Installing DD-WRT on the TP-LINK TL-WR841N

I finally got frustrated with the wireless coverage in my house last year. I have my FiOS wireless router in the garage, because that’s where the cable comes into the house. Plus, my house is wired, so I can keep my switches, NAS, and other networking gear out of sight there. I also got frustrated that the Chromecast I have kept getting dropped from the network. Since the wireless router was over 6 years old, it was time for an upgrade.

Now I love the Verizon FiOS service, but their equipment policies stink. They want $100 to upgrade to the latest router, which uses wireless-N technology and supposedly extends the range of the wireless network. I figured there had to be a cheaper, and possibly better way.

TP-LINK TL-WR841NA friend of mine recently extended his network with a TP-LINK TL-WR841N router. He suggested loading on the open source router firmware, DD-WRT. The router is $20 on Amazon, and since I like working on tech projects, I figured it was worth a shot.

I found plenty of information that helped with the loading of the firmware, but the rest of this post will detail my experience setting up the router. Below are instructions and a few photos should you want to put DD-WRT on a TP-LINK TL-WR-841N router.

Before getting started, let’s start with the contents of the box. You get a router, an AC adapter, a 3-ft cat 5 cable, and manuals. In other words, the usual stuff you’d expect. From there, if you want the short instructions on what to do, I suggest checking out this link: How I upgraded a TP-Link TL-WR841N to DD-WRT. Of all the information that I found on the internet, this link had the best information. It’s a simple 10-step guide to help you through the process, although it doesn’t have pictures and assumes a moderate level of technical proficiency. It’s also for version 8.4 of the router, and the version I bought was 9.2. When using the guide, just be careful which version of the DD-WRT firmware you download since there can be differences in chipsets between router versions.

TP-LINK TL-WR841N box contents

The rest of this post will share my experience changing the default firmware on the router. By the way, any of the images below can be enlarged by clicking on them.

Step 1: Download the DD-WRT firmware

Here’s how I got the latest version of the DD-WRT firmware for router version 9.2:

  1. Go to the DD-WRT router database (link here), and type the model number, tl-wr841n in the search box.
  2. Select the link for version 8, even though the device is version 9.
  3. On the next screen, select ‘Other Downloads’ on the right side of the screen.
  4. Select the directory with the latest year (in this case, 2014) to get the latest firmware.
  5. Select the latest version of the firmware in the next directory tree. In my case, it was version number 12-22-2014-r25697.
  6. Then scroll down in the next directory tree until you find the router model number and version. In my case, it was tplink-tl-wr841ndv9.
  7. Download both files in the directory: factory-to-ddwrt.bin and tl-wr841nd-webflash.bin.

UPDATE: As pointed out by “pancakes” in the comments below, you may want to try the latest 2015 builds. You can get the two files by clicking here. I haven’t tried them yet on my router, but “pancakes” reports that it runs stable on the v9.

Step 2: Install DD-WRT on the router

I recommend using a laptop for the DD-WRT firmware installation, if you have one available. It’s easier to access and configure the ethernet connections.

  1. Disable your laptop wireless (if you’re using a wired connection on a laptop, or desktop, disconnect the cable from your computer). Take the cat 5 cable and plug one end into your laptop and the other end into one of the router’s switch ports (don’t use the blue port marked ‘WAN’).
  2. Plug the router in and turn it on.
  3. Open a command window (on Windows, click the ‘Start’ menu and type ‘cmd’ into the search box). At the prompt, enter the command ‘ipconfig /release’. Once that command is finished, type the command ‘ipconfig /renew’.
  4. Open a web browser and type in the URL bar. You’ll be prompted to enter the generic password information that is provided in the router’s documentation.
  5. The Quick Setup screen for the router will appear. Click ‘Exit’, and then click ‘System Tools’, and ‘Firmware Upgrade’ in the left hand navigation menu.
  6. Click ‘Choose File’ and find the file factory-to-ddwrt.bin that you downloaded from Step 1 – Download the DD-WRT Firmware. Click ‘Upgrade’, and then ‘OK’ when the ‘Are you sure?’ dialog box pops up. Sit back and wait for the system to reboot. You will get a message the software has been successfully restarted, but the web page will not refresh. Don’t panic, continue to step 7.
  7. Open the command window (or open another one) and type ‘ipconfig /release’ and ‘ipconfig /renew’ again (follow the same process as step 3 above).
  8. Reconnect to the router as in step 4, but this time, type into the URL bar. It’s a subtle, but very important difference. You’ll be prompted to enter a username and password to finish the setup. Make sure to write these down somewhere and keep them in a safe place – you’ll need them later, possibly as soon as the next step.
  9. Click on the ‘Administration’ tab. You may be asked to put in the username and password that you just created. Then go to the ‘Firmware Upgrade’ tab. Find the file tl-wr841nd-webflash.bin that you downloaded from Step 1. Click ‘Upgrade’.
  10. After a minute or two, the upgrade will complete and the router will reboot.

Congratulations! You have successfully flashed the TL-WR841N firmware to DD-WRT.

Step 3: Extend your network

I’m not going to go into the step-by-step details for this section. There are various ways you can use the DD-WRT software to extend your network. I chose the ‘Access Point’ method, but you may decide on a different method depending on your situation.

If you want the detailed instructions for extending the network following the ‘Access Point’ method, I’d recommend using this helpful tutorial from the DD-WRT site.