Today, routers are very powerful electronics equipments, they are not just only routing data packages, giving out IPs or blocking unwanted connections anymore. Now they also can act as File Server or Printer server as well.
Of course, manufactures will not put every single function into one router, otherwise, how can they earn some big cash from you. That’s why there are third-party firmwares. These third-party firmwares are base on Linux, which able to provide endless choice of software for you to use. Dropbear for SSH. FTP, SFTP, Samba or NFS for file server. CUPS for print server. SANE for scanner. Asterisk for VoIP. And sound server, webcam server….. The only limitation is on the hardware itself.
There are 3 large camp on third-party firmwares: DD-WRT, OpenWRT and Tomato. Personally, I have never use Tomato, so I could not make any comment on that.
My experience with DD-WRT is with my TP-Link TL-WR741ND. Which I have one in Hong Kong as my pptp VPN server. 741ND + DD-WRT is a bullet prove combination. I use it many hours everyday with huge data flow for 2 years now.
However, there are limitations. 1) 741ND don’t have USB port, which I can’t use it for file and printer/scanner server. 2) 741ND only have 4MB ROM memory, which left no space for anyone to install extra softwares. 3) The difficulty of setting up a DD-WRT.
Performance wise, I would not say DD-WRT will have to much different compare to OpenWRT, since they are both just Linux base, the different would not be huge. However, the simplicity of setup procedure with OpenWRT, definitely makes it a winner.
As I said before, 741ND lack a USB port, which is not going to be my next new toy. However, if you don’t need to use USB. I would say 741ND is the only choice you should have. And it is dirt cheap as well, less than USD$20 in Hong Kong.
My new toy would be TP-Link TL-WR1043ND. It cost just over USD$55, which cost much more than 741ND. But it come with big guns: Giga-byte LAN ports, 3 antennae, a much faster processor and a USB port.
My new setup, will be a PPTP+OpenVPN VPN servers, printer server, scanner server and a Samba file server.