Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Part 1 - A firewall Valerie Singleton would be proud of ...

Double sided sticking tape (check) - loo roll (check) - old washing up liquid bottle (check) - dog named 'Shep' (check) .... OK, we're ready. Now you may need an adult to help you with this .......

Anyone who's discovered Linux will probably have gone through the same curve that I have. "What? An O/S for free?" - "I don't understand - why so many distributions!?" - "So most of the internet runs on this?" - "I just jab in apt-get and it ends up on my box?!". All this is great, but for me, the biggest thing about the GNU revolution has to be that it changes us from dumb consumers to controlling creators.

Let's say for example that you bought yourself a firewall router. You pimped your arse out all week for your pound or dollar - picked your make and model, only to find that it has poor firmware (that bricks your box), and some really cheap limitations that hinder the scope of its use. At least that was my most recent experience. What do you do? Buy another one in the hope you're not let down again? Or perhaps you make your own! Consumer or creator?

Frankly, I've gone through about five firewall routers in as many years and, cheap or pricey, I've not been entirely happy with any of them (fussy fussy). Combining a few years exposure to open source radiation with some rabid ebaying would surely be a recipie for success? The prospect was tempting and Linux being as versitile as it is, there were bound to be a multitude of distro's ready to take up residence on my hard drive.

OK, so if you're going to do this there is probably a right way and a wrong way. I imagine the right way to be a) Draw up a list of requirements - b) Pick the software that meets those requirements - c) Check the hardware compatibility list and then buy / build the kit. But I had read the propaganda and had bought into the mantra that told me that I could throw any old hardware together and come up with a solution. That suited me fine because it meant I could be guided by cost rather than need, safe in the knowledge that somehow it would work - right?

In terms of the hardware, I wanted small / low power / low cost.

Required hardware:

  • A case
  • A motherboard with at least two nics.
  • A small hard drive
  • Memory
  • Suitable PSU
  • Adapter

After a bit of poking around on e-bay I managed to find an integrated motherboard with two nics and a 533 Mhz VIA Mark processor for £30. Bargain. See for yourself: http://www.jenlogix.co.nz/products/wafer-mark.htm

The SATA controllers on the wafer-mark meant that I could make use of a spare Seagate 2.5" hard drive that I had recently hatched from it's external USB housing. Curiosity got the better of me on that one. Like a Kinder egg - I had to crack it open for the toy.

I decided that I wasn't going to spend more than £10 on memory and managed to get 256 MB of pc 133 for the price.

Finding a DC DC PSU and an adapter was a real pain in the backside - mainly because the whole thing was an education for me. I picked up a 12V 90W PicoPSU-90 brand new from Linitx.com (nothing cheap enough on ebay) which will provide much more power than I need. That was another £30 (ish). The 4 pin molex would provide the +5v but being an ATX PSU - it would need to be tricked by adding a home made jumper between a couple of the pins (read up and undertake at your own risk).

Back to ebay for the 12v 5a Adapter plus a 2.1mm to 2.5mm barrel adapter (needed to fit the power point on the PicoPSU). Another £15 ish.

So that's £85 I've forked out already even with the free hard drive. Being a tight arse and also bathing in the inspirational light of the mini-itx projects page I decided I would find something around the house to mod as a case. The prices for the tiny cases were just too much. After a great deal of hunting around in cupboards and head scratching, I found a card game called 'Urban Myth' that happened to be packaged in a handy mini-itx sized aluminium case.

Now for some pictures:

WAFER-MARK 533 - With a couple of juicy nics *drool*
Note the two USB ports over on the left side. Although only USB 1.1 - you need a way to deliver the O/S to the system. Trust me - telepathy isn't a great medium for transferring data to disk.

URBAN MYTH - The card game - and now the firewall !!!
Take a look at that mouth. It comes in handy later.

Kinder egg toy or hard drive? You decide!

Although the SATA cable appears to obscure the picture - the artists amongst us will know that it lies on the Golden Section and therefore is mathematically guaranteed to be a work of art.

Well - that's the hardware procured. Next - instalment - putting it all together.

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