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I bought a $50 Chinese router from Amazon.

Netgear WNDR 3800 Router

Netgear WNDR 3800 Router, WAN thru LAN with CEROwrt

The WNDR 3800 is a capable router, it’s in good shape, and it works as it should. But, it is a WNDR 3800CH, Chinese router, not a WNDR 3800 NA, North American router. And, it seems more used than I expected, not by appearance but by the fact it was previously commercially owned by a cable company, not an individual. I did finally make this router work with an alternative firmware, which was my goal, but not the alternative firmware I’d originally wanted.

I bought the router to extend my network to a back bedroom, and to follow the EFF CEROwrt open router research and development projects. First I wanted to flash BrainSlayer’s DD-WRT on it, and maybe later, in a few months, play with the cutting-edge CEROwrt firmware. Nothing turned out as I’d imagined. I didn’t manage to flash BrainSlayer’s firmware.

I needed to downgrade the router to an earlier Netgear version, and this Chinese router is finicky about what firmware it accepts, unlike the North American version. And, though the Chinese WND R 3800 CH is cheap, keeping the original Netgear firmware is out of the question, it’s buggy and insecure, not to mention it’s Charter Communication’s firmware, which, if I’m not mistaken, leaves a back door for password changes when a customer cannot access their router.

The WNDR was advertised as new and open box without a setup CD. It came packed in a brown box that said, “used, like new, MADE IN CHINA.” The router was wrapped in clear cellophane with a white label for the Charter Communication’s SSID, MyCharterWiFi6a-2G, and password, cloudycanoe219.

The North American model’s last update was December 2013, and it was V1.0.0.0.48. This Asian model came with V1.0.0.0.51CH, a developer’s version. The guidelines for flashing DD-WRT onto the WNDR 3800 NA suggest downgrading to V1.0.0.0.16 so that the router can be flashed. Netgear added a marker to disallow installation of other firmware on their router after V1.0.0.0.16. I could not get the Chinese router to downgrade from the 51CH version to the earlier version.

I thought about boxing the router up and sending it back – the EFF site states that the CH version does not work with their research project, either. I did, however, find a very good CEROwrt CH version by a developer who changed some code, and engineered an up-to-date CEROwrt 3.10.50-1, with Heartbleed bug update, and other fixes. It’s referred to as the “ready to bake” version. It’s ready for the not-too-timid user to flash their primary router with, and use it day-to-day.

Toronto CEROwrt works great on the WNDR 3800 CH router; it’s tough, and kind of amazing. Turning the firewall on is a rush. It cascades down the page, live. The default password: Beatthebloat refers to removing the bloat to speed up the router, which apparently works. The link is snapon Lab Index of/~Cero2/test-wndr3800CH, and the code name is CEROwrt Toronto 3.10.50-1/LuCl Trunk, build 7/28/2014.

So, now I’m running a very fast TORONTO CEROwrt on the WNDR 3800 CH and wondering how to add a repeater bridge. It seems CEROwrt 3.10.50 CH doesn’t set up bridges in the old sense, it port forwards. It does repeat when I hook it into the Ethernet port on my primary router, the ASUS RT-N16 (TomatoUSB by Shibby). And, the speed tests done with the Netgear hooked into the Ethernet port of the Asus are far faster than done on the Asus alone.

After a week of tinkering, I have a router with an option for MESH, which I don’t yet understand, and a weird type of repeater, which I’m guessing is WAN through LAN (?), where I can plug or connect the Netgear WAN into the Asus Ethernet port 1 and use it for a DUAL LAN. This speeds up the wireless connections and increases signal for all the routers connected including the two additional Linksys routers that are repeater bridges.

The thing I haven’t figured out, is how and if I can add WPA2 to the WNDR 3800 WAN to LAN connection. And, this might not be in the spirit of Openwrt philosophy, but the WNDR 3800 won’t connect with encryption enabled while it’s hooked into the Asus Ethernet Port. Although, it has every kind of encryption combination you might want, and every service you might need, including, Polipio, a light, fast proxy, that runs by default, it can be overwhelming. The interface is slick, it’s professional, an unexpected gift. It’s a perfect fit for the WNDR 3800 CH.

This router wasn’t what I expected, but it’s definitely been fun, and now, it even seems rock solid. I might add there isn’t any going back to the original Netgear firmware after CEROwrt CH is flashed, unless maybe you download the CEROwrt V1.0.0.0.51CH from a developer’s site, which I haven’t tried.

I backed up my original firmware but the CEROwrt declined to restore the backup. I ran a 30-30-30 to make sure old settings were gone. I waited 30 minutes for the flash to finish, and lost patience, and shut the router down. The Netgear router turned on and the lights flashed and I logged back on. The router with the CEROwrt seemed impervious to whatever I tried to do to it for about 4 hours of trial and error, to remove it. So, if you flash it you probably own it.

Would I buy the WNDR 3800 CH again? Yes. I wanted an inexpensive router that I could run alternative firmware on, and I didn’t want to pay over $50 for it. The router works like a new router, and I don’t like that it’s been used as much as it most likely has, but it is a powerful, older router that will most likely allow me to follow the EFF research and development as an offshoot, which will be interesting.

I do wish I hadn’t been surprised by the Chinese router. I don’t remember reading in the description that the router was Chinese not North American. And I’d like to read more war stories from early adopters who use TORONTO and it’s later iterations as a primary home router.