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Help File: Tweaking an old router to extend a wireless network

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Q: Because my older PC lacks WiFi, I had to run a long network cable from my Verizon Fios router to it. Can I use the Linksys router I got for my old Comcast account to relay the WiFi?

A: If relocating the Fios router isn't an option, you can do exactly that. But it will involve more tinkering than I usually suggest: First, you load third-party firmware on the Linksys router, then you configure that new software to "bridge" your WiFi to the computer's Ethernet connection.

Several different kinds of free, alternative firmware (the name describes how this low-level software is embedded in the chips of a device) exist for Linksys's widely used WRT54 routers. When I wanted to use one such spare model to hook up an HDTV with Internet-video features, I went with the DD-WRT firmware (http://dd-wrt.com).

The DD-WRT site has a complete set of directions, or visit http://makeuseof.com and search for "DD-WRT bridge" to get a simpler walkthrough of upgrading an old router. The exact procedure is way too detailed to relate here; suffice it to say that you need to follow directions exactly, be patient, and have a decent grasp of networking jargon. It doesn't hurt to be lucky either, as the firmware-update procedure can "brick" the router if something goes awry.

But as I found out, at the end of the process you can extend your wireless network in two ways. You can run an Ethernet cable from it to a WiFi-deprived computer (or TV). Or, if your existing router supports a feature called WDS, short for "Wireless Distribution System," you can employ your souped-up router to extend your wireless coverage. Unfortunately, Verizon's Fios routers don't appear on DD-WRT's list of WDS-compatible hardware.

If you're not too technically inclined, though, this is best left to a friend with computing skills -- whom you can then take out to dinner as a reward.

Rob Pegoraro attempts to untangle computing conundrums and errant electronics each week. Send questions to The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or robp@washpost.com. Visit http://voices.washingtonpost.com/fasterforward for his Faster Forward blog.


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