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Build This Cheap But Effective Firewall

Fight the bad guys without busting your budget. Here's all you'll need to create a low-cost, super-secure firewall using Linux-based freeware and an old PC.


To install and operate SmoothWall Express successfully and affordably, you can use an old PC. There's no need to buy new hardware, so long as the old PC meets or exceeds these specifications:

  • Processor: Any Pentium-compatible processor, including Pentium I, II, III, IV, AMD 586 onwards, Cyrix, and IBM. Must be 150 MHz or faster.

  • Memory: At least 32 MB of RAM, but ideally 64 MB or more. With less than 64 MB of RAM, it may not be possible to run all services, especially the Web Proxy Server and the Intrusion Detection System. Also, additional RAM may be needed for optimal performance if the Proxy Cache and Intrusion Detection features are utilized.

  • Hard Disk: An IDE drive of 2 GB capacity is recommended. It may be possible to operate on as little as 540 MB of disk, although this may present capacity problems with proxy log files. Higher-capacity disks allow for more and larger log files to be stored; 2 GB or more is advised if there are a large number of users behind the SmoothWall Express; the more users and activity there are, the quicker the proxy log files grow.

  • CD-ROM: An IDE CD-ROM drive is recommended for ease of installation. While SmoothWall Express can be installed across a network, the installation is more straightforward when using a local CD-ROM drive. Using a bootable CD-ROM drive makes the installation even simpler. When you're ready, see SmoothWall's Hardware Compatibility List of supported CD-ROM drives.

  • Video Card: Any. Required only for initial installation; all subsequent administration is carried out remotely over the network.

  • Monitor: Any. Required only for initial installation; all subsequent administration is carried out remotely over the network.

  • Keyboard: Any. Required only for initial installation; all subsequent administration is carried out remotely over the network. In fact, if the PC's BIOS allows it to boot without a keyboard, then the keyboard will not be required for regular use of the system.

  • Mouse: Not required.

  • Network Card: At least one supported network card is needed to connect the SmoothWall Express to the protected local network. If the connection to the Internet is via a broadband device—such as a cable modem, Ethernet-presented ADSL, or another Ethernet-presented connection—then a second supported network card will be required. Again, see SmoothWall's Hardware Compatibility List for supported network cards.

  • Modem: If you're using a dial-up connection to the Internet, a supported modem must be present. See the Hardware Compatibility List for supported modems.

  • ADSL Modem: See the Hardware Compatibility List for USB connected and PCI card ADSL modems that are supported by SmoothWall Express.

  • ISDN: If connection to the Internet is via ISDN, then the system needs a supported ISDN card or external RS232 or USB connected adapter device.

Before You Get Started...

Take a moment to download and look over the SmoothWall Express Quick-Start Guide.

I'm assuming you're familiar with PC software and have a basic knowledge of TCP/IP networking. But full instructions can be found in the Installation and Administrator's Guides on the SmoothWall Express CD or from SmoothWall's Documentation Web page.

When you have a good feel for the procedure, download the software from the Get SmoothWall page, and you're ready to begin.

Warning: Any data stored on the hard drive of the PC on which SmoothWall is to be installed will be overwritten as part of the installation. So you must back up any data you want to save now.

Next, to install SmoothWall Express, you must create a CD from the .iso image file that has been downloaded. All common CD-burning programs can do this. But it's vital to select the "create CD from Image file" option. The .iso image file image file is similar to a ZIP archive; it needs to be decompressed and expanded out to the individual directories and files that constitute SmoothWall Express. But if the more normal "create Data CD" option is used, then the .iso file will almost certainly be copied as a single file to the CD and will not install properly. So be sure to pick the correct option.

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