There’s a lot of debate between which competing firmware fork is better, which is hard to nail down exactly, because it’s ultimately a subjective choice. Nevertheless, we’re going to break down the differences, advantages, and disadvantages of these two increasingly popular replacements for lackluster OEM router firmware.
If you didn’t already know, realize that it’s possible to supercharge your common wireless router by upgrading it with a free version of firmware based on Unix. You see, OEM firmware has a lot of drawbacks, such as bugs and vulnerabilities, poor feature sets, and even slow performance. Most wireless routers that are made for a home environment are intentionally dumbed down, because the average user doesn’t know what all the various network settings actually do.
But these days, technological literacy is improving, leaving a lot of users wondering why they’re router doesn’t even have the ability to connect to a VPN tunnel. The good news is that if you’ve got an ounce of computer skills and can follow simple instructions on a list, you can easily upgrade your home router to Tomato or DD-WRT. If you are intimidated by the prospect of flashing your router, you can even purchase routers pre-installed with DD-WRT or Tomato from a provider like FlashRouters.
However, be forewarned that they’ll tack on an extra cost to the price of the router for compensation of their time.
Before we dig into which firmware version is better, you need to know whether or not you have the right hardware. Tomato and DD-WRT simply don’t support all types of router models and hardware, so you’ll need to check either the DD-WRT supported routers list or the corresponding Tomato list.
If your router isn’t supported by either version of firmware, you have two options. Once again, you can go to FlashRouters and purchase one that has been pre-flashed. Alternatively, you can buy one from flash routers (one that hasn’t been flashed) or from a local electronics retailer and flash it on your own.
The steps taken to install the firmware are outside the scope of this guide, but bot Tomato and DD-WRT have great step-by-step guides that detail the whole process.
DD-WRT is possibly the best firmware alternative with regards to it’s staggering number of features (with exception to Open-WRT). It is, of course, based on Linux, and it is incredibly stable to boot. Naturally, it’s available for download completely free of charge, and DD-WRT supports more router models than Tomato.
So, chances are that if your router isn’t compatible with Tomato, you may still be able to upgrade it to DD-WRT firmware. And it does have more features than Tomato, but more features means more code, and more code is a double-edged sword. DD-WRT is reported to have more bugs than Tomato, though the firmware is still as stable (if not more so) than OEM alternatives.
Some people even claim that the interface of DD-WRT firmware is harder to navigate, though I think that’s pretty subjective. Once again, it all comes back to the number of features and configuration options included in the firmware. Some people – usually those that aren’t very technically minded – feel that there is elegance in simplicity. On the opposite end of the spectrum, techies and tinkerers always want more configuration options to tune and tweak their home network.
Last but not least, note that many people claim DD-WRT firmware is slightly more difficult to flash than other firmware alternatives. Personally, I don’t see much of a difference, but if you’re intimidated, you can always buy a router that has been pre-flashed from FlashRouters.
In addition, I wanted to highlight some of the main features that make this firmware so great. If you want to see a comprehensive list of their features, feel free to view their documentation. However, note that the following is not a comprehensive list of features:
NOTE: For my top recommended DD-WRT routers, check out this article for guidance.
Tomato firmware is very similar to DD-WRT, as they are both based on Linux. And although DD-WRT is incredibly stable (more so than typically OEM firmware), Tomato is reported to have fewer bugs due to fewer features. Interestingly enough, Tomato has a faster speed, as it’s reported to run faster since there’s less code. It’s more lightweight and may be a better choice if your router doesn’t have the latest and greatest in processing and memory technology.
Plus, the GUI is a bit more easy to navigate. Since it doesn’t have as many features as DD-WRT, the interface is a lot cleaner. Personally, I prefer DD-WRT. But if DD-WRT doesn’t support your hardware, Tomato is the next best alternative (in my opinion).
And it does have a fair few features that aren’t included on DD-WRT. One such feature is the real-time traffic monitoring statistics, which will show you live traffic and inbound/outbound connections.
Tomato firmware doesn’t have as many features as DD-WRT. However, they still do a good job of covering all their bases with the major features, such as allowing the router to connect to a VPN server. If you’re curious about a specific feature, you can easily sort through the comprehensive list of features. Otherwise, the following describes the main features:
NOTE: For an overview of my top recommended Tomato routers, check out this resource that I put together.
“is the easiest to install and manage but has limited hardware support. By reducing the features it runs, it is easier to run and set up.
“Please go to the router database, and enter your router model. If the router is known a list with matching entries is is displayed indicating if the router is supported and if an activation is required. (For personal use we do provide one activation for free) When you click onto the right entry for your router a list of matching files & instructions is displayed.” DD-WRT Website
So which one is right for your router and home network? That depends heavily on two factors. First of all, it depends whether or not either firmware version supports your router. You may only have one option available without buying new hardware. Secondly, I think the choice depends on your level of technical competency.
If you love technology, I’d opt for DD-WRT since it has more features. If you don’t know your way around the TCP/IP protocol stack and don’t know what a lot of those extra features do, it may not be your best option. For instance, if all you’re trying to do is connect your router to a VPN server and don’t care much about ancillary features, Tomato firmware is the optimal choice for non-technical users.
At any rate, both of these firmware versions will supercharge your router and extend its capabilities far past what the OEM firmware will allow. You can’t go wrong, since both Tomato and DD-WRT are a massive improvement over standard manufacturer features.
Where to Buy: My favorite go-to online router source is Flashrouters here. Be sure to check it out if you are considering buying either a DD-WRT or Tomato router.