When it comes to router firmware, the two open-source projects that share the spotlight are DD-WRT and Tomato. Of course, we cannot forgot the OpenWrt project. But that firmware is really in a different class altogether and aimed at the developer community.
People often ask “what is the best firmware?” . . but that’s like asking “Which is better, Nissan or Toyota?” These days, I am obviously biased toward Tomato (Did you notice? 😎 ). But that has not always been the case. I’ve done some pretty cool things with DD-WRT and I have enjoyed the experience. So, this is not going to be another feature comparison review. Features only tell part of the story. And everyone has their own preference. On the contrary, what I’m going to do is share my experience from a sales and support perspective.
With the influx of questions regarding “DD-WRT vs Tomato,” . . .I decided to run a test.
And what better way to test something than to sell something, right? So I did –for 5 straight months. But first, I needed to get a handle on the global demand for each firmware. According to Google Insights, the graph below illustrates the level on interest for each firmware project (from 2005 – 2014).
So, I bought a bulk of routers and sold them on ebay, and other online retailers. It took about 5 months to sell them all. I flashed some of the routers with DD-WRT firmware, and some of them with Tomato firmware. The sales results were interesting and certainly not what I expected. The pre-sales and after-sales questions were equally interesting.
For the first couple of weeks, DD-WRT took a strong lead, totaling over 63% of my sales volume. Most of my DD-WRT customers ordered just one device. That is not what I expected. Why? Because DD-WRT has a wireless mode called “repeater bridge” which is rather appealing to those looking to extend their WiFi range. I thought, “surely, the DD-WRT customers will order multiple units.” Boy, was I wrong. It turns out that people are catching onto the fact that Tomato has a repeater-like feature of its own.
Most Tomato mods offer a mode called “Access Point + WDS” which is both a wireless bridge, and an access point. The only catch is that you need two identical routers running the same Tomato firmware (which is what you should do anyway). I use this feature in my Home office with two dual-band routers and the performance is rock solid. I use the 5GHz band for the WDS bridge, and use the 2.4GHz band for broadcasting.
Ok, back to the grind….
By the end of the test, my Tomato router sales totaled 49% and my DD-WRT router sales totaled 51%. Pretty close, wouldn’t you say? I think so. Especially when DD-WRT has been around longer, and as a result, has a larger community than Tomato.
However, sales volume is only part of the story. After all, just because McDonald’s sells a billion hamburgers doesn’t mean that they make the BEST burger in town, right? Of course not. In order to gauge satisfaction, one must also survey customers to track and record support requests, refunds, returns, etc.
The other interesting factor was the numerous amount of (after-the-sale) questions that accompanied my DD-WRT router sales. My Tomato router customers required far less support. After speaking to several different customers, my consensus was that the Tomato firmware interface was just easier for them to use. Once they understood what they wanted to achieve, they could generally accomplish things on their own once I pointed them in the right direction (or provided them with a video tutorial).
An integral part of any research is to know how much value a customer associates with a product or service. After all, something is only worth how much another person is willing to pay for it, right?
In order to obtain a baseline for perceived value, I tested both auctions and buy-now options. With an auction, the customer bids according to their own perceived value. With a buy-now option, customers are more prone to pay what your perceived value is (providing of course, that your price is within a competitive margin). The DD-WRT routers received more bids. But Tomato routers earned more revenue.
What I discovered is that my DD-WRT customers had a spending threshold of about $30 for used routers and $120 for new routers. My Tomato customers had a spending threshold of about $50 on used routers and $200+ for new routers. What this means, is that my customers who purchased a Tomato router regarded the device with a much higher perceived value –nearly double, in fact.
While value perception may seem like an arbitrary argument, it’s actually one of the most important KPI’s of any research. Even though both projects offer free, open-source firmware, perceived value leans heavily on the users personal experience. Why? Because hands-on personal experience is the only way to measure dependability, ease of use, and overall satisfaction.
Another important thing to mention is that approximately 85% of my customers were individuals and 15% of them were IT businesses. It was not surprising that most IT professionals purchased multiple routers at one time (to save on shipping, etc). But what I found most interesting, was that Tomato was often their “preferred” router firmware. No, . . .not every single IT professional preferred Tomato. Some of them were die-hard DD-WRT fans. But the majority of them (roughly 70%) preferred Tomato over DD-WRT.
When surveyed, and asked “why they chose a particular firmware over another,” my Tomato customers typically gave more technical and specific answers. Whereas, my DD-WRT customers gave more generic responses such as “Well, it’s the only firmware I have ever used” or “It’s the one I started with.” It’s important to remember that humans are not fond of change. We tend to reject things that are new or different to us.
What is my personal opinion?
Coming from someone who has used them both, I prefer Tomato almost every time. There are some rare cases where I may use DD-WRT (such as a paid captive portal for businesses, etc). But for the home user and “most” businesses, I always use Tomato. It is simple enough for the home user, yet powerful enough to keep geeks coming back for more. And –it just works.
So, one firmware is not necessarily “better” than the other. As I said, It really boils down to personal preference. It’s like anything else. If you have a bad experience with something (regardless of the cause), then you might not feel the same about it from that point forward. I find it best to remain open and give things a chance to develop, then revisit them in the future. That is what I did with Tomato many years ago and for me, it was a great move.
Both DD-WRT and Tomato offer an impressive feature set. To me, DD-WRT feels a little dated. Tomato comes with a more modern AJAX (interactive) user interface. It also comes laced with graphs for monitoring things in real-time, –important things, like bandwidth and IP traffic.