Monthly Archives: June 2008

An alternative to SOHO routers

I had many routers in the past and had problems with almost all of them. ISP supplied routers are usually okay for casual usage, if you want something where you have advanced configurations such as custom routing, VPN, etc…you have to shed £50+ on a decent router. For me I had a reliable network with two subnets, but the weakest point was the router, so I set on a quest to replace my router.


My Homelan Layout


SOHO routers are not designed for heavy use or to handle a large number of UDP connections usually required by VPN connections. This is a great pain for someone working from home and using VPN to connect to their company’s network. So cheap SOHO and ISP supplied routers tend to run very slow and drop the connections sometimes if they get overheated or if they have to handle many VPN or P2P connections. There is a good article on the ‘slow running’ of routers on website. For me I’ve decided to ditch my router and look for an alternative, reliable and cheap solution.

Using a computer as a router seemed as a good idea at the time, after all SOHO routers have the following features:

  • Microprocessors run at around 75MHz
  • Have a number of RJ45 interfaces, at least one for WAN and one for LAN access
  • Use IP Masquerading (NAT) to allow LAN computers to access the WAN using a single WAN IP address.

Now all the above features are achievable using a computer. I looked around and couldn’t find a 75MHz computer and I regretted throwing away my old 8086 Amstrad. Anyway I had a Pentium 1 233MHz MMX motherboard with a processor lingering around since 1998 so I decided to use it to build a computer and use as a network router. This is what I needed:

  • Pentium 1 233MHz MMX motherboard with a processor
  • 2 Network cards, one for WAN (Red Interface) and one for LAN (Green Interface)
  • An old 5GB hard disk
  • 256MB of memory
  • An old VGA display adapter
  • Some sexy neon lights and bio-hazard logo to spicen up things.
  • Keyboard and monitor only needed to setup the OS, after that they can be taken away

PC Router Hardware

For the operating system, using a lightweight Linux distro seemed like a good option, so searching around on Google I found two good Linux distros for firewall routers: SmoothWall and IPCop. Having briefly looked at the manual for both, it seemed like IPCop has most of the features I needed specially the ability to setup custom routing. I run two subnets with the traffic between them hitting the router, so the router needed to forward the traffic between the two subnets as configured, bearing in mind the router is not the gateway between these two subnets, I use a Fedora Core server for this purpose.


IPCop Admin Web UI


IPCop is basically a cut-down Linux destro with an Admin Web interface. There is no graphical interface, but remote login through SSH is available and can be switched on or off as required. There are so many other features available from the Admin Web interface such as Intrusion Detection, Traffic Shaping and Dynamic DNS, to mention only a few. Ever since it was installed, my IPCop Firewall Router is running effortlessly day-in and day-out without any issues so farewell routers.