FreeBSD as router - performance vs hardware routers

Mykroft Holmes IV mykroft at
Thu Aug 14 08:04:56 PDT 2003

J. Seth Henry wrote:

> Hello,
> I have recently been having problems with my Netgear RT314 broadband
> gateway router. Having decided to replace it, I started searching for a
> new router - only to discover that every sub $300 router I found had a
> history of problems. Lockups, random reboots, or worse, they would just
> turn into black holes (like my RT314).
> First, and I know this is off-topic, is anyone here happy with their
> router enough to recommend it? I'd prefer to go with a hardware router,
> but I prize reliability and stability apparently higher than the current
> crop of manufacturers. Even the Cisco SOHO9x/83x series has a bad track
> record, and they are $250/$500 respectively! I'd like to keep it under
> $300, as I can build a mini-ITX box with everything I need for a router
> for about that.
> Barring finding a decent, reliable router, I thought about building a
> mini-ITX system (with the 800Mhz C3) with a second NIC, and a CF card
> for storage - and using FreeBSD as a router. I'm fairly certain that I
> can get most of what I need to work going, DHCP client on the WAN link,
> DHCP server and NAT/PAT on the LAN side. Apparently, firewall support is
> built-in as well.
> What I'm not sure about is performance. Has anyone built a cable modem
> gateway router using FreeBSD and "low-end" hardware like this? If so,
> what were your results?
> Also, can a FreeBSD router support things like the Vonage VOIP box (the
> Cisco ATA186)?
> Thanks,
> Seth Henry

Well, a FreeBSD router is going to significantly outperform any of those 
cheapo routers. Which are mostly running either a custom Linux or 
something similar on a 386 or 486 equivalent. Of course, the issues with 
them tend to be either buggy proprietary code or flaky hardware. Even a 
P100 running FreeBSD will easily outperform them, and will be very 
stable if the hardware's decent.

I've used Linux, Mac OS X (Darwin) and FreeBSD as a router, routing 
PPPoE 1MB DSL, Dial and my current PPPoA 3MB DSL, on systems ranging 
from a P90 with 16MB of RAM to the current PowerMac G3/333. The hardware 
you're looking at is massive overkill, a used P2 or Pentium system is 
more than enough to route cable or DSL.

And yes, it will support just about anything you have living behind it. 
Probably better than the POS hardware routers you were looking at.

Hardware routers don't really get to be decent until you;'re looking at 
a real Cisco (1000 series or better) running real IOS.

As a Note, the top end routers out there, Junipers, run JunOS, which is 
a FreeBSD variant. A Juniper M160 can route OC192's at wire speed 
(That's 10Gb/s folks).


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