Having tested numerous wireless routers, I’ve been unable to find one that met my every need. Routers may offer great security but not support port forwarding. Other devices support port forwarding but provide weak encryption or limited coverage area. In the end, I decided to stop looking and build my own wireless router. Using an old Dell computer, a few wired and wireless network cards, and the ClarkConnect Linux distribution, I built a custom wireless router that offered strong security, great management tools, and plenty of range.
The foundation of my custom wireless router is an old Dell desktop, which was doing little more than gathering dust. The machine has a 500 MHz Intel CPU with 256MB of RAM and a 20GB hard drive. The machine also has a small-form-factor case and relatively small power supply-making it perfect for hiding on an empty closet shelf and easy on my utility budget. Your machine will also need a few networks cards. My router uses two Ethernet network cards and one wireless card. This configuration supports a single wired Internet connection and both wired and wireless LAN connections.
With the hardware ready, you can now choose an appropriate operating system and software suite, which will provide the actual routing and management tools. Before beginning this project, I knew my router would be a Linux box, but it was only after a little digging that I found a great selection of Linux distributions that come preconfigured for wireless routing. I tried several and eventually settled on the “Community Edition” of Point Clark Networks’ ClarkConnect Linux distribution.
The Community Edition restricts the number of administrators and e-mail addresses you can create (if you plan to use the e-mail server functions) and lacks a few business-class features, but it’s free and should be sufficient for home and small business users. ClarkConnect was easy to install and provided both a router and an advanced server. Once the software was installed, the machine rebooted and launched ClarkConnect’s GUI configuration wizard.
During the configuration, ClarkConnect will ask you to specify the Ethernet card for the Internet connection and the card for the LAN connection. You’ll also need to specify the machine’s IP address, netmask, default gateway, and primary nameserver (DNS), as shown in Figure A.
ClarkConnect’s GUI based installation and configuration
Once the configuration is finished, you’re ready to take the router for a test drive. First, disconnect your current router or DHCP server and plug your network cables into the ClarkConnect box. If everything is properly configured, wired computers on your network should receive an IP address from ClarkConnect’s DHCP server and you should have Internet connectivity. At this point, ClarkConnect will not function as a wireless router. We will add that functionality through the ClarkConnect Dashboard.
Add wireless support to your ClarkConnect router
During the initial setup, ClarkConnect uses the default settings shown in Figure B for your LAN connection. The following instructions assume that you used the default LAN connection settings. If you changed the default settings, you will need to adjust the following instructions accordingly.
Assigning your LAN IP Address for the router
From the ClarkConnect Dashboard, shown in Figure C, you can fine tune the interface, update the ClarkConnect software, add wireless support, and configure advanced features like a Web server, mail server, or FTP server.
To open ClarkConnect’s GUI Dashboard and add wireless support, open a Web browser and enter the following URL:
Don’t forget to include the “https” and note that the interface uses port 81.
ClarkConnect dashboard (The first screen you will see when you log in)
To add wireless support, you must create a free account with and register your installation on the ClarkConnect Web site. Through this account you can access automatic software updates and download add-on modules for your system. Download and install the Wireless Utility from the Add-on Modules section of the ClarkConnect Web site. Once the add-on is installed, you can configure the router’s wireless setting much like you did the LAN settings.