REVIEW PC Engines Alix review

Discussion in 'Networking, Telephony & Internet' started by samus, Mar 14, 2013.

  1. samus

    samus Member

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    Hi again!

    Wow 2 threads in a few hours, must be a record for me.

    In addition to “Standard Overkill” I have been trawlling around looking for small, low power solutions for a pfsense install, and there are several options like a Soekris Net series and such, but that was too big for what i wanted to do.

    So i introduce the PC Engines Alix2d13:


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    It runs on an AMD Geode processor at 800MHZ, With 256MB of RAM, and 3 VIA 10/100 ethernet ports. This is most interesting as its only 15.4 cm square, and uses are mere 12w at load of power. It will happily eat 7v to 18v DC, as long as you can supply 12w from your PSU. I’ve tested it with a bench power supply and it works just fine at 7v ~1.6A DC. They do recommend an 18v PSU though.


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    It also has some other really cool features, like dual USB ports, a mini PCI slot, an internal USB header, an IDE header, and some GPIO and I2C pins! For my application, I’m not using any of these things, but this could very easily be used as a brain to a fairly complex automation system.

    Now in this scenario I’m using it as a home firewall/router, with a copy of pfSense (surprising, huh?) on a NanoBSD build. This differs from the standard build in that the writes to the CF card are minimised as much as possible. PCEngines supply SLC flash cards for use in these boards specifically. At any rate, using this as a UTM is not a good idea, as the CF would die very quickly using it as a Squid cache. You could run it with no caching, but performance would suffer for more than a few users (due to the lack of RAM).

    This particular board, has the buzzer circuit populated as well as an RTC battery in place, if you want to put in the transducer, I would suggest element14’s part Pro Signal ABT-414-RC. They fit exactly and work great. Now you get the nice bootup and shutdown tones from the device.

    More on the hardware, this is a really nice board, the soldering is clean and the parts are well laid out. The case is also very well manufactured, and the anodising is really quite good. It also has brass tappings for the board mounting as well as for the wall mount kit.

    In terms of performance, for my application as a home firewall, it just blitzes along. i can be torrenting and max out my connection with no real issues, as well as support a IPSEC connection and an OpenVPN connection. For a more detailed pfSense review, see my other thread. It does produce a bit of heat when pushed to the max, but nothing outlandish.

    Now for the rub, the price. I’ve discussed this before, however I bought 3 units for less then $110 each (AUD) landed from Switzerland. Here in Australia, the price for the board alone is triple that. I understand you get local support again, but not for $200. Postage was excellent too, less than 5 working days from payment to my office.

    Overall, they are a great unit. I’ve had mine working at home for a few weeks now with no hiccups or complaints. Highly recommended. (Providing you buy it from O/S)

    As usual, I’ll answer any questions you may have, and ill try to add some more photos from my current setup here in the mix, as this was kind of brief.

    Mario.
     
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2013
  2. KonMan

    KonMan Member

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    The spec Sheet linked to says 500Mhz, not 800Mhz

    edit...and pitty it does not have a SATA connection ... but all in all very interesting...
     
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2013
  3. ir0nhide

    ir0nhide Member

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    could you hack up an alternative converting the CF (IDE) connector to a mini sata and use a 1.8 inch notebook drive? it looks like there's plenty of room in the chassis.
     
  4. bobfranklin

    bobfranklin Member

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    I believe there's an IDE adapter for the CF slot but not sure beyond that.
    I would have to agree though in larger business environments it's not ideal as a a squid etc (even with an RO file system and using an nfs share for the cache itself) but will work fine as a firewall running whatever you want on it.
     
  5. t3h

    t3h Member

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    I have the ALIX3d3 (the 10x16cm one) with an Ubiquiti XR2 600mw wireless card in it. Makes a very long range wireless AP when you put a similarly powerful card at the client end...

    You may be able to dig up a miniPCI SATA card...
     
  6. CaptainBlame

    CaptainBlame Member

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    Been running this setup with a wireless card for about 4 years now. I also run an Alix 1 for my web server which has an ide header and mounting bracket.
     
  7. FiShy

    FiShy Member

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    are the lan ports real or hanging of the usb? I cant see any chips for the lan.
     
  8. JaZz1138T

    JaZz1138T Member

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    I Wonder if this would choke on a 100Mbit NBN connection. Currently looking for a replacement for my CISCO 1841. The pfsense site recommends somewhere between 700Mhz - 1Ghz.
     
  9. FiShy

    FiShy Member

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    alot of us have got ubiquiti edge router lite's
     
  10. cybermonk

    cybermonk Member

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    Can we have a link for the place where you bought the boards and the case?

    Great boards and thanks for the review. :thumbup:
     
  11. Xon

    Xon Member

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    This link(scroll down), has 3x Via VT6105M 10/100 that you can physically see in the image. It is also listed on the spec block.

    It'll choke due to CPU load. Routing+NAT throughput on these is limited to about 80mbit or so.
     
  12. chip

    chip Member

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    Those 3 large-ish VIA quad flat package chips near the miniPCI socket and buzzer are VT6105M ethernet controllers

    e:fb.
     
  13. FiShy

    FiShy Member

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    Ahh good stuff
     
  14. chip

    chip Member

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    They're easy to miss at first glance, I certainly did. Probably because their packaging and size is more like an SMbus chip than the kinds of tiny BGA ethernet controllers you'd see on a desktop board these days.
     
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2013
  15. kronikabis

    kronikabis Member

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    I was considering these things, but couldn't justify the price OS vs AU
    Interesting, feel kind of silly that I could of just bypassed aussie distributor haha
     
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2013
  16. simm

    simm Member

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    We have been running one of these with pfsense as our work firewall for the last 4 or five years. It has not missed a beat, great little machine.

    Used to run it with a dual WAN setup which did not bother it at all. Recently we switched to a 10/10 Mb/s fibre connection and it eats that up as well, CPU and memory usage went up marginally.

    Not sure what our ISP is doing but I have monitored it pulling down data at a sustained 20 Mb/s (should be capped at 10 Mb/s) without breaking a sweat.
     
  17. phreeky82

    phreeky82 Member

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    I used a heap of these things (plus bigger ones) at a previous workplace, they were great little units.

    I've tested NAT in a LAN->LAN route set up using one (not sure which model exactly) and it delivered close enough to 100Mb, but other than NAT and basic filters not a whole lot was going on.
     
  18. OP
    OP
    samus

    samus Member

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    Thanks for replies everyone keep them coming.

    I bought the boards direct from PC Engines. Be aware though, that stock comes in and out, and if you want some and they have stock, buy it. Not the next day, now. When the latest batch of these boards came on, they were sold out in a week.
     
  19. ewok85

    ewok85 Member

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    I've put 60mbit through an Alix2d3 just fine, that's probably the upper range of performance though.
     

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