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Chilibox Review

Posted on 28-Aug-2006 10:10 by M Freitas | Filed under: Reviews

I've read about the Chilibox on the Internet. But I first came across one of these devices during the International 2006 CES. At that time I arranged to have one of those sent to us here in New Zealand, at an appropriate time.

The guys from Pillar Technotronics, in Singapore, have sent me a unit for review, with the latest hardware updates, including a wireless access point feature.

Exactly what is the Chilibox? Think of this as an appliance, not a computer (albeit it looks like one). It's something that is easy to plug and use, completely user-configurable through built-in administration web pages.

The main feature this device will provide is Internet routing to a household or small office. You will be able to easily share a single internet connection with PCs (laptops, desktops) and wi-fi (802.11b/g, up to 54Mbps, WEP encryption) equipped mobile devices.

The Chilibox is a small computer (11.75" (L) x 10.24" (W) x 5.31" (H)) running a modified version of FreeBSD. But you don't need to know this. You actually will never plug a monitor and keyboard to this box, since all configuration is managed through a set of web pages, including reboot and shutdown of the router. Those pages are access through a SSL encrypted connection for your security.

It is actually not much bigger than a paperback book. It's virtually silent (although a small fan in the back may create some noise at a times), based on a VIA C3 EDEN Class Processor running at 1.0 GHz, and with 256 MB DDR RAM. It comes with a 160 GB HDD and dual 10/100 network interface cards. It also comes with a wi-fi network interface, so that you can provide wireless network access to devices on your network.

How easily can you start sharing your Internet connection after your plug the Chilibox? Not hard at all, if you have configured a router before. But if this is your first time experiencing network configuration, you will want to read the manuals. You will be dealing with IP addresses, DHCP configuration (for your internal LAN) and, in case of using the wi-fi part of the Chilibox, channels and WPA security.

But is it just a router on steroids? Not at all. The box comes ready to be used as a very capable home or small office server. It provides an out-of-the-box experience that otherwise would require users to collate tools from around the Internet and configure each separately, trying to avoid conflicts, etc.

What can you do with a Chilibox? Check this list (the Internet address is because I took the screenthots before connecting the machine to my cable connection):

  • Internet routing
  • DNS services
  • DHCP services
  • NAT services
  • Stateful Packet Inspection (SPI) Firewall services
  • Web Proxy services
  • File sharing
  • Mail services
  • Wireless access point
  • VPN services

    You can see through this list that Chilibox can be used by companies wanting a simple to use, single box solution for their Internet requirements. The only things missing from the list is a database service and web services.

    To plug the Chilibox to the Internet you will need a switch. Any one of those devices will do. Simply plug a cable connecting one of the marked NICs to your cable or DSL modem, and anoother cable from the second NIC to the switch. You can then plug all your computers to this switch. The Chilibox will work almost instantly - your internal network will be active and you can browse to the administration web pages to change the Internet configuration, exactly like you'd do with a stand-alone router.

    The administration pages will show you in a glance what services are active, through colour coded menus. Green indicates an OK service, Red a service which is started but not working as expected, and grey for non-started services.

    The NAT configuration will allow you to create virtual servers within your organisation. For example if you have a second machine acting as a web server, then you could forward a port through this configuration page.

    Mail services allow the Chilibox to receive and send your e-mails automatically. For this to work you have to manage your users (screenshot below), create the organisation, and of course arrange with your domain name provider to have MX records pointing to your IP address. This will guarantee all e-mails sent to your domain name will be forwarded correctly to your IP, and the Chilibox will then process the mail and distribute to the appropriate users. You will be able to access the e-mail through POP3 or a webmail interface, from within your organisation or outside.

    You will also find a spam control setting that will allow you to automatically filter incoming spam e-mails, based on a scale from 0 to 10.

    If you don't have a static IP address, don't panic. The Chilibox can join a domain hosted by Chilisystems, and it will update its status and current IP address automatically.

    The same users configured for e-mail have access to the File Sharing feature. You are able to use the Chilibox as a network storage, and users will have access to their own private area, or to shared spaces. Out of the original 160GB bundled with this computer you can use 140GB for sharing. And that's not all. If you want to make automatic backups of all this data, simply plug an external USB drive and you can schedule an automatic backup that will copy your users' data to an external storage.

    With the web proxy you can even reduce the traffic outside your network, by proxying requests to external web sites, and manage access to sites with inappropriate material.

    While using the Chilibox I didn't notice any negative impact on my network. It would be great, for larger organisations, to have an option of gigabit network interface though. And the wireless range wasn't so great after all. Using my tablet PC from the lounge was sometimes a problem, with a weaker signal than that provided by my standalone access point.

    The Chilibox is very well thought, and it even allows remote support. The Firewall Service provided blocks all RFC1918
    addresses (private 192, 172, and 10 addresses), draft-manning, multicast, loopback, and spoofed packets bound for the
    network, originating from the Internet side of the Chilibox. It also hides your network (port stealth) from the Internet by not responding to port scanning tool. And although I haven't tested this, the manufacturer claim it provides DoS and DDoS attacks protection.

    A solid device, really good investment for a small business where licensing costs afterwards is not something they want to be tied to, and an interesting option for a small family household where each user can have their own space on the server.

    Would I use one? Yes, if I didn't already have a combination of standalone router and my own Windows Server box running Exchange Server for e-mail - although I had the Chilibox as my main router for a while, happily working along with my other server.

  • Ready to use out of the box;
  • Good disc space for individual or shared storage;
  • Easy administration with clear pages;
  • Services galore, but the ones not present on standalone routers are great: storage, email, web proxy, automatic backup;
  • Compact;
  • Good looks.

  • Administration becomes complex with more active services - do it one at a time;
  • Wireless acess point not strong enough for some areas;
  • Requires a switch (another power point needed for this).