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I came across these cool things while surfing the web one afternoon, and from what I've researched, I see that they can be used in DIY routers. Am I right? What kind of software are you supposed to use on things like this? (I know Tomato and DD-WRT were built to replace the firmware on existing routers, and I think it's possible to install a full, albeit small, OS on a CF card, but I don't know anything more than that. Is it possible to build your own router with features comparable to, or even better than those found on commercially available routers?

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  • I'd go with MikroTik. – Apache Jul 3 '10 at 20:45
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    Would pfSense work? – Enrico Tuvera Jr Jul 3 '10 at 20:59
  • pfsense is geared towards a full PC. if you use embedded PC setups you are encouraged to use stuff like monowall (okay, m0n0wall.) See m0n0.ch/wall – bubu Jul 4 '10 at 3:58
  • OK, I'll be straight with you guys here, I'm looking to build a repeater of my own to get a better signal from this access point that's covered by a few trees. I've only seen directions on how to build repeaters that take the strongest signal and forward that through but what about repeaters that can forward any signal, regardless of strength? Will anything mentioned in this thread so far do that? – Enrico Tuvera Jr Jul 6 '10 at 2:41
  • All you want is a wireless 802.11 repeater? You've already mentioned DD-WRT; it has a wireless repeater bridge mode that connects to a specified SSID, regardless of strength and rebroadcasts it. If you use a dual radio router like the Netgear WNDR3300, you won't lose 1/2 bandwidth doing it (although in that case you'll be receiving in N and broadcasting as G or v/v). – hyperslug Jul 6 '10 at 5:32
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Also refer to @omglolbah's answer.

The minibox hardware you mentioned is powered by AMD Geode processor, which is a x86-compatible OS, and you can install basically any linux distribution (or BSD, for the matter) to make it a router. minibox even supplies a tailormade distribution called imedia linux (http://www.mini-box.com/iMediaSDK?category=17) for these boards.

What I didn't like, though, on these machine is that, they are not really much faster than a retail router fitted with custom firmware.

+-------------------+------------+------------+------------------------+
| Speed / Feature   | Power      | Size       | Choice                 |
+-------------------+------------+------------+------------------------+
| Doesn't matter /  | Low        | Small      | Get a retail router    |
| Doesn't matter    | (10W)      |            |                        |
+-------------------+------------+------------+------------------------+
| Doesn't matter /  | Low        | Small      | Get a retail router    |
| Complicated       | (10W)      |            | and replace firmware   |
+-------------------+------------+------------+------------------------+
| Moderate       /  | Low        | Small      | Use small atom board   |
| Doesn't matter    | (20W)      |            | use linux distros (1)  |
+-------------------+------------+------------+------------------------+
| Fast           /  | High       | Small      | Use mini-itx boards    |
| Complicated       | (~80W)     |            | consider desktop grade |
|                   |            |            | CPUs e.g. C2D, etc.    |
+-------------------+------------+------------+------------------------+
| Fast           /  | High       | Rack       | Consider commercial    |
| Complicated       | (~80W)     |            | routers, e.g. those    |
|                   |            |            | from Cisco.            |
|                   |            |            | (esp. second hand)     |
+-------------------+------------+------------+------------------------+
| Fast           /  | High       | Big        | Get a modern desktop   |
| Complicated       | (>100W)    |            | Computer and install   |
|                   |            |            | a router distribution  |
+-------------------+------------+------------+------------------------+

(1) See the wikipedia link above: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_router_or_firewall_distributions

The thing is, if you need to move data as fast as possible (i.e. saturating a Fast Ethernet or Gigabit ethernet port), you need a quick CPU to process the data, particularly if you are going to use (1) VPN and (2) firewall. By quick CPU i mean those CPU we use on desktop now. e.g. Core 2 Duo, Athlon II, etc.

Note that you may also want to get a i5 processor instead because of the speedup given by AES-NI instructions by the cryptography software if you eventually do plan to use the router to perform some other task e.g. file transfer with SCP, future possibilities of AES-NI compatible VPN software, etc.

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There is a myriad of linux distributions specifically tailored for this purpose. The hardware you link to should be more than sufficient for most of these.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_router_or_firewall_distributions

I myself used an old compaq presario 266mhz laptop with two NICs as a router for years until I upgraded to a big fat fileserver. Debian was the distro I used on the old machine, and I now run Ubuntu. With a few security packages installed most distributions can be used for a router though obviously the feature-set changes.

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