Author: Tim Higgins
Review Date: 8/15/2001

Model: PRO

Pros:

– Extremely fast
– Built-in PPTP server and client endpoints and IPsec endpoint with no per-user licensing
– Two serial ports for simultaneous WAN dialup/ISDN and dial in RAS connection

Cons:

– Windows client required for setup
– No DMZ
– Need to work out some kinks in the features

 

Review Updates

10/9/01 – New firmware upgrade availableVersion 1.4.2 promises “improved firewall, port forwarding and IPSec support for IP aliases.”

 

The Basics

Indicators
  • Power

  • System

  • Online

  • LAN Receive

  • LAN Transmit

  • Internet Receive

  • Internet Transmit

  • VPN

  • Update

  • Support

Connectors
  • One RJ45 10BaseT for the WAN

  • One RJ45 10BaseT LAN

  • Two DB9M  “COM” RS232 ports

  • Power

Comes with
  • printed Quick Install guide

  • Installation CD

  • one normal UTP cable

  • one crossover UTP cable

  • 100-240VAC Power supply

  • power supply AC cord

Other
  • Reset switch always clears unit to factory defaults

  • Power switch

  • NO Uplink or Normal / Crossover switch for LAN Ports (see this page if this concerns you!)

 

Introduction

SNAPgear is a new entry into the SOHO router market, with a sharp focus on providing PPTP and IPsec VPN capabilities without putting too large a dent in your pocket.

 

Background & Basic Features

SNAPgear, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of embedded OS supplier Lineo, is a very new company with a mission… to bring VPN networking to the masses!  The product line is based on the Motorola ColdFire processor (the PRO uses the 5307 clocked at 90MHz) running Lineo’s uCLinux OS, and is based on Lineo’s SecureEdge reference design platform.  It starts with the $249 Lite model and ends with the $549 PRO model, which is the one they sent us for review.

All versions have a serial port that can support dialup or ISDN WAN connection, in addition to the 10BaseT WAN Ethernet port.  The $399 SOHO+ and PRO models have a second serial port that can be used to simultaneously support a dialup/ISDN WAN and dial-in RAS connections.  These two models also support Telnet-based configuration, and RADIUS/TACACS+ authentication.  The PRO, however, is the only model to have a security co-processor, which helps with the encryption processing and allows the PRO to support a total of 40 PPTP and 70 IPsec tunnels (more on this later).

The $299 Lite+ is the only model to include a 4 port 10/100 switch. All other versions have just one 10BaseT LAN port, with no uplink connector or switch.  SNAPgear does include both normal and crossover UTP cables to make your setup job easier, though.

 Setup

SNAPgear makes no secret about being Linux based and even lets you view, edit, save, and restore key Linux configuration files!  So I found it curious that I needed to run a Windows based installation program to assign an IP address to the router before I could access the HTTP (web) based admin pages. As a result of this and other decisions that SNAPgear made about the setup process, it took me longer than it should have to set up the unit.  So that you don’t repeat my experience, here’s how the unit comes set up:

  • No IP address assigned

  • WAN port not set to be a DHCP client

  • LAN DHCP server not enabled

So make things easy on yourself, and assign a static IP to the PC that you use for setup.  The setup program will detect the subnet you’re in and you’ll just have to enter a number from 1 to 254 to complete the IP address for the box.

Once you assign the SNAPgear an address, you’ll be able to reach the admin pages, where you’ll need to enter the other information to get you connected.  The Connect to Internet page (not shown) gives you the choice of Cable Modem, Modem, ADSL, and Do not Connect to Internet for non-PPPoE, Dialup, PPPoE, and no Internet connection respectively.  The ADSL setup page shown here gives you the options you’ll need to get set up with most PPPoE based BSPs.  Note that the Cable Modem setup page has choices for Generic, Big Pond Advance (a popular Australian BSP), and @Home networks.

Tip: The SNAPgear will also let you change the WAN MAC address for AT&T Broadband and other BSPs, but you’ll have to go to the Advanced > Flash Upgrade page!

You’ll probably need to visit this page, where you both set the IP address and subnet mask for the router itself, and find the settings for the router WAN port.

Your set-up may also include a visit to the LAN DHCP server page. In this screen shot, I’ve already set up the server and have a few IP addresses leased.  Note the ability to end a lease, but also the absence of MAC address info for the lessees.

The DHCP server does not automatically pick up gateway and DNS server info from the WAN settings.  You’ll need to set them manually using an entry area that’s not shown on the screen shot, toward the bottom of the page.

 

Routing Features

The SNAPgear has a decent set of routing features, but there are a few quirks you’ll need to be aware of, and features that they don’t have.  First, the good stuff:

Port Forwarding (“Services”) –
The first screen shot shows enables (or disables) for Web (HTTP) and Telnet services, and also common ICMP based services.  The second shot shows that you have the ability to forward an unlimited number of single TCP or UDP ports through the firewall. Unfortunately, you need to define them one at a time and there are no copying or editing features.  There’s also no way to disable a defined port… you have to delete it.  There are no port ranges and no “DMZ” or “Exposed Server”, i.e. the ability to place one computer on the WAN side of the NAT firewall.

Access Control/Port Filtering (“Security Groups”) –
You can separately set default filtering for all LAN and dial-in clients (a nice touch), or define filtering for each LAN IP address.  The filter definitions can include multiple TCP and UDP ports and there is no limit to the number of client filters that can be defined.  However, you can’t enable filtering for specific times or the day or days of the week.

In addition to the missing items mentioned above, here are a few other things that you should know about:

  • DMZ – You don’t have the ability to place one computer completely outside the firewall, which may be required for using applications such as NetMeeting, gaming, or other applications that you can’t get to work through the firewall.

  • Content Controls – You can’t control the type of Web sites that users can visit

  • Logging – This feature really isn’t totally missing, since router configuration changes are logged and you can even send them to a syslog server.  But you can’t see any information on who’s accessing what through the gateway, or attempts to “probe” your network from the WAN side.

  • Alerts – You can’t get an email notice of attempts to access your network or other nasty attacks

  • Remote (WAN) Administration – You actually can access the admin pages from the router’s WAN side, as long as you don’t also want to access a LAN based webserver.  If you do, your webserver will take precedence over the built-in admin page server, and you can’t move the admin server to an alternate port.  Note also that you can’t restrict external admin access to a specific IP address or address range to help with security, and the SNAPgear allows multiple administrators to be logged in, with no warning message.

  • Server “Loopback” – You won’t be able to access any of your mapped LAN based servers by using the SNAPgear’s external IP address (or assigned domain if you have one).  You’ll have to use the “private” LAN IP address instead.

That’s it for the routing features. Now we can look at what SNAPgear’s really bringing to the party… their VPN features!

 

VPN

SNAPgear’s big feature is its powerful VPN capabilities.  While most other routers provide only pass-thru capabilities for connecting VPN clients, the entire SNAPgear product line provides PPTP and IPsec endpoint capabilities.  What this basically means is that the SNAPgear boxes set up and manage the VPN “tunnels” instead of having to use VPN software at each client.

If you want to set up your own VPN between two office locations, for example, you just need two SNAPgears… no extra licenses or options to buy.  And if that doesn’t get your attention, maybe the fact that there are no per client or connection licenses to buy will!

Although all members of the SNAPgear family have the built-in endpoint capability, there are differences among the products, summarized in the table below, which I’ve borrowed from the SNAPgear Web site:

Model
Feature LITE LITE+ SOHO+ PRO
VPN – PPTP (client & server) yes yes yes yes
PPTP Tunnels 4 5 20 40
VPN – IPSec (server and client) yes yes yes yes
IPSec Tunnels 10 12 35 70
RAS (dial in) yes yes
Telnet yes yes
RADIUS/TACACS+ yes yes
SNMP yes yes
Hardware Cryptographic Acceleration yes
RAM (Mb) 4 4 16 16
Price $249 $299 $399 $549

Note that although there is a limit to the number of tunnels that each product will support, SNAPgear says that there’s no limit to the number of users per tunnel.

NOTE: The IPsec implementation uses the open source package called FreeS/WAN.  This page describes interoperability with other IPsec products. SNAPgear says that they currently do not support ISAKMP (or IKE) Aggressive mode, since they believe it to be less secure.

To check things out, I set up the SNAPgear as a PPTP server, and used the standard Microsoft VPN client to connect via the Ethernet WAN connection. I had no problems either setting up the server or the PPTP connection itself.  But once I connected, I wasn’t able to browse the remote network via Network Neighborhood, even though I could ping clients on it.  A call to SNAPgear revealed that neither their PPTP or IPsec implementation presently supports MS Network browsing.  They know this is a problem, however, and are at work on a solution other than using LMHOSTS tables, which is their current suggested workaround.

I was a little surprised at the performance of the PPTP connection (more below), which was slower that I expected it to be.  SNAPgear told me that even though the PRO has a security co-processor, it’s used only for IPsec, so that may help explain what I measured.

I didn’t try out the IPsec capability because I didn’t have an IPsec client and SNAPgear doesn’t provide one as part of their package.  This wouldn’t be a problem if you were a telecommuter connecting into your corporate network, since your company would be providing the other end of the VPN connection.  But if you had a SNAPgear on your home LAN and wanted to use an IPsec connection to connect via the dial-in RAS, you’d have to buy an IPsec client. I’d like to see SNAPgear at least suggest a client, or offer some sort of a discount deal on one.  Right now, your only option for the scenario above would be to fall back to using PPTP, since Windows includes a client in each copy of the OS.

 

Routing Performance

I ran the Qcheck suite to test routing performance. I ran my normal WAN-LAN and LAN-WAN tests, but also ran tests using a PPTP connection between the same two computers.  Results are shown in the tables below:

Normal Operation

Firmware Version:

1.3.2

Test Description

Qcheck Transfer Rate (Mbps)

[1Mbyte data size]

Qcheck Response Time (msec)
[10 iterations 100byte data size]

Qcheck UDP stream
[10S@500Kbps]

(Actual throughput- kbps)

(Lost data- %)

WAN-LAN

6.6

 2 (avg)
3 (max)

499

 0%

LAN-WAN

6.8

 2 (avg)
3 (max)

499

 0%

PPTP Operation

Firmware Version:

1.3.2

Test Description

Qcheck Transfer Rate (Mbps)

[1Mbyte data size]

Qcheck Response Time (msec)
[10 iterations 100byte data size]

Qcheck UDP stream
[5S@30Kbps]

(Actual throughput- kbps)

(Lost data- %)

Remote – Local

0.68

 15 (avg)
44 (max)

35

 0%

Local – Remote

1.3

 13 (avg)
21 (max)

27

 10%

[“Local” is the computer on the SNAPgear’s LAN. “Remote” is on the WAN side of the router.]

(Details of how we tested can be found here.)

Comment: Routing performance without using VPN is among the best we’ve tested and the PRO will have no trouble keeping up with most any broadband connection you can throw at it.

PPTP performance is another story.  Since this is the first test I’ve done of a PPTP connection, I have nothing to compare it with.  I have no way to tell whether the lower performance is due to the SNAPgear, MS PPTP client, or both!  UDP performance seemed the most fragile, but it was my Win98SE machine that needed to be rebooted if I tried to set a UDP stream rate of around 35Kbps or higher!

I tried to test IPsec performance but couldn’t get the Cisco VPN5000 client that I was using to establish a connection. From what I could tell from the SNAPgear’s logs, it looked like the SNAPgear’s lack of ISAKMP Aggressive mode support was my problem.

 

Summary

I was a little reluctant to spend the time evaluating yet another SOHO router, especially from a startup whose distribution strategy is a work in progress.  But after putting the SNAPgear PRO through its paces, I’m glad I did!  Although the low-cost router field is pretty crowded, SNAPgear appears to be alone in their focus on a low cost, endpoint based solution.

Folks who know their way around Linux will feel right at home, given the ability to directly edit many config files from the web admin pages.  They can even Telnet into the two top-end models and get a shell prompt!

As nice as these goodies are, SNAPgear’s got their work cut out for them.  You presently can buy their products only direct, or through small distributors, and no retail distribution is on the horizon.  There’s also work to do on the product itself, streamlining the install process, adding features, and getting MS network browsing working over VPN.

But, all things considered, it may be worth giving the SNAPgear a shot.  I mean, where else can you go to set up a LAN to LAN IPsec tunnel, with no per user licensing, for as little as $250 per LAN?