Home Networking – Archer C7 with OpenWRT and the Zoom 5370

So I’ve recently relocated for work, and have moved across the States for a bit 🙂

As part of the transition, I’ve had to get a new apartment, and took the opportunity to re-work my internet stack. I had a really poor experience with my last cable modem, the Motorola SB6141 – it kept rebooting every 45 minutes or so, and after reading numerous threads full of people having similar issues, I don’t think I was the only one – so I decided to jump ship on the Motorola modems and try something new.

I found the Zoom 5370 after I had used the older model to replace my failing SB6141 at my previous residence. I don’t *need* the extra overhead (The model I just bought is 16×4 channels instead of 8×4) as my plan will likely be one of the lower service tiers to keep cost down, but I figured I’d get it anyway to future-proof my purchase 🙂

So far, the modem has been spectacular! It’s the stability I’ve come to know and love from the Zoom modems, at a price point that’s competitive. It reminds me of what I *used* to know the Motorola Surfboards for, it’s just a bit of a jump for a lot of people who had come to trust the Motorola brand. I *highly* recommend giving this a shot if you’re in the market for something new and have a supported cable provider (Comcast or Time Warner I can personally vouch for, not sure who else this works with).

Beyond that, I went with a router that I’ve had a great experience with before, the TP-Link Archer C7. While the last time I bought this and used it I kept the stock firmware on there, I decided that this time I was going to flash it with OpenWRT and use that, despite the fact that there is a known slowdown from WAN -> LAN ports. I followed these instructions, which were spot on but used a different TFTP server as I was doing this from a windows box.

After the first flash attempt, the router never successfully rebooted. I saw the successful transfer of the OpenWRT firmware, but then things kinda stopped. It would reboot, but instead of coming back up fully, I’d just get the power light, and the single ethernet port light that my cable was plugged into. The TFTP firmware update method worked like a charm, despite it looking like I had just bricked my brand new router, and I was able to use that same process to get the stock TP-Link firmware back up and running :). I was disappointed that things didn’t work the first try, I was  but I was determined to make this work.

After a frustrating few hours, I finally got fed up with trying every stable version OpenWRT (Most recent version is Chaos Calmer 15.05.1) or DD-WRT (I tried these just in case) and went off to download a nightly build of OpenWRT. To my amazement, it loaded and worked the very first time! Of course, I had to ssh to the router and install LuCI, the OpenWRT GUI, but otherwise the setup was flawless. Had I read the ‘notes’ in the Quickstart Guide on the OpenWRT wiki first, I would have seen that newer versions of the Archer C7 have a new flash chip that requires a nightly build of OpenWRT, instead of the most recent ‘stable’ build. Live and learn I guess 🙂

Oh, one last thing! To get 5ghz WiFi working you’ll also need to install the ath10k drivers and firmware. You can do it via SSH by typing:

opkg update && opkg install kmod-ath10k ath10k-firmware-qca988x

Or by installing the two packages – kmod-ath10k and ath10k-firmware-qca988x – from the LuCI GUI in the admin console, then rebooting.

Just thought I’d post and get some good info out there as a google search during my unsuccessful flashing didn’t yield any meaningful results. If your TP-Link Archer C7 isn’t rebooting properly after a flash with OpenWRT, at least you’ll know what’s up 🙂