Custom Router Firmware Overview

We often discuss DD-WRT and Tomato as custom, open-source router firmware that can help you make your router better and give it more functionality and so we thought it was time to do a comparison review of the four primary firmware available out there or to put in other words; Tomato vs DD-WRT vs Open-WRT vs Sabai.

Note: We can’t take any responsibility if you brick your router due to trying a custom firmware on it.


Unlike DD-WRT, the basic Tomato firmware  has not been updated in years and lacks a lot. However a number of advanced builds have been produced from this, most notably Shibby, (the Wikipedia article has a fantastic table showing which build supports what as well as update dates) and these are frequently updated.

Tomato is most notable for it’s easy to use GUI and monitoring tools as well as the fact that some people believe that it is more optimized for VPN and hence provides better speeds (personally we have not been able to verify this). The let down with Tomato is that it only supports Broadcom chipsets and even then it is limited so if you definitely want to use Tomato then you’re going to have to look for very specific routers. Also with the number of different forks you may have to play around to find the one ideal for you.

Just like DD-WRT, Tomato allows plenty of customization such as QoS (Quality of Service), remote access through FTP, SSH, etc and so on. However with the different builds you can get access to different services and monitoring tools. The big advantage is that you do not need to reboot after most changes unlike with other firmware.


DD-WRT is the most common firmware that comes to mind when customer router firmware is mentioned and there is a good reason for this. Not only does it support a large amount of  routers (with variable chip sets) out there but it also has the largest user base and hence best community and developers.


Developed in 2005 DD-WRT allows users to use their routers in advanced ways that the standard router firmware would not allow and thereby providing them with a large range of control. DD-WRT firmware is available in a number of sizes from the tiny 2MB Tiny to the 8MB Big Build which allows it to function well on a number of devices – of course the smaller the build the less built in functionality it has.

Though the core version of DD-WRT is updated infrequently there is new builds with small improvements and changes on a monthly basis. It is definitely the best firmware for most people as there is plenty of help and support for it and provides a large range of customization. It is also possible to preflashed routers through FlashRouters if you do not want to risk bricking your router or plan on buying a new one.


Open-WRT is the firmware that supports the largest range of devices and since it is essentially a full linux distribution you can use it to achieve any task that you wish as long as you install the packages that you want and configure them to your needs.

Unfortunately all this customization and availability comes at the costs that you need a lot of tech experience and knowledge in order to be set it up so that it is functioning perfectly and correctly so it’s biggest advantage is also its biggest weakness.


Sabai is the only paid service on our list which provides it with a bit of a downside but overall it’s a reasonable service with plenty of popularity so we thought we’d give it a mention.

The Sabai OS is actually based on a Tomato backend so it shares plenty of similarities with it including the fact that it is only available for routers with a Broadcom chipset. Both the GUI and settings options are very similar to that of Tomato but with improved user interface and simplified settings making it easier for the average person to use.

The advantage of Sabai Technologies is that being a paid service you get much better help and support and therefore you do not need to carry out endless internet browsing in order to solve your problems. They have also optimised their firmware for VPN so it is much easier to connect and switch connection types and locations without the need to reboot your router (something that can be a bit of an annoyance with the other firmwares).


Overall they are all great services but here is our recommended use:
1) If you’ve got absolutely no idea and want as little involvement as possible use Sabai
2) If you have basic knowledge but want most things of the block then use DD-WRT
3) If you have more technical experience and looking for something more specific then Tomato might be your option
4) If you’re looking for something fully customisable and you have high tech skills than look at OpenWRT

And remember if you don’t want to the fuss of installing the firmware yourself Sabai do it themselves and FlashRouters provides both DD-WRT and Tomato flashed routers.

Peter Selmeczy I am an engineer by trade and tech geek by night, who's passionate about sharing his knowledge with the people. Find me on Google+.

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2 responses to “Custom Router Firmware Overview

  1. Thank you for a very informative article. I own a Netgear WNDR 4500 and I see that some providers of flashed routers claim you can run DD-WRT on it. The DD-WRT web site however indicates the port is a “work in progress”. Are you aware of successful DDWRT flashes on this or more advance routers from Netgear.
    I am primarily interested in establishing VPN connections to my home network to stream Video to my iPad. Which router and hardware and firmware would you recommend.

    1. Hi Victor

      I probably came across the same information that you did – and that it’s not fully supported. I found a guide for Beta installs but these tend to have bugs here and there so up to you to try that. We have previously reviewed the R7000 from Netgear and that is a beast and can support DD-WRT and Tomato.
      Depending on your price range I’d recommend that (or even the R8000) or the AC1450 tends to be a popular cheaper option as well.

      Hope that helps.

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