Mad, Beautiful Ideas
Home Networking Needs

My old Netgear router is finally showing itself to be almost completely inadequate for my home needs. It doesn’t support WPA, and it’s WEP support doesn’t work on my Nintendo DS. I’ve been running the network unencrypted, but MAC limited for months. While still living with my parents, this wasn’t a big deal, because the only traffic running unencrypted was my DS and my Wii. Now, however, all the traffic from my Mac Mini, desktop, Nintendo Products, and Catherine’s laptop run over unencrypted links. I practice good password rules, and I try to ensure that as much of my traffic is encrypted via SSL as I can, but the situation needs to be rectified, and sooner would be better. Unfortunately, it’s not the poor wireless security that’s forcing my hand, it’s that Catherine’s Dell Insprion 1420N notebook barely works when connected to the router. I’m not sure if it’s a hardware issue, since I don’t recall having this problem with my Ubuntu box when it was connected directly to this router (which it was for years), but the problem persists on wired and wireless connections from the Dell.

I’m stuck, because I don’t want one new Wireless network, I want two. One for the Nintendo products, which will be WEP protected, MAC address locked, not allowed to access the systems on the rest of the network, and can be a relatively slow link (11Mpbs). One for everything else, which will need to use WPA and should be a much faster link (Wireless-N would be nice). The router should have mature firewall capabilities, and if it can serve as a VPN gateway, that would be nice too. The problem is, no one sells wireless routers with two wireless interfaces (I can get by with a WAN and a single LAN port). I need to support WEP encryption on one interface, because the Nintendo DS can’t do WPA, and I like the idea of having my Nintendo products in their own DMZ. Ideally, whatever product I get will provide Web and SSH interfaces for configuration.

Due to my requirements, I am left considering a Soekris net4521 or net4826, probably running m0n0wall. The net4826 has the benefits of sporting a faster processor, more RAM, and a PATA interface so it can have a laptop hard drive, ideal if the device is going to be doing any of it’s own logging, plus the flash card is soldered on, which is also not ideal. This leaves me more attracted to the net4521, which has an easily replaceable CompactFlash interface, and a pair of Ethernet ports, so I could have a WAN and LAN without having to do a wireless bridge. Regretfully, the net4521 appears to be out of stock.

Ultimately, I face another problem with the Soekris engineering route: it’s expensive. Certainly, the hardware looks good, and the power requirements are low, but I’d probably be spending at least $300 on the board, case, power supply, and two PC-Card NICs, given the prevelance of products that almost fit my needs, but that cost far less, I’m unsure about taking this route. Would anyone else be interesting in buying a VPN/Firewall/Wireless Router could manage or connect up to two Wireless networks?