Is OpenWrt right for a user like me?

My skill level is "i run custom ROMs on my personal devices, take a number of privacytoolsIO measures, and i'm a casual linux mint noob".

What I want is a home network that has an ad-blocking solution. I also want to put my work devices on a subnetwork.

Can I do this with an OpenWRT device, and have a set-it-and-forget-it solution? I simply am not a developer, not a network admin, and I wish not to overestimate my skills.

Although I DO want to learn, I don't want to kid myself about the lifestyle cost of being a noob running OpenWRT.

My subnet goals can be achieved independent of OpenWRT, adblock goals can be achieved with a piHole, and addressing all goals with an OpenWRT learning curve added on may be something i should be careful not to take lightly.

  • Should i cut my teeth on a Raspberry Pi (piHole), first?
  • If it tips the scale, my home router is OpenWRT supported.
  • Any warnings for a newcomer like me?

Yes.

Not really, security updates (such as following maintenance releases) are mandatory for network connected devices, especially routers.

While a RPi4 (not the previous versions) might provide some benefits for advanced users in search for high-performance routing, I would not recommend it as your first exposure to OpenWrt. With a well supported router, you have the basics working straight away (configure your WAN, set up your wireless - done, adblock and a second vlan are only marginally more complex). The RPi however lacks those 'basic' hardware features (and its WLAN capabilities are bad, just really bad), so you have to work around these limitations (VLAN, additional USB network cards, an external solution for the WLAN) to achieve your goals. While neither of these are particularly problematic (for an advanced user familiar with OpenWrt), it is quite a lot for your first OpenWrt device, especially as you have to get all that working on day one, to get it do anything sensible.

A more traditional OpenWrt supported router however will be basically just fine in its defaults configuration, you can extend its feature set at your own pace, as you need it. Additionally basically all routers offer you at least 4+1 ethernet ports on an internal programmable switch, which will be beneficial for your requirements for multiple independent networks. Even if you do have a reason to go the RPi4 route in the future (if perfomance demands it), the OpenWrt router will still make a nice AP.

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If you can build an AOSP ROM, you can build OpenWrt.

Now, some questions to ask:

  1. Is your device supported?
    If it isn't, this presents a significantly HIGHER entry level to clear.

If it is supported, you've got a expected stable platform to learn OpenWrt. You can download the static build for the device, and then compile your own to play around with.

Research whatever device you want to use, how to unbrick, and prep that FIRST.. I'd also suggest a backup router you can swap in for if/when you break something that can't be fixed right away. Nothing more frustrating that trying to fix an issue AND not have desktop Internet access...

I agree with @slh.

My suggestion is to buy an inexpensive, but well supported router to use for experimentation/learning, maybe just get one 2nd hand. Select one that has an ethernet switch and wifi, and maybe even a USB port, too.

By using a second router, you can experiment without having to worry about your 'live' network -- have fun, explore, mess up, reset and begin again. As you become more comfortable, you can setup OpenWrt on your main router and grow your network's capabilities, but you'll still have a dev box to use while you try new things.

if you flash a device, MAKE SURE you know how to revert to stock firmware, or accept that this device will use OpenWrt from now on. Not all devices have decent recovery methods that don't involve disassembling the device and soldering cables to get serial console access.

Experimenting on the only router you have is a BAD idea as mistakes will limit your internet access, and with it access to help or documentation. It's best to have a working fallback router ready.

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