Sunday, July 12, 2009

Not-so-evil empire

I'm usually not enamoured with the customer service of big companies, and you always tend to hear all the horror stories. But I want to give a shout-out to Comcast.

Yeah, that Comcast. That same one that everybody loves to hate.

I switched from DSL to cable a couple of days ago, mainly because I had been hoping for a long time for our phone company (Qwest, who I also have had nothing but good service from) to offer faster DSL speeds. And they never did. So I decided that I should look at the alternatives.

I went for the "professional install" from Comcast, because I was pretty sure that our cable needed upgrading (it did). And since I hate renting any electronics equipment in our house, so I was off to Fry's before-hand, and I got a Comcast-approved Linksys cable modem with built-in firewall ethernet and wireless router.

Everything worked out fine, the installer was a few hours late, but he was friendly and knew what he was doing. He did say that he would have suggested going with a stand-alone modem and separate router box, but I've used Linksys routers before, so I wasn't too worried and liked the all-in-one box. I was left with some temporary cable laid in our back yard, and it's probably going to be that way for a few weeks, but all in all, a good experience.

Until later in the day, when the Linksys box rebooted.

And then it did it again. And again. Roughly once an hour or so. It came up each time, but there was a very annoying 70-second pause in my internet connection each time. I had good statistics on exactly when it happened, and how long the internet was off-line, because I'd done some silly tools to keep track of that earlier when I had had DSL line trouble (due to just bad signal and constant retraining).

In other words, it turns out that the cable installer was not just friendly and knew what he was doing, he really was right on the money. I don't know why, but that Linksys cable router is apparently total crap. And googling for it, I was clearly not the only one with the problem. It looks like you should avoid the WCG200v2 like the plague.

I asked Comcast (email support, just to see how that works) whether they can upgrade the firmware of the thing, or can do anything about it, but they answered that they can't do anything about customer equipment. Hey, fair enough. Not their fault.

So, like any self-respecting geek, I decided that I'll just buy more equipment, because let's face it, you can never have enough toys in your home. So off to Fry's I went again, and got myself a DOCSIS-3.0 motorola box and a separate Netgear router.

Not only did I decide to avoid Linksys this time, but the Netgear one made a big deal about running open-source software, and I assume the "L" at the end of the name means that the open-source in question is Linux. Sure, Linksys had a Linux router too (with a penguin!) but let's face it, they screwed up, so I'm giving the competition a go this time.

So I need to provision it (ie letting Comcast know about the new modem MAC address), so I call up Comcast. It being a Sunday afternoon, I was expecting that I'll just have to wait for Monday to get it sorted out. But no, not only is there a friendly tech who is greeting me with neither silly muzak nor waiting, but she's happy to get my all provisioned and up and running with a new cable modem in minutes (ok, so it took more than a couple of minutes, but a lot of it was literally waiting for the new cable box to boot up a few times).

And so far, the new box isn't rebooting constantly whenever there's more than a few internet connections going on. Which is just as well, since it clearly does take longer to boot than the old one. Knock wood.

So what can I say? Friendly competence all around. Good for Comcast. And a big black eye for Linksys.


hank said...

Linus - isn't it strange for you to walk into Fry's and find product's with an "L" appended to the model name? I guess you're probably used to it by now, eh?

AJamison said...

Netgear i think is a budget brand by Linksys anyhow which in turn is Cisco.

Linux routers are getting more scarce on the Linksys side any how. but you should be able to tweak your "Linux" OS on that netgear fairly easy

Tom said...

You should have asked for a router with your code in it :P

Unknown said...

Give a Linksys a second chance. Try to find WRT54GL router. Then go to and replace the original firmware with Tomato. Once I did this I never had router problem for 5 years now. Other choice is OpenWRT if you want to teach your router some fancy tricks.
Good Luck

Jarrett Billingsley said...

Wait.. you bought a Comcast-approved router, but then they refused to support it?

What exactly does that approval mean?

Wyatt said...

My experience has always been that Linksys routers will just do that when you hit them too hard. Been that way for years, even with the other nifty firmwares that you can hack in.

I don't know why, exactly (oh, I have my suspicions, to be sure), but in general you can't really expect too much out of consumer-grade network equipment (and even some business-grade stuff; a rackmount gigabit switch should not fail after less than a year).

Speaking of which, good luck with the Motorola; as a cautionary note, most Motorola products I've seen in recent years have disproportionately high failure rates. So if things go wrong again, that's not above suspicion.

Aaron Davies said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aaron Davies said...

Do you get recognized a lot in interactions like this? I wouldn't be terribly surprised if the people at Fry's saw your credit card and immediately started performing a Wayne's World "we're not worthy".

Renich said...

and what about the dd-wrt project? You should've tried that...

Michael Mol said...

I had to call Comcast yesterday when I upgraded my router[1], and I even made arrangements to drop Comcast Internet and TV *that day* if they gave me any more lip about my not having Windows or a Mac at home.

Boy, was I was in for a surprise, too. Against all previous experience with them, support was quick, courteous and competent. The second tech I got[2] had graduated with a network engineering degree last month, and was looking at getting a CS degree next. We got in a short[3] discussion about languages, algorithms, theory vs practice and a site I run.

Nobody believed me when I told them. Maybe I can link to this post...

[1] Right from the start, I made sure to keep their modem and my router two distinct concepts.

[2] I had to call twice. My own error led to the second call, but I didn't figure that out until later.

[3] Hey, he was on the clock. I wasn't going to delay him too much...

Erbo said...

You know, I've had very little trouble with Comcast since I first got their cable modem service a few years back. It may just be that the Denver-area infrastructure (ex-AT&T Cable, if I recall correctly) is a little better than other places.

And I use an old Pentium II box running Debian as a well as for other things. It works, and I've never caught any flak from Comcast for it.

Osman said...

Hi Linus,

Yea I don't understand why everyone hates on Comcast. I actually really like the great Internet speeds they give me. Check out your bandwidth on

MSUScottW said...

Hi Linus!

So glad you had a good Comcast experience! I for one love Linux and have had zero problems interfacing with our stuff. My wife is definitely not a computer geek and converted to Gnome with ease.

The advice about Tomato from Polarcloud is wise. I installed it on my good ole Linksys Linux based router and its rock solid and feature rich.

I welcome questions, concerns, feedback and ideas from any of your readers! They can contact me directly via or @comcastscott on Twitter.

Scott Westerman
Vice President

Anonymous said...

I put Debian on a Linksys NAS box (NSLU2) and got a NAS/NAT/firewall/git box. Not too fast at git over ssh, but usable for backing up small projects. (details)

Justin said...

I've had the same Linksys WRT54GS for about two years now without any problem. One thing I learned right after buying it was to reload the firmware on it. Granted, the WRT54GS isn't a modem, just a decent router, firewall and WAP.

Give Linksys another shot. I think mine just runs straight Cisco code with a WebGUI.

Linus said...

Justin: the cable modems don't allow user-ugradable firmware (not the Linksys, at least). So if the firmware is buggy, you're stuck.

My new router obviously does do the whole firmware upgrade thing, but on the other hand it hasn't been problematic to begin with. I know I could do the whole DD-WRT or Tomato thing, but the standard firmware already does what I want (which at this point is mainly "not crash" - maybe I'll get jaded and start having higher requirements once I get used to not crashing)

pras said...

Good for you. :)
I've been using Linksys WRT54GL router with a DD-WRT image and it works like a charm so far. Avoid WRT54GS like a plague however, you can change to linux firmware but is really freakin useless.

Justin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bar10dr said...

I bought a Linksys router three years ago and it did exactly the same, it would constantly reboot. Never bought Linksys again.

Justin said...

I think the whole respect for Linksys comes from taking the CCNA classes. They're made by Cisco so, I automatically pick them over anything else. Call me crazy....

Unknown said...

Hi Linus,

I'm using a WRT54GL for more than a year now,currently with dd-wrt v24 sp1, and it just works, I love to ssh in to it to check up on things when I'm away, it has a lot of features like traffic statistics and stuff.
Any way, good luck.

Lynne said...

Glad it worked out for you, and they actually were available to help you thru it on a Sunday!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Just wanted to echo some other commenters: The Linksys WRT54GL plus the Tomato firmware has worked like a charm for me.

Z said...

I've also been waiting for Qwest to boost their speeds. I would switch to Comcast but for one problem.
Here in Kitsap County, if a bug farts, the power goes out. Cable holds on for a few minutes, then pfft - no phone and no interweb.
Sometimes it's off for days.
Maybe a dual-WAN is the way to go. Anyone done this?
Anyway, good luck w/Comcast.

Barovelli said...

Back in the Comcast Land world of parts, Motorolas are the highest reliable modems hands down. Very few Motos return for network/mechanical problems.

Arris & Ubee (Ambit) are also consistently reliable.

Last place is those WCG2000s closely in step with RCA Thompson.

Comcast alos approves of 1950s tube TVs, but cant do much about supporting them to get HD . .

canthus13 said...

I have to agree.. Motorola stinks, and their diagnostics are worthless (The logs are spammed with the most inane crap). when you get sick of the Motorola, try an Arris instead. They're solid, and when something DOES go wrong (Usually on the line itself), the diagnostic page on the modem provides invaluable information.

Fred said...

Dear Mr Torvalds,

I'm a student in history of the Université catholique de Louvain-la-Neuve.
Few weeks ago, the university asked to students to make propositions for the 2010's Doctors Honoris Causa.
I did propose yourself and received a call last week asking me how to contact you.
I looked the internet and found this blog.

Would you please answer me to confirm I could contact you throughout this blog?

And of course, would you be pleased to become Doctor Honoris Causa of the UCL (but no A).

Yours sincerely,
SEVERINO Frédéric (I'm not gonna put my personnal email , sorry).

Wade Stewart said...

I picked up the Linksys RVS4000 and I'm quite happy with it. Since I have a business-class speed cable connection it's been running great.

Might just be lucky though. I'd hate to have to get support. Just asking for how I should register the product sent me to at least 2 different departments.

Lumag said...

Linksys was gettin worse and worse during last few years. Most probably that's due to their owner - Cisco.

Unknown said...

I’d just like to interject for a moment. What you’re refering to as Linux, is in fact, GNU/LInux, or as I’ve recently taken to calling it, GNU plus Linux. Linux is not an operating system unto itself, but rather another free component of a fully functioning GNU system made useful by the GNU corelibs, shell utilities and vital system components comprising a full OS as defined by POSIX.

Linus said...

Stuart, did you forget to take your meds again?

Osman said...


I have tremendous respect for Linus because he is a coder with a passion for coding. I have zero respect for the FSF and Stallman who thinks free software is a religion.

Therefore I will continue to call Linux "Linux" and not "GNU/Linux."

I think a lot more people would adopt Linux if it wasn't for some of the more radical members of the community scaring them away.

Anonymous said...

NETGEAR is quite into open source software I guess. I had problems with my DG834GTB blocking IM connectiosn after a firmware upgrade, so I downlaoded the sources (well not the osurces, but what they call the sources, which is in fact an image of the rootfs that is then flashed onto the box). You can mount this rootfs and chroot into it, making changes and re-compiling it.

I e-mailed the tech supprt a patc hthat should fix the issue, and I traced that they included this exact patch in the next firmware release.

!Teq-uila Del Zapata said...

ha ha, Linus suffering modem blues.
These DSL routers tent to behave weird at times.

Sean G. said...

The last "good" linksys was the WRT54GL. Replace the default system image with Tomato, and it's great!

waveblaster said...

Oddly enough I did the EXACT same thing Sunday. I too have been waiting for Qwest to get me faster service (3 years) and it has not happend. Comcast showed up between window. Installed the jack (very well done) and I plugged in my router and BAMN well over 20Mbps. Pleasently suprised as well. Comcast service was atrocious here. They even called 2 days later too see if all was well.

Qwest.... better get your fiber rolling. When DOCSIS 3.0 is out your really going to be behind.

Aaron Davies said...

actually, android and chrome are the first good real-life reason for saying "gnu/linux". just as it's possible to have gnu/hurd (and gnu/bsd? not sure about that one), it's now possible to have android/linux and chrome/linux. (to drag this vaguely back on topic, arguably all these linux-based routers constitute an argument for this nomenclature, but afaik, the normal ones are completely non-interactive outside their web console, and the hacked ones all run gnu/linux.)

Osman said...

While we are at it, lets start saying Gnome/X/Gnu/Linux/x86 ....

BTW Chrome OS looks pathetic so far. Its a Linux distro that can only run one application. Native code forever!!! Screw using scripts to write "applications"

Osman said...

BTW, does anyone have any opinions on a good 802.11n NAT?

Tom said...

@Osman: Don't talk about stuff you don't really know. It is highly unlikely
that it won't be able to run native code

David Peralta said...

Hi Linus,
I’d like to apologize for the reboots you were experiencing with the WCG200 v2. This issue had been identified by Linksys well over a year ago and a firmware update was made available to Comcast as well as other ISPs at that time. Unfortunately, not all ISPs have rolled out the updated firmware and Comcast lists only the Version 1 WCG200 on their supported hardware website. As is the standard, there is no manual process for updating the firmware on a cable modem as it is managed solely by the ISP. Once again, I am sorry that this device didn’t work for you, but I hope you understand the circumstances and will try us again in the future.

David Peralta
Linksys by Cisco

T-Virus said...

hello :)
I using an DSL Router with Linux to use him as Wireless Access Point Client.

I think the is from Linksys to, but i will chek this if i'm back at home.
I never have updated the firmware but it works so far.

I'm still happy that i found an Linux Router.
As DSL Router we use a Fritz!Box, in your Country, im from germany, its the most popular provider of Router and Network Hardware.
It works nice till you have a bad update.

We have often destroy your Internet Access with updates :(

But i hope your Hardware works much better than ours.


Zachary Bryda said...

Great blog, I'm a huge Linux fan. Please visit my blog

Rob's World of Tech said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob's World of Tech said...

Linksys routers without the "L" at the end of the model number aren't running Linux anymore, they're running Wind River VXWorks. Bleh. They're clearly garbage. More than a few simultaneous connections and they tend to crap out. They released a patch to fix problems with BitTorrent, and even with the patch BitTorrent causes the router crap out.

Unknown said...

Stuart, you're arguing with the creator of Linux... He says it's an OS and he's right.

W. said...

@Stuart: You know, that there's not only GNU userland. E.g. Linux + dietlibc + busybox is completely Non-GNU, but still a fully featured OS - some TV set top boxes run on that combination.

Unknown said...

Agree. Love Comcast! BEST speeds, great customer service and availability. Good price.

schmichael said...

I live in Portland an have loved Comcast's service here (although on-site visits are always late it seems). Glad to know I'm not the only one who actually likes this evil big corporation! :-)

As far as routers go, I've never had a single one I've liked or trusted. They all require constant resetting, mysteriously don't work in some combinations, or fail once 3 people are actually using them at once.

BUT! I have a Linksys WRT54GL (the one with the penguin!) running Tomato Firmware (trivial to install), and I never have to reset it.

Its the only consumer grade router I've ever been happy with, and I'll probably keep using it as long as its not completely antiquated.

Seshagiri said...

It's Comcastic!

L4Linux said...

I guess Comcast knew who they were talking to (if the employee had never heard of you, she shouldn't work in an ISP in the first place...Like working in a basketball store and not knowing M.Jordan) so the friendliness factor may vary to other customers...

cabrey said...

Everybody replying to Stuart's comment (including Linus) should know that they have been trolled by 4chan (specifically the /g/ board). It is actually making fun of RMS and is usually posted alongside a awkward image of RMS. Just sayin'.

Unknown said...

Haha.. I give respect both RMS and Linus equally so I call my system "CentOS" or "Ubuntu".

This is offtopic, but really, Linux kicks ass. But it is just a component. Linux is a technical triumph but branding sucks! I know, "Linux" sounds cool but it doesn't work if the different products is called the same.

Unknown said...

For some reason I find it extremely amusing that even you suffer at the hands of mediocre home networking equipment.

For the record my Linsksys WR(t,K?)54G isa bit of a temperamental dog as well.

Sounds like the system in US is more complex than here though.

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Unknown said...

hey Linus
im not much of a programar but i love your work,you are my role model i wish i could get a first hand lesson from you because i have been battling with C++ for the past two years still no success.advice please

Unknown said...

I had a linksys (I think wap411) like 6 years ago and whenever I would stream mp3s from my server over the wireless, AND download something from the Internet at the same time, it would cause it to lock up and reboot. GUARANTEED. I even did it with Linksys support on the phone and they could have cared less. They were all about getting me to "try" something and then "call us back". I gave up and bought something else. Never been happier.

Anonymous said...

Fry's? Could this be the same one I go to in Wilsonville? If so, I'll say 'Hi' if I see someone someone similar to you.

You'll see me fiddling with the computers =)

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CB said...

There is another reason you might want a firewall/router that will allow you to install either Tomato, OpenWRT or DD-WRT. They really do give you $300 - $3000 worth of capability at residential prices!

Broadband throttling of service.

I believe all of those will allow you to monitor your WAN (Cable/DSL Internet) access in real time 24 X 7. I know DD-WRT will.

I upgraded my cable Internet service (over $55 per month here in the US) to the highest level of Internet Only service that the cable provider allows and advertised. Its also the only plan they offer that guarantees streaming content will run effectively. They advertise 16,000 Kbps downstream and 2,000 Kbps upstream (16MB/2MB). Occasionally on the speed test you will see levels above 16MB on the downstream, but never above 2MB on the upstream.

Thanks to the DD-WRT software, I can watch the Speed Test ramp up and down, as soon as the Speed Test finishes I am immediately throttled to below 400 Kbps (with some higher 1 sec spikes as high as 6MB) downstream and below 40 Kbps upstream. You can watch your bandwidth throttled all the way down to 0 Kbps on both sides. You never get a sustained throughput of bandwidth with Cable Internet service.

The point is you can not see this with normal residential firewalls/routers. You must download and install the firmware from one of those open source projects to see your actually bandwidth.

Check the list of supported equipment with each product before you purchase anything. All of Linksys's new products except the one that ends in an 'L' do NOT support download-able firmware from the open source projects.

Now that I know this as fact, 24 X 7, I can now consider getting rid of the problem, cable service, and save allot of money. DSL service in my area (because of distance to the telco that serves me) is limited to 1.5Mbps down and 384Kbps up. Considering that this is over 3X more bandwidth than what the throttled Cable service is honestly providing me, I would be better off. And the DSL service would cost less than $25 per month. So for the same price as cable, I could get two DSL providers, increase my overall throughput and have built in redundancy.

Based on my experience it appears that in order to stream IP TV, movies and other streaming content you must have a sustained upstream above 200 Kbps. With the Cable company throttling back my service I never see anything above 200 Kbps upstream except during the Speed Test.

Its criminal that most naive customers believe the Speed Tests are an adequate indicator of overall broadband bandwidth. Even worse that the Cable Customer Services talks as if that is true as well. They are not. As soon as they finish, in America, 100% of broadband customers are throttled back to below broadband levels.

I have had some interesting conversations with Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 support as they are surprised when I tell them the actual throughput, bandwidth wise, that I am getting as I am talking to them on the phone. More than one has asked me how are you seeing that. Of course Level 3 has the diagnostic tools to see the same thing you are seeing and more.

The FCC defines broadband as 768Mbps, I never get that upstream, ever! So am I really getting broadband service or is it just a scam to take my money? It feels like fraud to me.

Get either Tomato, OpenWRT or DD-WRT and learn the truth of what broadband you are actually getting. After all you are paying for it!

As for me, I am looking to move to a place where I can get fiber. And one day non-American Telco controlled Fiber...until that day I am at their mercy and they know it!

There are three bright hopes here in the USA: Greenlight (Wilson N.C.); Utopia (Utah) and Google (undersea fiber capacity, I am hoping that they enter the residential marketplace one day.

Jason Chappell said...

I have 16Mbps Comcast here in SLC, UT, and it beats Qwest hands down. When I had Qwest I never got the speed I paid for. Have not had a single issue with Comcast. As a matter of fact, I was so happy with there Internet, I dropped Qwest phone and got Comcast's Digital Phone service (which beats Qwest's phone service too.)

Unknown said...

I'm bored and it's been months now. My WRT54GS finally died on me, the WAN port started bouncing every 10 minutes. I bought a WRT54G2 to replace it.

headlessgeek said...

I've always used the Trendnet ones , also Linux Friendly, and they give you the source code for a lot of their hardware, you can hack up all of them..
Hope it helps

Joe said...

Wow. I am surprised to think the creator of linux would use an ordinary home router.....

I have been using Mikrotik routeros products for several years.

Joe said...

I forgot to mention it's os is based on linux.

unused account said...

so do you run linux on your router. both netgear and linksys ones can i think. the ones i have heard about are openWRT and tomato, but they're for linksys

unused account said...

have you considered using a linux distro? (smoothwall/m0n0wall actually that might be BSD but still)