Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Configuring Adaptive QoS in Asuswrt-Merlin

When your Internet connection is congested (most or all of its allocated bandwidth is used up) either from time to time, or most of the time, Quality of Service (QoS) is a mechanism for you to prioritize bandwidth usage based on network tasks and applications.

However, if your Internet connection is not congested most of the time (allocated bandwidth is hardly used up), it is advisable for you to turn off QoS function. This is because QoS won't make your Internet connection become faster, as your Internet connection is limited by your ISP allocation of maximum upload and download bandwidth. In fact, enabling QoS will incur additional workload to your router and your local network.

QoS is essential for a congested network to ensure that certain network tasks and applications will not be severely affected by the congestion by giving priority to their network traffic, at the sacrifices of those with lower priority. Turn on QoS when your Internet is congested will give you a better Internet experience if you configure it properly.

Bear in mind that QoS normally won't work together with Hardware Acceleration. Enabling QoS will cause the router to automatically shut down partial or all of the Hardware Acceleration function.

In the Asuswrt and Asuswrt-Merlin Game Boost screen, there is a LAN Boost - One Click Game First mode. That is actually a short cut to an adaptive QoS setting that turn on adaptive QoS and set Online Gaming with the highest priority of all network traffic. If you want to give the highest priority to other tasks such as Media Streaming instead of Online Gaming, make sure you turn off this LAN Boost - One Click Game First mode.

When you click into the Adaptive QoS menu, you will be presented with the Bandwidth Monitor screen. This screen is functioning regardless QoS is switch on or off in your router. It is a very useful screen to tell you the real time bandwidth usage of your network between the router.

Upload Bandwidth and Download Bandwidth is visually shown in the form of a speedometer. From this display, you can immediately know whether your Internet link is congested or not.

The same information is also obtainable in the Asus Router mobile apps connected to the router.

Below it is a list of hosts connected to the router, and their real time upload and download bandwidth usage respectively.

If you turn on Apps analysis, you can click on the icon of any of the hosts, and the screen will show a breakdown of bandwidth usage by the applications running in the host.

If you would like to turn on QoS function, recommended settings are as below:
  • QoS type: Adaptive QoS
  • Bandwidth Setting: Automatic Setting
  • Queue Discipline: fq_codel
  • WAN packet overhead: select the correct preset according to your Internet connection type
Click here if you are interested to understand more on the technical among the 3 queue disciplines of Stochastic Fairness Queueing (SFQ), Controlled Delay (CoDel) and Fair Queueing Controlled Delay (fq_CoDel).

You can then determine which kind of applications are going to have the highest priority to access the Internet: Games, Media Streaming or Web Surfing.

If you choose Customize, you are given control to customize the priority among the following traffic types:
  • Gaming
  • Video and Audio Streaming
  • VoIP and Instant Messaging
  • Web Surfing
  • File Transferring
  • Others
You can mouse over to each of them for more description of the traffic type respectively.

If you have QoS enabled, you can view the QoS Statistics screen to have an idea of the bandwidth usage by each of the traffic types.

Web History records down a log on the websites visited by the hosts. I find it no harm to enable or disable it. Even if you disabled it, it seems that the logging still be ongoing behind the scene. I also noticed that this Web History does not display every single website visited by the hosts.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Configuring AiProtection in Asuswrt-Merlin and Asuswrt

One of the selling points for Asus wireless routers is their AiProtection feature, providing real-time network monitoring and protection with its Trend Micro Deep Packet Inspection engine. This is a kind of enterprise-level security made available in Asus home routers.

AiProtection is signature based, which you can update its signature in Administration > Firmware Upgrade > Signature Version > Check. This is of no rival to today's enterprise-level security that uses machine learning and/or deep learning technology, but it is much better than none.

Router Security Assessment check your router settings for security best practices. If you enabled something that has potential to decrease the security protection, it will warn you by flagging that setting as a risk. It will provide you a direct link to disable that particular setting.

However, if you are clear on your requirement to enable certain settings, such as port forwarding, you can just ignore the warning.

To get the best from AiProtection, you should enable all the features of Malicious Sites Blocking, Two-Way IPS and Infected Device Prevention and Blocking.

Malicious Sites Blocking will prevent any computer in your local network to access to known malicious websites that can bring harm to your computer, such as infecting your computer with trojans, viruses, malwares, ransomwares, etc. Your computers should be installed with antivirus and Internet security software that performs this job. However, you will be surprised that there might be still some sites not detected by your computer's Internet security software but eventually blocked by your Asus router. Enabling Malicious Sites Blocking will provide double-layer protection from malicious websites on top of your computer's Internet security software. If you have a firewall with similar function behind your router, then you will have triple-layer protection.

Two-Way IPS will detect and block exploitation of a known network vulnerability, either from the Internet into your local network, or from compromized computers or IoT devices in your network trying to attack other computers or IoT devices in the Internet. This will, to certain extend, help you to protect unpatched vulnerability of your computers or IoT devices from being exploited and hacked.

Infected Device Prevention and Blocking will try to block the communication between compromised computers or IoT devices in your network and the hacker's command and control server. In this way, the hacker will not be able to easily take remote control of your compromised computers or IoT devices.

If you click on the Alert Preference button and set your email (Gmail / AOL / QQ / 163) there, you will be able to receive email alerts from your router whenever AiProtection alert is triggered.

The firmware actually provide reports for these AiProtection features in their respective tab so that you can known what threats have been intercepted, and which hosts are affected.

Parental Controls consist of Web & Apps Filters and Time Scheduling.

Parental Controls are host based and block traffic based on the source MAC address of the host accessing to the Internet. It is automatically enabled if you set one or more family members in Asus Router mobile apps as below 18 years-old and assign one or more hosts under them. The mobile apps will block them from accessing to Adult websites.

Beside adult websites, Web & Apps Filters can also block a host from accessing to Instant Message and Communication, P2P and File Transfer, and Streaming and Entertainment in the Internet.

Note that you can expand each of the 4 categories for finer blocking settings. For example, Adult category consists of Pornography, Illegal and Violence and Gambling sub-categories.

Enabling Web & Apps Filters will consume some of your router's CPU and memory, and will make web browsing slightly slower.

If you are using Asuswrt-Merlin firmware, there is another alternative called DNS Filter to do the filtering at the DNS server.

Time Scheduling function allows you to set time blocks in each of the days in a week that a particular host is allowed to access Internet. Internet access will be blocked for that particular host when the time is outside the allowed timeframe. You can set multiple blocks within a day.

This is only useful if the host is dedicated to a person or some persons that need to obey to your time scheduling. If it is a shared computer used by the whole family, then every family member will need to obey to the time scheduling when using that computer. There will be no exception.

You will notice that if you have any of the Parental Controls settings enabled, there are additional Port Forwarding entries automatically defined in your router. Those Port Forwarding entries will disappear after you disabled the setting.

Parental Controls are nice features to have. For better router performance, you might want to disable them, unless necessary to use them to guard your children Internet access.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Configuring Guest Network in Asuswrt-Merlin and Asuswrt

If you are reluctant to give out your WiFi password to your guests who want to borrow your WiFi to get their mobiles devices to connect to the Internet when they are visiting your place, you can set up a Guest Network for them.

Guest Network is a useful function to allow guest or public Internet access while separating them from your own internal network. Asus Guest Network also has some advanced features for you to impose restrictions such as access time, bandwidth limiting, MAC filter, etc.

The Guest Network function in Asuswrt-Merlin firmware should be the same as in original Asuswrt firmware. It allows you to configure up to 3 separate Guest Networks for 2.4GHz wireless band and up to another 3 separate Guest Networks for 5GHz wireless band.

If your Asus router has two 5GHz wireless bands, then you'll have yet another 3 separate Guest Networks for your second 5GHz wireless band.

It is advisable for you to set an SSID for Guest Network that is different from your regular WiFi SSID.

If you set the Authentication Method to "Open System", anyone around your wireless router can connect to your Guest Network without the need of any password. It is advisable to set the Authentication Method to "WPA2-Personal" and set the WPA Pre-Shared Key as the password to connect to your Guest Network, which can be different from your regular WiFi password.

You can optionally restrict the Access Time of this particular Guest Network. For example, if you set the Access Time to 2 hours, the Internet access for this Guest Network will be cut off 2 hours after you clicked on the Apply button.

You can also optionally limit the Download Bandwidth and/or Upload Bandwidth for this Guest Network. If you set the value to 0 Mb/s or higher than your Internet access bandwidth assigned by your ISP, then it is not restricted.

If you enable Access Intranet, the devices connected to this Guest Network is able to access to networked devices connected to any of the LAN ports of your Asus router. If you use a switch to expand the network linked to a LAN port, all the devices connected to the switch are also accessible by the Guest Network. In this way, your Intranet is exposed to your guest.

If you disable Access Intranet, your guest won't be able to access to any networked devices connected to the LAN ports of your Asus router. However, they can still access to the devices connected to your WiFi, including those connected to your regular WiFi network.

If you want to also disable access to your WiFi connected devices, you can Set AP Isolated for a particular wireless band under Advanced Settings > Wireless > Professional. However, this setting is not Guest Network specific, and will affect all the devices connected to that particular wireless band.

If you want to only isolate the Guest Network from other wireless devices, you can explore into YazFi expansion for Asuswrt-Merlin. You can click here to find out more information about YazFi expansion in SNBForums, including its installation method and sample configuration file.

You can also optionally make use of MAC Filter to specify which mobile devices is allowed or not allowed to connect to this particular Guest Network.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Update firmware of Asus wireless router to the enhanced Asuswrt-Merlin version

Asuswrt-Merlin is a 3rd party enhanced version of Asuswrt, which is the official firmware in used by all recent Asus wireless routers. Asuswrt was originally forked out from the Tomato-RT/Tomato-USB firmware, which in turn developed base on the codes of Linux-based HyperWRT, a 3rd party enhanced firmware for Linksys routers.

Asuswrt-Merlin is mainly developed and maintained by Eric Sauvageau (a.k.a. RMerlin) based on the Asuswrt firmware developed and maintained by Asus technical team.

Asuswrt consists of open sourced GPL codes as well as closed source proprietary components. Asus releases the source codes of Asuswrt firmware in their website, with the closed source portion included as compiled binary codes. This GPL release includes everything needed to completely recompile a working firmware, with the exact same features as found in their firmware releases, making it possible to enhance it into Asuswrt-Merlin firmware.

The general goal of Asuswrt-Merlin project is to provide an alternative to the original firmware, and remain in sync with Asus's own development of each firmware release, so that new features and bugfixes development in original Asuswrt firmware can be trickled down into the subsequent Asuswrt-Merlin firmware.

Asuswrt-Merlin is intended to improve but not to replace the original Asuswrt firmware functionality. Its priorities are: Stability > Performance > Additional Features.

The website of Asuswrt-Merlin is https://asuswrt.lostrealm.ca, and you can click here to view the list of its enhancements made on top of the original Asuswrt firmware.

There is an Asuswrt-Merlin forum in the SNBForums for community discussion and support of this firmware, and RMerlin himself is an active participant and moderator there.

To date, Asuswrt-Merlin is made available and supported for the following Asus wireless routers:

  • RT-AC66U_B1
  • RT-AC68U, RT-AC68P, RT-AC68UF, RT-AC1900, RT-AC1900P
  • RT-AC86U, RT-AC2900
  • RT-AC87U
  • RT-AC88U
  • RT-AC3100
  • RT-AC3200
  • RT-AC5300
You can check for new release of Asuswrt-Merlin firmware at the following places:
  • If your router is already installed with Asuswrt-Merlin firmware, you can check for new firmware version by clicking the Check button in Administration > Firmware Upgrade > Firmware Version in the firmware's web GUI.
  • By manually searching for new topic in Asuswrt-Merlin forum with title "[Release] Asus-Merlin 384.x is now available".

You can click here to go to the download webpage of Asuswrt-Merlin firmware in its website, or click here to go to its main download site at SourceForge.

At the SourceForge download site, select your Asus router model correctly, then select Release, and download the latest version of firmware accordingly. The firmware is packaged in a ZIP file.

After the download, you need to unzip the file. Before uploading the firmware file to your Asus router, it is advisable for you to check for its SHA256 signature and match it with the checksum information inside the sha256sum.sha256 file. This is to make sure you won't upload a corrupted file to your router and potentially brick the router.

The easiest way to perform a file checksum in Windows is by using 7-Zip. Once you have installed 7-Zip in your Windows computer, you can right click on the file, select "CRC SHA" and then select "SHA-256" to get the SHA256 signature of the file.

If you want to install Asuswrt-Merlin firmware into a new router, make sure you have gone through the Quick Internet Setup wizard to get the initial configuration of the original firmware. You don't need to do this if you are installing to router already in used, be it currently running on original Asuswrt firmware or Asuswrt-Merlin firmware.

It is advisable for you to manually record down your major settings by using printscreen, and also make a backup of your existing settings by going to Administration > Restore/Save/Upload Settings. Save both your Router Settings and JFFS Partition (the later might not be applicable to stock firmware) to your local computer.

Then, you can proceed to go to Firmware Upgrade section, click on Choose File, select the Asuswrt-Merlin firmware file which you have downloaded, and Upload it to your router. The firmware updating process will begin, and your router will be rebooted.

Normally, your router will be up-and-running with no lost of previous settings after the firmware update. If you find it not working properly, you can try to Initialize your router to Factory Default, take out your printed screens and redo all your settings from scratch. If you still facing any problem, you can go to SNBForums and seek for help there.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Heat dissipating solution for Asus RT-AC86U router with USB cooling fans

The Asus RT-AC86U wireless router has a stand-up design and its heat management is relying on passive cooling.

Unlike those flatbed routers which we can easily provide heat dissipating solution to them by using normal laptop USB cooling fans, the temperature management solution for this stand-up router needs some tweaking to attach external fans to it. Luckily, there is ready made solution in the market, and it is quite cheap too.

If you are using AsusWRT-Merlin firmware in the router, you are able to read the runtime temperature reported at its Broadcom BCM4709 processor (CPU), Broadcom BCM4365E 2.4GHz WiFi SoC chipset and Broadcom BCM4366E 5GHz WiFi SoC chipset respectively.

In normal operation, the temperature at 2.4GHz WiFi chipset stays around 50-55 degree Celsius and the temperature at 5GHz WiFi chipset stays around 55-60 degree Celsius. However, the dual-core CPU temperature is always on the high side, staying above 70 degree Celsius, and there are users reporting that it can go up to above 90 degree Celsius.

If you are feeling uncomfortable with these kind of temperature readings and would like to lower them down to a more comfortable level, you just need to install a pair of external USB cooling fans at the back of the router.

The two 7cm fans are powered by 5V DC from the USB 2.0 port of the router itself. You can also plug it to the router's USB 3.0 port, but that port is normally used by external storage, USB Internet dongle, etc.

It is attached to the back of the router using 3M double-sided tape provided in the cooling fans set package.

Within 20 minutes, the pair of fans are able to cool down about 5 degree Celsius to both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz chipsets respectively. They can effectively cool down the temperature of the CPU by a whopping 20 degree Celsius.

With this heat dissipating solution, now the temperature at the 2.4GHz chipset reduced to around 45 degree Celsius, and the temperature at the 5GHz chipset reduced to around 52 degree Celsius. The CPU temperature greatly reduced to around 53 degree Celsius.

If I power down the fans by unplugging it from the router's USB port, all the 3 temperature readings will gradually increase, and went back to the previous high level within 20 minutes.

The fans are rotating at relatively low speed at 2100 RPM, making them pretty quiet. You can hardly hear their noise unless putting your ear very close to them during silent night.

According to their specifications, their noise level is at 18 dBA only. Their lifespan is around 50,000 hours, which is equivalent to over 2000 days, long enough to serve for the entire lifespan of the router.

Other than Asus RT-AC86U, this pair of USB cooling fans can also be used for Asus RT-AC68U router as both of them are having very identical size and casing build.

Monday, October 1, 2018

My Asus RT-AC86U AC2900 wireless dual-band MU-MIMO gigabit router with TM UniFi and Maxis Home Fibre support

The Asus RT-AC86U is a multimedia wireless router with gaming support, which you can also classify it as an entry level gaming router. For more powerful gaming router that gives you great online gaming experience, you should look for the ROG series instead.

It is the successor of the popular Asus RT-AC68U router, with similar stand-up design, identical front LED panel, rear connectors and buttons, but the internal circuit board is totally different. Thanks to this stand-up design, it has a much smaller footprint compared with those flatbed routers.

The CPU of this Asus RT-AC86U is powered by a dual-core Broadcom BCM4906 64-bit processor clocked at 1.8GHz (ARM v8 Cortex A53 architecture built with 28nm technology), which is apparently more powerful than the Broadcom BCM4709 processor used in Asus RT-AC88U AC3100 wireless router.

More powerful CPU provides better user experience for the more CPU intensive tasks, such as when using USB 3.0, SMB v2, data encryption, etc.

This Asus RT-AC86U is an AC2900 wireless dual-band MU-MIMO gigabit router. Oddly, it has lesser number of antennas compared with most of its counterparts in the market. It has 3 dual-band external antennas and 1 more internal antenna for the 5GHz radio band. Well, do not be fooled by this appearance. Indeed, its wireless signal strength and reach is pretty powerful.

Powered by Broadcam's NitroQAM support with 1024-state quadrature amplitude modulation (1024-QAM), if the connecting wireless device is also supporting 1024-QAM, each data stream of its 2.4GHz band can have a maximum data transfer rate of 250Mbps, and each data stream of its 5GHz band can have a maximum data transfer rate of 541Mbps. Both are 25% higher than the older TurboQAM technology (each 2.4GHz band = 200Mbps, each 5GHz band = 433Mbps) in used by predeccessing wireless routers such as Asus RT-AC68U.

Its 2.4GHz radio band is powered by a Broadcom BCM4365E 3×3:3 SoC chipset, able to serve a combined maximum data transfer rate of 3 streams of 250Mbps = 750Mbps.

Its 5GHz radio band is powered by a Broadcom BCM4366E 4×4:4 SoC chipset, able to serve a combined maximum data transfer rate of 4 streams of 541Mbps = 2,164Mbps.

However, most of the mobile devices nowadays are still using the 256-QAM technology, which supports maximum data transfer rate of 600Mbps in 2.4GHz and 1,733Mbps in 5GHz. Only the latest mobile devices with 1024-QAM support are able to unleash its full potential of serving 750Mbps in 2.4GHz and 2,164 in 5GHz.

The 2.4GHz wireless network of this router just performs a decent job, on par with other good quality wireless routers. Its main strength is on the 5GHz wireless network, which surprisingly having a very strong, far and stable reach. It is still detectable and accessible in locations which are beyond the reach of the 5GHz wireless network of my previous router.

With this Asus RT-AC86U router serving from the middle of my house, I don't even need to use any range extender to have stable and fast WiFi in every corner of my house. The WiFi signal, powered by Asus Range Boost technology and AiRadar beamforming, can also be detected further away from outside the house.

This Asus RT-AC86U has a total flash memory of 256 MB, and RAM of 512 MB. Both are doubled when compared with Asus RT-AC68U. It is pretty feature rich, configurable through Asus' famous AsusWRT web interface.

It has dual WAN support, which the second WAN link can be supplied using a 4G USB dongle or USB modem, or making use of one of its gigabit LAN ports for WAN purpose. The secondary WAN link can be configured for load-balancing or standby as failover backup link.

It supports TM UniFi IPTV by simple setting and connecting its LAN Port #4 to the TM UniFi set-top-box. It also supports IPv6 flawlessly.

It supports up to 3 separate Guest Networks in the 2.4GHz band, and up to another 3 separate Guest Networks in the 5GHz band.

Being a multimedia wireless router, it has features such as AiCloud 2.0 which enables the router to provide file server function and even media server function by attaching USB storage device such as USB thumb drive or USB external harddisk to its USB 3.0 port.

You can configure for the file server function and/or media server function to be accessible from local network only, or even from the Internet. Having dynamic WAN IP is not a problem, as you can configure the router to make use of DDNS service, so that you can always connect back to your router with its DDNS domain name.

By making use of Samba service, it can also provide Smart Access function for you to remotely access through Internet to the shared files and resources in your local network.

Access to AiCloud 2.0 can be made via its web interface, or by using the free AiCloud Android or iOS mobile app.

Its USB 3.0 file sharing is pretty fast. Accessed from LAN, my Transcend StoreJet 5400 rpm 1TB portable hard disk with NTFS partition attached to the router is accessible with a read speed of 101 MB/s (808 Mbps) and a write speed of 89.9 MB/s (719.2 Mbps).

It provides AiProtection feature with Trend Micro, with malicious sites blocking, 2-way IPS and infected device prevention & blocking. This is able to give you an additional layer of protection at the network perimeter, on top of the antivirus/anti-malware protection that you installed in your computers. You would not be surprised to see AiProtection successfully intercepted some malicious website accesses that skipped through your computer's antivirus/anti-malware screening.

It also equipped with Parental Controls function that enable you to block access to websites of certain criteria (such as adult websites). In addition, you can set time scheduling for the computers and network devices in your network so that they are restricted to access the Internet during certain time period.

Parental Controls works best together with the free Asus Router mobile app available for Android and iOS. In the mobile app, you can define which network devices are used by which family member, and the mobile app will block the adult websites for your children under 18 years old.

Its Adaptive QoS function enables you to set priority for certain network traffic, useful for online gaming. You can also configure it to make use of WTFast Gamers Private Network for faster online gaming experience.

This Asus RT-AC86U has quite frequent firmware updates, particularly to patch up security issues or to fix performance issues. Other than using the stock firmware, you also have option to install customized firmware such as the AsusWRT-Merlin firmware which is developed based on the stock firmware and more emphasis on security, usability and stability.

Hint: Click on the "Older Posts" link to continue reading, or click here for a listing of all my past 3 months articles.