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LAN & WAN Reviews

Embedded PC Platforms

One of the fundamental differences between m0n0wall and other similar Open Source firewall operating systems is that m0n0wall has been designed from the outset to run on embedded PC platforms. By PC platform I am referring to Intel x86 compatible hardware (AMD, VIA etc). Once booted, the software runs entirely from RAM with only configuration changes being saved in a single XML file to writeable media.

Embedded PC platforms lend themselves to making excellent routers & firewalls for a number of reasons. They are:

  • compact, do not require much space
  • power efficient, typically consuming < 10W of power, important for a device which is likely to be constantly powered on
  • generate little heat, important for a device that might be installed in small, poorly-ventilated spaces or next to other heat-producing electrical equipment
  • reliable - they have very few or no moving mechanical parts

The only significant disadvantage of embedded PC platforms is they are not readily upgradeable, as all the major components, including CPU and RAM, are soldered to the mainboard.

m0n0wall officially supports the net45xx / net48xx range from Soekris (Santa Cruz, USA) and the WRAP (Wireless Router Application Platform) from PC Engines (Switzerland). Images compiled specifically for these platforms are available for download.

The Soekris net45xx/net48xx range seems to be the most popular with m0n0wall users not using general PCs at the moment. I suspect this has largely been due to PC Engines not supplying pre-made cases for their boards, something they have recently addressed.

The table below gives a quick price/specification comparison between these embedded platforms:

Supplier Version CPU RAM Price *
PC Engines
WRAP.1C-2 233 MHz NSC SC1100 64MB $162
3 LAN / 1 miniPCI, CF, Power Over Ethernet, Case
net4501-30 133 Mhz AMD ElanSC520 64MB $194
3 LAN / 1 miniPCI, CF, 3.3vPCI, Serial, Case
net4801-50 266 Mhz NSC SC1100 256MB $265
3 LAN / 1 miniPCI, CF, 3.3v PCI, 2 Serial, USB1.1, UltraDMA-33, Case

* Prices as advertised 03 July 2004, exclusive of shipping and taxes.

We will look at the relative performance of these platforms in Part 2 of this review.

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