Linksys E8500 – DD-WRT Router

How we found our E8500 DD-WRT router.

Because of some of the work that we do in the really real world we tend to work with non-profit accounts which shall remain unnamed for their security as well as our own. But one of the items that was scheduled for recycling/destruction was this Linksys E8500 router. This was super-odd to us because routers like these typically go for almost one-hundred U.S. dollars. Now, it could be dead for all we know! So we decided to take a chance while at the same time giving money to a charitable cause. Fifteen U.S. dollars later it was now in our possession. Time to roll our luck dice!

Read on if you want to know more.

Simpler router for simpler times.

Currently we were running a NetGear WNDR3700 v2 router. It was really great for its time because NetGear allowed people to load whatever firmware they want (We choose DD-WRT). However, something came up during our many years of surfing with our network. Our cable company decided that watching streaming shows off of Cartoon Network was a violation of intellectual property and as a corporation they impose a “guilty until proven innocent” policy of lecturing you about “stealing television” despite the content originating from not only a legal site. But a website which owns the copyright to broadcast!

In the eyes of Spectrum internet you should be watching Cable TV through a power-hungry box like every other knuckle-dragging caveman in your city instead of using streaming networks. Because of the Orwellian nature Spectrum internet wishes to impose upon its customers in the mid-west. Purchasing a VPN (Virtual Private Network) became a thing of necessity.

OpenVPN get!

We are using the “OpenVPN Client” mode in DD-WRT with our Netgear WNDR3700 V2 router using NordVPN. While it has served us terrifically over many years without VPN with its 64MB of ram and 700Mhz processor. It was dying the moment we asked it to take over all encryption of the entire network! If we didn’t use such a service it would probably still be in our lab doing just fine with our cable internet connection of 10Mbs up and 100Mbs down no problem.

Router choke.

With OpenVPN client running. Not only did the processor spike hard on the Netgear router. but also we were getting just 6Mbs upload and 18Mbs download speeds. Despite the router serving us well for years we quickly found out why VPN capable routers were more expensive. That routers need some nice CPU hardware to route a VPN properly.

This ultimately is what caught our eye with this Linksys router. When looking at its wiki and then comparing it to every other linksys router on the DD-WRT compadibility map. It’s the third most powerful router that is made for the home market. Not bad! But when looking for instructions on how to flash it we found nothing. We will get to that in the moment.

Disclaimer:

The actions that S is about to perform can be considered a form of hardware hacking in an effort to bypass securities that the hardware manufacturer deploy. As such, S nor this website is responsible for any damages that can occur by replicating the actions posted here be it physical, mental, psychological, or financial. Use this information at your own risk! Consult the FAQ if you have any further questions about the state of this site.

Problem number one: Wrong power supply!

Technics TEAD-48-121000U 12VDC 1A Power supply.

When we got the router this particular power supply was wrapped around it. The first thing that’s wrong with it is the weight. Power supply manufacturers for network equipment don’t use heavy transformers anymore! Too expensive and ineffecient. It seemed too old for a router that was only a few years in age. This power supply is fairly common and is used in appliances such as Ethernet switching. After looking up the wiki on the Linksys E8500 router it was quickly discovered that this unit requires 3.5 Amps. Oh crap!

Would it have been dangerous to power it up with this adapter?

Probably not. The light would’ve probably came online. But because of the nature of the processors inside of this router which can scale from 300Mhz to 1400Mhz combined with USB ports and everything. The moment you put any load onto the router it would’ve probably shut-down from under-voltage. If the load was consistent then the power supply could have become a fire hazard quickly. Time to get another power supply!

Correctly rated power supply.

Finding another power supply was rather easy for us because of all of the various computer equipment we have used throughout the years. This one came off of a 15″ LCD display. It has the same voltage and amperage that the wiki recommends as well as the polarity symbol matches (positive inner barrel with negative outer). As an added bonus the barrel plug was also the same dimensions that fits into the Linksys router. No need to splice wires together which is good! We also like brick power supplies over wall-warts because it’s easier to cable manage and you’re not going to block any additional outlets.

Testing.

We powered it on and the router light flashes on and off a few times eventually keeping itself on. Checking with out mobile phone’s Wi-Fi we can see the linksys SSID broadcasting clearly. So looks like we passed our luck test!! For now!

Installing DD-WRT woes.

Because everything Linksys makes on the software front is pure shit due to their unholy alliance with Cisco. Also, according to Linksys themselves. OpenVPN is only available on their most expensive routers as a method planned obsolesce and to up-sell only the most expensive routers to users. We decided to start looking up how to image our router with something a little more open-source.

DD-WRT doesn’t show any tutorials on how to do this. This is troubling! After a bit of googling we found a site which talks about how to do it to which we have to thank this blogger for posting up instructions that were crazy easy to follow.

Click here to visit that blog.

We highly encourage people to visit the source blog as we strongly believe in giving credit where credit it due within the blogging community. This entry does not replicate his blog article but instead simply records our experiences with what we encountered when converting the software on our Linksys router to something more usable.

TearDown of the LinkSys E8500.

Unlike routers such as the Netgear where you don’t even have to pop the router open. Linksys with their infinite wisdom ROM-locked their firmware! Preventing any unauthorized files from being uploaded into their router. I suppose this feature prevents users from grabbing a JPG file, uploading said file, and bricking their router and getting a bad review on NewEgg. But for users such as ourselves which loath factory firmware this is a bit of a challenge. But there’s a way to do it. We must first get down to the circuit board!

Casing

Oh noes! You now know my SSID and password which will be made irrelevant shortly!

First you’ll want to remove the feet from the bottom of the router. If you pry them off slowly the double-sided sticky tape that holds the feet to the case will come off with it. Once you remove those feet there is four Phillips screws that must be removed to begin opening your router.

Even after removing all of the screws you are doing to need a pick or a flat head screwdriver to pry the case open. Most hardware manufacturers clip cases to pass the UL drop test to make sure it does not fly into a million pieces when it hits the ground. But linksys took it to a whole new level using LCD bezel clips to hold the clam-shell together. Linksys REALLY does not want you inside of this thing!

System board.

Luck roll failed! Linksys-E8500-EWW604-B1-LS REV:305 System board.

Our heart sank a little upon opening it. Quoting the wiki on how to get your E8500 online.

Newer revision units omit a populated serial header and likely have newer firmware (which locks out flashing third-party firmware), necessitating flashing via manual TFTP in U-Boot

The system board shown in the original blog about how to flash these was a EWW604-B1-L5 REV:205 (XC). However, there was some hope. You see even though the header (marked JM1) is gone all of the traces and resistor (RM328 and RM231) packs feeding the signal to the missing header are still there. This is good!

Adding the TTL header

I’ve taken it apart this far what’s really the harm in soldering in some header pins right? After removing the manufacturers solder and installing the header pins we were ready for the next step which is getting a USB to TTL/FTDI chip.

USB to TTL – FTDI chip.

For those who program arduino’s or debug Chinese products like the OrangePi. This is your standard USB to TTL converter using an FTDI chip. This is used by manufacturers to program and to quality check their products such as the micro-controller after assembly. You can get chips like this one from Ebay for about two U.S. dollars if you do not mind waiting for china shipping or seven to nine U.S. dollars from a local seller and they would even include a cable harness like the one pictured above.

For simplicity we pulled the plastic clips on our wiring harness to re-pin this so GND (black) , RX(yellow/white), and TX(Green) so this matches the blog. If you get one of these and plug it in for Windows 10 it should auto-detect itself as a USB to Serial cable and on our laptop it was assigned to COM3.

Installation.

 

Following the blog we then hooked up our USB to TTL cable with their respective signals going into the port. I ran into a bit of a problem though! The USB to TTL/FDTI chip kept powering itself off every time I powered the router on!

This was a big problem because you have less then a few seconds before the bootloader kicks in and you missed your opportunity to stop the Linksys firmware from loading. This is possibly due to an initial power surge coming down the lines and knocking out my chip. We got around this by holding the router in two hands. One hand over the power switch and the other hovering over the port ready to hot-plug in our TTL interface. After the second try I was able to hot-plug the interface in and hit that enter button on PuTTY to get that golden IPQ prompt.

Mission success!

WTF manufacturing hell!

Sidenote: You’re probably wondering why the wireless cables look shredded! We didn’t do it actually! Nether did anyone else because the warranty sticker was still in tact when we received this router. Linksys during the manufacturing process laser etched U-hooks on the corners of the system board to act as cable management. The cable gap is so small that whoever was assembling them at the factory just slammed them in as hard and fast as they can. Most of it is insulation but in some cases the RF shielding is frayed. Linksys probably outsourced the assembly to the lowest dollar and it shows with how careless they were in assembly. Good job!

Installing the DD-WRT firmware.

We can finally go back to the mrjcd’s original blog, Launch the TFTP application as well as Putty and pass the following commands:

setenv image EA8500-factory-to-ddwrt.img
setenv ipaddr 192.168.1.1
setenv serverip 192.168.1.2
run flashimg

and

setenv image EA8500-factory-to-ddwrt.img
setenv ipaddr 192.168.1.1
setenv serverip 192.168.1.2
run flashimg2

We forgot to copy the image to the second partition which resulted in the Linksys firmware coming back.

After typing in the reboot command we were able to setup our password and login to our router. Also following the instructions we upgraded the firmware to our router to Kong’s latest image so that the CPU clock doesn’t drop below 800mhz when idle. The results in having the routers website load almost instantaneously for you. DD-WRT’s FTP server has a brainslayer image for the E8500 which would be more stable then Kong. However because of the nature Brainslayers image system operates they don’t update as frequently.

Special thanks to:

  • mrjcd for their awesome website that showed me how to make a one-hundred dollar router even better!
  • DD-WRT for making better firmware. Seriously guys donate to them. They do good work.
  • WikiDevices for keeping stats on the Linksys and showing me its power requirements when Linksys is too incompetent to print it on the back of their router.

Final thoughts.

DD-WRT and OpenWRT have been around for an incredibly long time and their communities are finding new and awesome ways of freeing routers from the shit-software that is put onto them. We remembered flashing our first Linksys WRT54G V2 router with DD-WRT firmware and it was the most amazing experience ever. Taking a router which can barely handle data and giving us features of what we would normally expect out of more commercial products. Despite the years that have gone by with Linksys it appears that they’ve learned almost nothing from their mistakes. In fact, Linksys seems to want to double-down by blocking firmware on routers keeping the end-user locked in a state or crap-software turmoil. Where-as other companies like NetGear and ASUS were willing to entertain such ideas.

As for the router itself? Can’t complain out the price now that DD-WRT is on it! However, we do now understand why gaming/streaming routers are awesome and honestly they are worth the money! The extra processing power works perfectly with my NordVPN and only take a 10 percent loss in speed when its enabled which is WAY better then 80 percent performance loss with the Netgear router. Most importantly, it’s the wireless bandwidth that makes up for this router. showing in the picture above my devices now move way faster then before which is necessary for high-definition video streaming.

When you buy a piece of hardware that you hold in your hands. It’s yours to do with as you please. In some cases you’ll be around longer then half of the companies that made the hardware. It is your right to hack it and your responsibility to not blow it up if fail. If you do blow it up at least have a good laugh about it! Any company that lectures you that you didn’t really buy the product you hold in your hand seeks only to control you.

+++END OF LINE.

 

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