Just because your old Wi-Fi router has been replaced by a newer model doesn’t mean it needs to gather dust in the closet. Read on as we show you how to take an old and underpowered Wi-Fi router and turn it into a respectable network switch (saving your $20 in the process). Image by mmgallan. Why Do I Want To Do This? Wi-Fi technology has changed significantly in the last ten years but Ethernet-based networking has changed very little. As such, a Wi-Fi router with 2006-era guts is lagging significantly behind current Wi-Fi router technology, but the Ethernet networking component of the device is just as useful as ever; aside from potentially being only 100Mbs instead of 1000Mbs capable (which for 99% of home applications is irrelevant) Ethernet is Ethernet. What does this matter to you, the consumer? It means that even though your old router doesn’t hack it for your Wi-Fi needs any longer the device is still a perfectly serviceable (and high quality) network switch. When do you need a network switch? Any time you want to share an Ethernet cable among multiple devices, you need a switch. For example, let’s say you have a single Ethernet wall jack behind your entertainment center. Unfortunately you have four devices that you want to link to your local network via hardline including your smart HDTV, DVR, Xbox, and a little Raspberry Pi running XBMC. Instead of spending $20-30 to purchase a brand new switch of comparable build quality to your old Wi-Fi router it makes financial sense (and is environmentally friendly) to invest five minutes of your time tweaking the settings on the old router to turn it from a Wi-Fi access point and routing tool into a network switch–perfect for dropping behind your entertainment center so that your DVR, Xbox, and media center computer can all share an Ethernet connection. What Do I Need? For this tutorial you’ll need a few things, all of which you likely have readily on hand or are free for download. To follow the basic portion of the tutorial, you’ll need the following: 1 Wi-Fi router with Ethernet ports 1 Computer with Ethernet jack 1 Ethernet cable For the advanced tutorial you’ll need all of those things, plus: 1 copy of DD-WRT firmware for your Wi-Fi router We’re conducting the experiment with a Linksys WRT54GL Wi-Fi router. The WRT54 series is one of the best selling Wi-Fi router series of all time and there’s a good chance a significant number of readers have one (or more) of them stuffed in an office closet. Even if you don’t have one of the WRT54 series routers, however, the principles we’re outlining here apply to all Wi-Fi routers; as long as your router administration panel allows the necessary changes you can follow right along with us. A quick note on the difference between the basic and advanced versions of this tutorial before we proceed. Your typical Wi-Fi router has 5 Ethernet ports on the back: 1 labeled “Internet”, “WAN”, or a variation thereof and intended to be connected to your DSL/Cable modem, and 4 labeled 1-4 intended to connect Ethernet devices like computers, printers, and game consoles directly to the Wi-Fi router. When you convert a Wi-Fi router to a switch, in most situations, you’ll lose two port as the “Internet” port cannot be used as a normal switch port and one of the switch ports becomes the input port for the Ethernet cable linking the switch to the main network. This means, referencing the diagram above, you’d lose the WAN port and LAN port 1, but retain LAN ports 2, 3, and 4 for use. If you only need to switch for 2-3 devices this may be satisfactory. However, for those of you that would prefer a more traditional switch setup where there is a dedicated WAN port and the rest of the ports are accessible, you’ll need to flash a third-party router firmware like the powerful DD-WRT onto your device. Doing so opens up the router to a greater degree of modification and allows you to assign the previously reserved WAN port to the switch, thus opening up LAN ports 1-4. Even if you don’t intend to use that extra port, DD-WRT offers you so many more options that it’s worth the extra few steps. Preparing Your Router for Life as a Switch Before we jump right in to shutting down the Wi-Fi functionality and repurposing your device as a network switch, there are a few important prep steps to attend to. First, you want to reset the router (if you just flashed a new firmware to your router, skip this step). Following the reset procedures for your particular router or go with what is known as the “Peacock Method” wherein you hold down the reset button for thirty seconds, unplug the router and wait (while still holding the reset button) for thirty seconds, and then plug it in while, again, continuing to hold down the rest button. Over the life of a router there are a variety of changes made, big and small, so it’s best to wipe them all back to the factory default before repurposing the router as a switch. Second, after resetting, we need to change the IP address of the device on the local network to an address which does not directly conflict with the new router. The typical default IP address for a home router is 192.168.1.1; if you ever need to get back into the administration panel of the router-turned-switch to check on things or make changes it will be a real hassle if the IP address of the device conflicts with the new home router. The simplest way to deal with this is to assign an address close to the actual router address but outside the range of addresses that your router will assign via the DHCP client; a good pick then is 192.168.1.2. Once the router is reset (or re-flashed) and has been assigned a new IP address, it’s time to configure it as a switch. Basic Router to Switch Configuration If you don’t want to (or need to) flash new firmware onto your device to open up that extra port, this is the section of the tutorial for you: we’ll cover how to take a stock router, our previously mentioned WRT54 series Linksys, and convert it to a switch. Hook the Wi-Fi router up to the network via one of the LAN ports (consider the WAN port as good as dead from this point forward, unless you start using the router in its traditional function again or later flash a more advanced firmware to the device, the port is officially retired at this point). Open the administration control panel via web browser on a connected computer. Before we get started two things: first, anything we don’t explicitly instruct you to change should be left in the default factory-reset setting as you find it, and two, change the settings in the order we list them as some settings can’t be changed after certain features are disabled. To start, let’s navigate to Setup ->Basic Setup. Here you need to change the following things: Local IP Address: [different than the primary router, e.g. 192.168.1.2] Subnet Mask: [same as the primary router, e.g. 255.255.255.0] DHCP Server: Disable Save with the “Save Settings” button and then navigate to Setup -> Advanced Routing: Operating Mode: Router This particular setting is very counterintuitive. The “Operating Mode” toggle tells the device whether or not it should enable the Network Address Translation (NAT) feature. Because we’re turning a smart piece of networking hardware into a relatively dumb one, we don’t need this feature so we switch from Gateway mode (NAT on) to Router mode (NAT off). Our next stop is Wireless -> Basic Wireless Settings: Wireless SSID Broadcast: Disable Wireless Network Mode: Disabled After disabling the wireless we’re going to, again, do something counterintuitive. Navigate to Wireless -> Wireless Security and set the following parameters: Security Mode: WPA2 Personal WPA Algorithms: TKIP+AES WPA Shared Key: [select some random string of letters, numbers, and symbols like JF#d$di!Hdgio890] Now you may be asking yourself, why on Earth are we setting a rather secure Wi-Fi configuration on a Wi-Fi router we’re not going to use as a Wi-Fi node? On the off chance that something strange happens after, say, a power outage when your router-turned-switch cycles on and off a bunch of times and the Wi-Fi functionality is activated we don’t want to be running the Wi-Fi node wide open and granting unfettered access to your network. While the chances of this are next-to-nonexistent, it takes only a few seconds to apply the security measure so there’s little reason not to. Save your changes and navigate to Security ->Firewall. Uncheck everything but Filter Multicast Firewall Protect: Disable At this point you can save your changes again, review the changes you’ve made to ensure they all stuck, and then deploy your “new” switch wherever it is needed. Advanced Router to Switch Configuration For the advanced configuration, you’ll need a copy of DD-WRT installed on your router. Although doing so is an extra few steps, it gives you a lot more control over the process and liberates an extra port on the device. Hook the Wi-Fi router up to the network via one of the LAN ports (later you can switch the cable to the WAN port). Open the administration control panel via web browser on the connected computer. Navigate to the Setup -> Basic Setup tab to get started. In the Basic Setup tab, ensure the following settings are adjusted. The setting changes are not optional and are required to turn the Wi-Fi router into a switch. WAN Connection Type: Disabled Local IP Address: [different than the primary router, e.g. 192.168.1.2] Subnet Mask: [same as the primary router, e.g. 255.255.255.0] DHCP Server: Disable In addition to disabling the DHCP server, also uncheck all the DNSMasq boxes as the bottom of the DHCP sub-menu. If you want to activate the extra port (and why wouldn’t you), in the WAN port section: Assign WAN Port to Switch [X] At this point the router has become a switch and you have access to the WAN port so the LAN ports are all free. Since we’re already in the control panel, however, we might as well flip a few optional toggles that further lock down the switch and prevent something odd from happening. The optional settings are arranged via the menu you find them in. Remember to save your settings with the save button before moving onto a new tab. While still in the Setup -> Basic Setup menu, change the following: Gateway/Local DNS : [IP address of primary router, e.g. 192.168.1.1] NTP Client : Disable The next step is to turn off the radio completely (which not only kills the Wi-Fi but actually powers the physical radio chip off). Navigate to Wireless -> Advanced Settings -> Radio Time Restrictions: Radio Scheduling: Enable Select “Always Off” There’s no need to create a potential security problem by leaving the Wi-Fi radio on, the above toggle turns it completely off. Under Services -> Services: DNSMasq : Disable ttraff Daemon : Disable Under the Security -> Firewall tab, uncheck every box except “Filter Multicast”, as seen in the screenshot above, and then disable SPI Firewall. Once you’re done here save and move on to the Administration tab. Under Administration -> Management: Info Site Password Protection : Enable Info Site MAC Masking : Disable CRON : Disable 802.1x : Disable Routing : Disable After this final round of tweaks, save and then apply your settings. Your router has now been, strategically, dumbed down enough to plod along as a very dependable little switch. Time to stuff it behind your desk or entertainment center and streamline your cabling.