Next post, doing the actual upgrade.

December 03, 2011

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