Review: 6 slick open source routers

DD-WRT, Tomato, OpenWRT, M0n0wall, PfSense, and Vyatta suit a wide range of devices and networking needs

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Originally devised as a replacement firmware for Broadcom-based routers, Tomato drew attention for its GUI, bandwidth-monitoring tools, and other nifty professional-level and tweak-able features.

Supported hardware: Hardware support is much the same as with DD-WRT, although pay close attention to exactly which builds are compatible with the particular hardware you're using.

Features: Many of the functions found in Tomato are also found in DD-WRT, such as sophisticated QoS controls, CLI access via telnet or SSH, Dnsmasq, and so on. That said, Tomato has been designed such that few configuration changes require rebooting, though that's a common complaint about any grade of router firmware, whether commercial or open source. There's also been a wealth of custom scripting developed by the Tomato community, such as redirecting the router's syslog to disk or another computer, backing up router settings, and much more.

Tomato has seeded a vast crop -- pun intended -- of spin-offs and offshoots, which deserve at least as much attention as the core project itself. Chief among them is Tomato USB, so named because it provides support for routers that have USB ports, thus allowing the mounting of removable media. Toastman compiles useful mods from a number of other Tomato firmware versions, such as an improved QoS module and IP traffic client monitoring tools. Teaman (also known by its Google Code project name, "tomato-sdhc-vlan") adds support for SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity)/MMC media storage, 802.11Q VLAN tagging, and the experimental MultiSSID Web interface.

This isn't an exhaustive list. There's also Tomato by Shibby, Tomato RAF, and many other spin-offs, each with their own quirks and feature modifications.

Limitations: The reason there are so many mods for Tomato is simple: The code for the original project hasn't been updated since 2010. To that end, any updates or new features come courtesy of the alternate builds described above. Updates for any one of these projects is also not guaranteed.

Also, because of the sheer number of Tomato forks, it can be difficult to pick the one that best fits your needs. Picking the right one for your hardware, though, shouldn't be too tough, thanks to the copious documentation of which devices fit which builds.

Recommendation: Tomato is best for moderately advanced users. Working with Tomato is on a par with dealing with DD-WRT, in terms of making sure you have the right hardware and following the flashing instructions to the letter. Tomato isn't used as a commercial pre-load, though, so don't expect to see it in an off-the-shelf router à la DD-WRT.

Tomato RAF is one of the many sub-breeds of the Tomato firmware. After development ceased on the original version, others have picked up the torch.
Tomato RAF is one of the many sub-breeds of the Tomato firmware. After development ceased on the original version, others have picked up the torch.
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