Practical Technology

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Cisco releases Linux-powered 802.11n router and media-server


This just came in over the press-wire, and I’m already interested. Cisco has announced on June 23 that a new Linux powered router, the Linksys by Cisco Wireless-N Broadband Router with Storage Link, the WRT160NL is out.

At first glance that may not seem that interesting. But, this isn’t just a new Wi-Fi router with Linux. Cisco, via its Linksys subsidiary has long been offering users Linux-powered, hackable Wi-Fi routers like the WRT54GL. But, this one also includes integrated Storage Link functionality that lets you use inexpensive USB storage devices as NAS (Network Attached Storage) and a built-in media-sharing server that Cisco says can handle video, photo, and music sharing.

Since Cisco has recently made peace with the Free Software Foundation, we can count on the WRT160NL being wide-open for firmware developers. With that combination of NAS and media-server already in there, this sounds to me to be one very interesting device for those of us who like to tamper with our Wi-Fi and storage hardware.

What we know now is that the Storage Link port, a USB 2.0 port, will let you connect USB storage devices to the router. You can control access to them through the device’s Web page. From there you can also control access to your music and video files. According to Cisco, “The media server can stream to PCs or UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) AV digital media adapters.

For a while UPnP was something of a dead protocol for media devices. In the last few months though UPnP is showing signs of life, and I think UPnP devices like DirecTV’s HR-21 HD might yet become a real challenger to Apple TV, which, proprietary and all, is still the best media-extender around.

I wish I knew more about the WRT160NL’s media server, but none of the online documentation goes into any detail on it. I hope to have a review copy in hand soon to be able to report what’s what with it.

The integrated Storage Link port comes ready to support FAT16, FAT32 and NTFS file systems. I’ll make the easiest prediction I’ll ever make by saying that I expect to see Linux file formats like Ext3 and Ext4 running on it soon.

Like all too many devices, it only comes with a Windows and Mac setup software. On the other hand, any experienced home network or Linux user shouldn’t have a bit of trouble getting it setup to work with Linux.

For security, the WRT160NL supports WEP, WPA, WPA2, RADIUS, SPI Firewall. It also supports NAT and Wireless MAC filtering.

The WRT160NL uses 802.11n draft 2.0 certified for Wi-Fi. Someday, somehow, 802.11n will finally become a real standard, but that day still hasn’t happened. Like all such devices, it also supports 802.11b and 802.11g. The WRT160NL also comes with 4 Ethernet/Fast Ethernet ports. It’s a pity it doesn’t come with Gigabit Ethernet.

The WRT160NL uses a 400Mhz processor. I’m not sure, but I believe that’s an Atheros 9130 400 MHz CPU under the hood. It also has 8 MBs of Flash memory, and 32 MBs of DDRAM. That’s not enough to turn it into a full-scale server in a Wi-Fi box, but it’s more than enough to support the functionality it already comes with and to offer some very interesting possibilities for home hackers.

Personally, I’m already planning to see just how much functionality I can squeeze into this box as a media server. With a list price-tag of $110, this is one device I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on.