I've been using a Linux box as a router for some time now. Nothing too fancy, just enabling forwarding in the kernel, turning on masquerading, and setting up iptables to poke a few holes in the firewall.
Recently a friend of mine pointed out a performance problem. Single TCP connections seem to experience very poor performance. You have to open multiple parallel TCP connections to get decent speed.
For example, I have a 10 Mbit internet connection. When I download a file from a known-fast source using something like the DownThemAll! extension for Firefox (which opens multiple parallel TCP connections) I can get it to max out my downstream bandwidth at around 1 MB/s. However, when I download the same file using the built-in download manager in Firefox (uses only a single TCP connection) it starts fast and the speed tanks until it tops out around 100 KB/s to 350 KB/s.
I've checked the internal network and it doesn't seem to have any problems. Everything goes through a 100 Mbit switch. I've also run iperf both internally (from the router to my desktop) and externally (from my desktop to a Linux box I own out on the net) and haven't seen any problems. It tops out around 1 MB/s like it should. Speedtest.net also reports 10 Mbits speeds.
The load on the Linux machine is around 0.00, 0.00, 0.00 all the time, and it's got plenty of free RAM. It's an older laptop with a Pentium M 1.6 GHz processor and 1 GB of RAM. The internal network is connected to the built in Intel NIC and the cable modem is connected to a Netgear FA511 32-bit PCMCIA network card.
I think the problem is with the packet forwarding in the router, but I honestly am not sure where the problem could be. Is there anything that would substantially slow down a single TCP stream?