Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dell's Open Source computers

A customer of mine needed an inexpensive computer to use as an IPCop firewall. Knowing how much he liked Dell machines I looked on their web site for an inexpensive desktop computer, under product category I found "Open-Source Desktops". Perfect! No Windows OS, just good hardware with FreeDos included. Since I wanted to keep the cost down I went with the Vostro series. For less than $350 my client was able to get a Dual Core 1.6Ghz Pentium w/ 1GB of Ram and an 80GB hard drive. Perfect!

Today I pulled the computer from it's shipping box and tried to install IPCop 1.4.16. It can't find the CD-Rom drive. So I do a little googling and discover that the Vostro 200 uses a very new chip set that really isn't supported in Linux distributions yet. While the Hard drive/DVD Drive issues can be solved by switching the SATA controller from IDE to RAID in the Bios, you still have to recompile the e1000 driver from the latest source at Intel's web site. Dandy! And switching from IDE to RAID in the bios didn't do anything in IPCop, the CD-Rom still wasn't found.

So I decided to load the machine with CentOS 5 and VMWare. Then I loaded IPCop in as a Virtual Machine. Sure it's over-kill but a dual core 1.6Ghz machine is over-kill for a small office firewall anyway. Since the Vostro 200 only has 1 onboard NIC I needed to install a second NIC anyway for the firewall functionality. So I installed a Realtek 8139 card as eth0 and set the onboard Intel as eth1. I then assigned a public IP to eth0 and configured VMWare to use both ethernet cards with the Realtek being the Red (Public) interface. Once installed I'll lock down the public IP of the host OS so it's only accessible from my own IP space and since the card on the public side has been well supported in Linux for some time it shouldn't be an issue to keep upgrading the host OS as needed.

The moral of the story is, while Dell may sell Open Source machines. They don't necessarily run all or even most Open Source OSes in stock form. Heck, if you check their web site, the only drivers they offer for the box is for Windows Vista and XP. So what's Open Source about these boxes????

Today while searching for answers I did stumble across Dell's Ubuntu computers which apparently come pre-installed. They are using slightly more expensive hardware which likely isn't quite as cutting edge. Thus better support in current distros I suspect.

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