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Smoothwall on Mini-ITX Board

Recently I saw a Hak5 episode that talked about building a high-performance router to increase the speed of your network connection.  

Darren mentioned that the cheap plastic routers might not be able to compete with a solidly built router, so I decided to give it a try to see if I could increase my network speed.  

I ordered a Mini-ITX board with a 1.65GHz CPU, 1GB of RAM, a 260GB 7200rpm SATA drive, and an Intel Pro 1000 PCI NIC to make my own router.  Here's a picture of the completed assembly:

I took this and installed SmoothWall 3.0 SP3 (incidentally, I had to use a CD-ROM to install it, as a flash drive made with NetUbootIn from the iso never would install correctly).  

Installation of SmoothWall wasn't as straightforward as I thought.  SmoothWall has different colors for different types of Interfaces.  For my use, Green was the LAN, and Red was the WAN.  There are no choices in the install menu to set up the Red interface, but there are 3 choices for Green:  Open, Half-Open, and Blocked (or something to that effect)  

I started with "Half-Open" on the Green (LAN) interface, as I thought that would allow any inbound connection that was previously established via an outbound connection (like going to Google).  However, this seemed to block all my attempts to access the Internet.  I tried to go into the web interface of the router to change this, but I didn't immediately stumble on how to do this, as you can really get into the nitty-gritty of configuring the router.  So I gave up and set the router to Open like Darren did on Hak5.

Just to be safe, I ran an nmap scan from the Red (WAN) interface to see if I could access either the router or any computers connected to the Green interface.  I was happy to see that even when green was set to Open, nmap reported all ports closed and the router didn't respond to pings.  

So I connected it up to my network and ran a speed test to see if I could get more speed with a really over-designed router.  After 10 speed tests, SmoothWall on my home-made router actually performed .19Mbps SLOWER than a Linksys router (average of 31.19Mbps with the Linkysys, 31.00Mbps with the Mini-ITX), even though the Mini-ITX was bare-bones configured, and the Linksys was running VPNs, IP-Table port forwarding, and other junk like that.  

So it is pretty clear to me that the little plastic routers do a great job keeping up with their demand, and I don't really need a super-router to act JUST as a router.   Thus, I'm going to repurpose the Mini-ITX as something else... likely as a Snort-Box.  Look for that in future blogs.

I should mention, that if you are looking for a configuration control enhancement vs a speed enhancement, SmoothWall is probably a great way to go.  It lets you configure TONS of stuff, is very flexible on the set up of different services/lan designs, it recognized my NICs easily and just seemed rock-solid as a finely-tuned router.  Here's a screenshot to show what the web set up (after it is installed) looks like:

So from a configuration perspective I was impressed.  It just didn't improve my speed, which was my initial goal.    


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