When it comes to motherboards, many motherboard manufacturers will openly state in very plain sight (usually right next to the download link) that if the BIOS is in good working order and you’re encountering no problems, don’t upgrade.
When it comes to wireless routers on the other hand, we’re instructed to always keep the firmware updated to the latest revision.
But should you?
Before I answer that question, I’ll tell a small story of something that happened to me recently.
On my TrendNET wireless router, I updated the firmware. After that, my laptop absoultely would not get a Wireless N connection over 72.2 Mbps whereas I would get a solid 150 Mbps before. After doing some research on this, it seemed that the firmware update on the router prevented a 40MHz channel width and only allowed 20MHz, hence the 72.2 and not the 150 connection. With a 20MHz channel width, 72.2 Mbps is as fast as you’ll get with N, and to go any higher (60, 90, 120, 135 and 150), the 40MHz width needs to be opened up.
And before anyone asks, no, my router doesn’t allow a forced 40MHz width, nor is it DD-WRT compatible. If it did, I would have used it. The admin program in the browser only has the two options of “Auto 20/40MHz” and “20MHz”.
So… left with only one option, I downgraded the firmware to the previous version. The end result is that I got my 150 Mbps connection right back because the 40MHz channel width was opened up like it was supposed to be in the first place.
Is there a noticeable difference between 72.2 and 150 Mbps? For me there is. I specifically notice it when buffering YouTube video content, as 150 is a whole lot faster on the download.
Downgrading firmware on a wireless router is usually a bad idea
I just told the story above of how I downgraded my router’s firmware yet now I’m saying that doing that is usually a bad idea. You’re probably confused at this point. I’ll explain.
When I checked the revision notes between version to version of the firmware, nothing in the newer version addressed any security-related issues. This told me that the newer firmware version wasn’t any safer than the previous, so I considered it safe enough to go ahead with the downgrade.
If however the newer version did address security-related issues, I wouldn’t have done the downgrade. The wireless router is my hardware-based firewall, and that thing has to be kept up-to-date as far as security is concerned because it’s the “first line of defense” to prevent others from busting into my network.
My final advice concerning wireless router firmware is this:
Before upgrading, check the revision notes from version to version; this will be listed on the web site where you download it from. If there is nothing in the description that lists any security patches, don’t upgrade unless there is an absolute needed fix to improve router performance. Said in simpler terms: If nothing is wrong, don’t upgrade.
If you do have to upgrade, backup your router’s firmware first. If there is no option to do so in your router’s administration program, see if you can download an identical version of your existing firmware before updating to the new version just in case something goes wrong and you need that old version back.
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