As I’ve reported in the past, I have had some issues with my Linksys E2500 wireless routers. In particular, using Apple’s AirPlay appears to be sufficient, some of the time, to cause the wireless router to hang and require a reboot.
As I keep digging into this issue (because it has continued to occur), my frustration is reaching new heights.
Linksys E2500 Hangs
As a brief reminder, when the E2500 hangs, it doesn’t crash sufficiently to drop associated wireless devices. No, those stay associated, but are unable to communicate. This is highly frustrating behavior, and given that Cisco have apparently patched a similar problem in the E4200 it’s evident that either too few people have complained about it on the E2500, or we’re just second class citizens and not worthy of a fix. Of course, I appear to have v1 hardware for my routers (there are also a v2 and v3), which means that my last firmware update was released in 2012, where owners of the v3 hardware were treated to an update in August 2013. I am not clear what the difference is in the hardware, nor in the firmware versions (which are hardware-specific).
Further Investigations Into E2500 Crashes
I did some more digging and found other people complaining about AirPlay issues on the E2500 (and other Linksys models in the E series), and the claims were that:
- It’s a problem with 5GHz only, and disabling 5GHz WiFi will fix it.
- It’s a problem with WMM, and disabling WMM will fix it.
Remember those two diagnoses – they’ll come into play in just a moment.
Disabling WMM is simple, although it can only be done in router mode. Apparently if you bridge, you have no need of any access to most of the functions on the router, as I have discussed in a previous post. After doing so, I noticed that my MacBook Pro was connecting on 2.4GHz instead of 5Ghz, which was a bit of a surprise given that I was within 4 feet of the E2500. Some more research followed, and I discovered that apparently at least a couple of chipsets (including the ones used by Apple) could not (would not?) connect on 5GHz unless WMM was enabled. I re-enabled WMM, and my MacBook happily jumped on 5GHz again. Interesting.
Now think back to the diagnoses above: disabling WMM fixes the problem, as does disabling the 5Ghz radio. Well since many clients apparently won’t connect on 5GHz when WMM is disabled, the act of disabling WMM effectively disables use of the 5GHz channels – the same net effect as disabling the 5GHz radio. My guess then is that if the Internet’s collective intelligence is correct that this is a 5Ghz radio problem, then disabling WMM just fixes the issue by chance, rather than because WMM is, itself, a problem. The issue clearly – to me – must lie with the 5GHz radio hardware which it turns out is connected differently internally than the 2.4GHz radio, as we’ll see in a moment.
Alternatives to the E2500’s Awful Firmware
I’ve made no secret about my dislike for the E2500’s firmware, so in case there’s any doubt about it, it really is quite poor. Therefore I turned to everybody’s favorite alternative firmware, DD-WRT. The Linksys E2500 is supported by DD-WRT and there’s a Wiki page that explains how to install the firmware on the E2500. I can confirm that the process is pretty seamless, and that the installation works fine. But there’s one little, tiny, niggling caveat to the migration. If I quote from the Known Limitations section of the wiki:
The 5 GHz radio does not function on this device when running dd-wrt v24. This is because the 5 GHz radio functions off the USB bus (not the PCI bus). This is a problem because a driver has yet to be ported for the 5 GHz radio on the USB bus for any dd-wrt device.
Wait, what? No 5Ghz radio? Indeed, I installed the firmware and I can validate that the router is not active on 5Ghz. In other words, you have to really want a feature in DD-WRT (which is certainly possible) in order to decide to cripple 50% of the dual-band router you paid for.
Let’s Summarize Those Workarounds Again
So here are my choices:
|Do Nothing||E2500 hangs frequently requiring physical intervention in order to reboot|
|Disable 5GHz radio||Waste investment in dual band router but maybe fix problem|
|Disable WMM||Inadvertently keep clients off 5Ghz radio, effectively wasting investment in dual band router, but maybe fix problem|
|Install DD-WRT||Discover that 5Ghz radio is unsupported, thus effectively wasting investment in dual band router, but maybe fix problem|
|Go shopping with Ubiquiti||Probably technical happiness, but sad wallet, and wasted investment in Linksys dual band routers that have a stupid problem|
You see the problem, I’m sure. I’ve got three Linksys E2500 crashing routers. I’ve had to develop a script to proactively notify my when they hang, because they do so silently, leaving you unsure if a site is just being slow or if an E2500 has died again. Since there are three of the dang things it’s not otherwise obvious which one you were associated to, nor which one had actually died.
There’s a further wrench in this particular set of cogs, and that’s that Linksys is no longer owned by Cisco (thank goodness), and was purchased by Belkin, so presumably Belkin has some tough decisions about how far to support the hardware that Linksys sold under the Cisco banner.
So Belkin/Linksys, how about it? Is there any chance you might fix Airplay on the E2500, rev 1 hardware? As it stands, I never intend to buy another Linksys product again. The whole experience has been terrifically poor – but that was under Cisco’s watchful eye, and I’m sure that Belkin want more for their customers than that.
Whaddya think, Belkin? I’m laying down the gauntlet and hoping you’ll take up the challenge to make one sad old geek (and his long suffering WiFi-connected AirPlay-using wife, who has been spitting chunks at this problem for a long time now) a little happier, along with the thousands of other people who have discovered that their Linksys E2500 is not fit for purpose.