OpenWRT hardware recommendation: TP-Link TL-WDR3600

I recently replaced my WiFi access point, an ancient Linksys WRT54G v3.1. I was looking for something that supported simultaneous dualband, multiple SSIDs, and VLANs. I also wanted something that could run OpenWRT.

I ended up buying the TP-Link TL-WDR3600 because it met all these criteria and was available for less than 50 €. After using it for a few months, I can definitely recommend it: The wireless coverage is good, it supports Multi-SSID just fine, and the internal switch is fully VLAN-capable (and easy to configure using the OpenWRT LuCI web interface).

My only complaint is that in the 5 GHz band (5150 MHz – 5250 MHz), OpenWRT limits me to 50 mW of output power (the Linux kernel has a limit of 100 mW), even though I could legally run up to 200 mW. These lowest four channels of the 5 GHz Wifi band don’t even require TPC (transmission power control) or DFS (radar detection) in Germany, making the limitation completely unnecessary.

The TL-WDR3500, TL-WDR4300 and TL-WDR4310 are identical to the TL-WDR3600 save the radio module, so the instructions here should apply to them as well.

Here’s a short how-to on getting started with OpenWRT on the WDR3600:

Installing OpenWRT

Hook up your computer to an Ethernet port on the WDR3600.

Download openwrt-ar71xx-generic-tl-wdr3600-v1-squashfs-factory.bin and upload it using the factory web interface at http://192.168.0.1 (do not rename the file or it might not update).

After it reboots, renew your DHCP lease (OpenWRT uses a different subnet by default) and telnet 192.168.1.1. There, run passwd to set a password, then hit Ctrl-D to disconnect. Now you can ssh root@192.168.1.1.

The first thing to do is backup the bootloader and ART partition, just in case:
dd if=/dev/$(grep '"art"' /proc/mtd | cut -c 1-4) of=/tmp/art.backup
dd if=/dev/$(grep '"u-boot"' /proc/mtd | cut -c 1-4) of=/tmp/u-boot.backup

Now you can scp root@192.168.1.1:/tmp/*.backup ~/Desktop to get them off the device.

Next, install the web interface:
opkg update
opkg install luci
/etc/init.d/uhttpd enable
/etc/init.d/uhttpd start

Now you can easily configure everything the way you want it (but please don’t ask questions in the comments about the specific configuration: the OpenWRT forums are a much better place for that).

Upgrading OpenWRT

cd /tmp
wget http://downloads.openwrt.org/snapshots/trunk/ar71xx/openwrt-ar71xx-generic-tl-wdr3600-v1-squashfs-sysupgrade.bin
md5sum openwrt-ar71xx-generic-tl-wdr3600-v1-squashfs-sysupgrade.bin
# compare it against http://downloads.openwrt.org/snapshots/trunk/ar71xx/md5sums

sysupgrade -v openwrt-ar71xx-generic-tl-wdr3600-v1-squashfs-sysupgrade.bin
The device will eventually reboot and come up with the new firmware. Your configuration should still be present.

Failsafe mode

If you’ve locked yourself out, it’s easy to get back in: unplug the device, plug it back in and as soon as one of the LEDs on the front starts flashing, push and hold the WDS button. Release it when that LED starts flashing a lot faster.

Now, set your computer to a static IP of 192.168.1.x with a subnet mask of 255.255.255.0 and telnet 192.168.1.1. Now you can reset your password (passwd), change configuration variables (uci), or do a factory reset (firstboot). When you’re done, reboot -f to return to the normal operation mode.

Warning

It is possible to brick your device with OpenWRT. All the commands above are provided without warranty, so use at your own risk; if you don’t know what your doing, don’t do it.

Also, it’s not that easy to get back to the original TP-Link firmware (which you would definitely need to to if you wanted to return the device to TP-Link for warranty repair.

Note that depending on local laws, flashing an alternative firmware may void your warranty altogether. Even if it does not, screwing up such a flash process yourself is sure to void the warranty anywhere…

22 thoughts on “OpenWRT hardware recommendation: TP-Link TL-WDR3600

  1. Adam

    Very nice! Thank you for the advice. I have the same router and I managed to somehow make it not very reliable (with the previous OpenWRT) in the WLAN department 🙂
    But I upgraded as you recommended and am now testing… seems to be much better now.

  2. imo

    Hi Michael,

    is it possible to disable WLAN at 5GHz and leave only 2.4GHz enabled? Using openwrt of course.

    Thanks

  3. Pingback: OpenWRT on TP-Link TL-WDR3600: enabling Wifi channel 12+13 and higher power on 5 GHz « Michael Kuron's Blog

  4. nzo

    Hello Michael

    I have the same Router and Running openwrt 12.09 final.

    How did you get 100mw on 5Ghz can you explain it please.

    If you want in German which is a language i speak better then English. Thank you.

  5. nzo

    Sorry My Router is WDR4300 i think it is the same way. Waiting for your response. TNX

  6. Alberto

    Hi,
    I’m using the WRT3500 two weeks ago, more or less, and I have satisfied with it.

    But I have found some problem, what I want share with you. I would like your opinion about this, and if you note the same simptoms.

    I have a USB Printer, and I can see this log lines repeatly..

    Jan 11 15:39:16 openwrt kernel: [ 7970.380000] usb 1-1: new high-speed USB device number 12 using ehci-platform
    Jan 11 15:39:16 openwrt kernel: [ 7970.900000] usb 1-1: new high-speed USB device number 13 using ehci-platform
    Jan 11 15:39:17 openwrt kernel: [ 7971.340000] usb 1-1: new high-speed USB device number 14 using ehci-platform
    Jan 11 15:39:17 openwrt kernel: [ 7971.830000] usb 1-1: new high-speed USB device number 15 using ehci-platform
    Jan 11 15:39:18 openwrt kernel: [ 7972.570000] usb 1-1: new high-speed USB device number 17 using ehci-platform
    Jan 11 15:39:19 openwrt kernel: [ 7973.480000] usb 1-1: new high-speed USB device number 18 using ehci-platform
    Jan 11 15:39:19 openwrt kernel: [ 7973.920000] usb 1-1: new high-speed USB device number 19 using ehci-platform

    And more, and more…

    The USB is USB-2 port. we can read in its specifications but, why appear in dmesg output this lines?

    [ 5.630000] hub 1-0:1.0: USB hub found
    [ 5.640000] hub 1-0:1.0: 1 port detected
    [ 5.650000] ohci_hcd: USB 1.1 ‘Open’ Host Controller (OHCI) Driver

    it have only 1 port, but, Do it have any USB hub for it???
    and, Is this a 1.0 Hub?

    I don’t know. This is strange.

    Best Regards,

  7. Pingback: OpenWRT Installation Tutorial on a N600 TL-WDR3600 Router « Insidethe.com

  8. seraser

    Hi, good tutorial, thanks.

    But I am stupid and Ive erased ART partition and now I have not wifi signal.

    Can you share your art backup please?

    Thank you very much.

  9. Michael Kuron Post author

    The ART ist device-specific. You should have backed it up first.
    It contains things like calibration data for the specific radio+antenna as well as the MAC address, so there’s no point in sharing mine.
    Sorry, your device is bricked.

  10. Rob

    Hello,

    May I ask your advice.. I am between using a range extender and a 2nd router..

    my primary router is a tp-link tlwdr3600 running openwrt AA..

    In both cases the idea would be to interconnect over the 5GHz the 2 wifi devices and use the 2.4GHz on client backhaul side.. this way throughput does not halves..

    with netgear WN2500RP this is possible
    with tp-link wdr3600 or similar using wds is possible?
    with netgear wndr3800/4300 is this possible?

    which of abobe options is best?

    at last, extending wifi using wds is better rather than classic way?
    BTW how this should be set on openwrt for tp-link?

    Thanks for advice!

    Regards
    Rob

  11. Michael Kuron Post author

    You can do that, probably even with any combination of devices. Using the 5 GHz as the interconnect with the WDR3600 probably doesn’t make sense though: its 5 GHz power amplifier does not do more than 17 dBm, while in 2.4 GHz it does 20dBm. Additionally 5 GHz doesn’t go through walls less well than 2.4 GHz does, so you might end up with no real gain in coverage because you need to space the two devices in neighboring rooms.

    Setting up a repeater with OpenWRT is pretty easy. On the base station, set the mode to Access Point and enable WDS. On the repeater, set the mode to Client, enable WDS, enter the BSSID of the base station and specify the same security settings. Then, create a second Wifi on the repeater with mode Access Point and WDS disabled (unless you intend to chain on another repeater) — this second Wifi can have the same name and security as the first one.

    I don’t think there’s a way to run a repeater without WDS. Only some older chipsets supported that in a proprietary way. As far as I understand, enabling WDS allows the repeater to specify two MAC addresses (its own as the one to contact by the base station, and the one of the actual recipient) in a packet instead of only one.
    Classically (without WDS), the MAC address in the Ethernet packet (Layer 2) and the MAC address in the Wifi frame (Layer 1) had to match up, otherwise it just didn’t work.

  12. Michael Kuron Post author

    That most likely won’t work. The ART also contains radio calibration data, so you’ll definitely have a bad Wifi signal afterwards. Also, the ART is different between different revisions of the WDR3600 or the radio chips: my November 2012 device only has data between 0x5020 and 0x543F, while a mid-2013 model also has data between 0x1009 and 0x143F. Besides, at the offsets from that guide there is no sensible data on my images and I couldn’t even find the MACs in plain hex in the images.

    Why do people keep on ignoring all recommendations to MAKE A BACKUP OF YOUR ART PARTITION?

  13. Patrick

    Dear Michael,

    Data in the ART partition is between 0x1009 and 0x143F for 2,4ghz and 0x5020 and 0x543F for 5ghz on all devices! I just found a backup (if somebody else wants this, just reply) and I managed to flash it. It works like a charm, no problems, no bad wifi signal. My WDR3600 v1 is completly restored. So it DOES work pretty good but you are right: never forget to make a complete backup!

  14. Ricardo Lopes

    Hi guys,

    I also deleted my partition art for a wrd3600
    Stupid bad flash.
    Anyway… I have recovered my router with a serial USB ttl and I have it back working.

    However I don’t see an art partition name when I cat the etc file.
    I think that explains why I don’t have wireless.
    My art partition is gone.
    Everything else works.

    Could you please email me the art partition?
    Vapochilled.r.@gmail.com

  15. Hexan Dragos

    Hi, I was very pleased to discover your blog and I hope to be my salvation, too. I need the backup partition of the ART (board_config) for WDR3600. Unfortunately , during some maneuvers with u-boot and mtd I accidentally deleted it. Thanks so much. A mail to djd_hex@yahoo.com would save me forever :).

  16. Robert

    Dear Mike

    Thank you for the advice! I am planning to buy a 2nd router but I understand to extend with WDS the 5G range, Is sufficient to buy a dual channel repeater?

    so over the 2.4G link I can interconnect the 2 devices while the 5G spectrum would be available for the clients access..

    would you suggest any type of router or dual channel repeater?

    Currently I am evaluating as the main AP the Linksys EA4500v3 or Netgear WNDR3700v4..

    My existing tp-link wdr3600 I could use as repeater or client to main AP..

    thanks for advice again!

    Robert

  17. Stan

    Mike,

    Are all the network ports one switch OR can I put a different IP address on each?
    I’d like to replace a peecee with 4 NICS running monowall.

    Thak you,

    Stan

  18. Michael Kuron Post author

    All ports (including the WAN port) are on a VLAN-capable switch which connects to the system via a single port.
    So just create 4 VLANs and assign one port to each in untagged mode. Then create four interfaces (bridges) and assign one to each VLAN.

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