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Turn an Old PC into a LAN Server with RouterOS, Part 1

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Want an enterprise router for your network at a fraction of the cost of a Cisco router? Connect your offices together, remotely access files, run enterprise Wi-Fi encryption, and more. Eric Geier, author of Wi-Fi Hotspots: Setting Up Public Wireless Internet Access, shows you how to get started with the MikroTik RouterOS software that you can load onto an old PC.
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Do you need advanced routing and networking features[md]and do you have an old PC lying around? If so, you can build your own enterprise-class router. One option is to use the MikroTik RouterOS software. It's comparable to that of Cisco routers, but at a fraction of the cost.

The RouterOS software has all the usual features: routing, firewall, bandwidth management, wireless access point, backhaul link, hotspot gateway, VPN server, and more. The free 24-hour trial provides all the features with no limitations. Then you must purchase a license for one of the software levels.

Other than gaining more control over your router, you can use the internal RADIUS server for the authentication requirement of enterprise Wi-Fi encryption. You could use the VPN server to access files remotely or use it to secure your connections at Wi-Fi hotspots. Another idea is to create virtual SSIDs or VLANs to segregate visitor access. Whether you're working on a business LAN or you're spicing up your home network, the possibilities are endless.

In this two-part tutorial, we'll set up the basic router features, and then you can experiment with the other features. In this part, we'll gather the required hardware and software and then install RouterOS onto a drive. Then we'll configure the RouterOS with our Internet connection and give the router an IP. You'll see how to use a GUI application on a remote PC to do the rest of the configuration.

Getting Started with RouterOS

First, you should make sure you have all the required hardware. Although RouterOS can be installed on other platforms, we're installing it on a regular (Intel/AMD 32-bit) PC. Though you can run RouterOS headless/remotely, you'll need a keyboard, mouse, and monitor at least during the installation. After that you can use WinBox or the other remote admin utilities.

You'll need to have some sort of storage device (IDE, SATA, USB, SD, etc.) dedicated to this setup. Before installing RouterOS it will automatically partition and format the disk, and it will make itself the default OS. RouterOS requires at least 64MB of space.

Of course, RouterOS supports many network adapters, including the new 10G Ethernet cards, 802.11a/b/g/n wireless cards, and 3G modems. You likely need at least two Ethernet cards: one to connect to the Internet and the other to connect to a switch to provide more ports for your computers.

Before you get started, download the remote GUI configuration tool, WinBox, to a different computer that can connect up to the RouterOS machine during the initial configuration. Of course, you also need to download the RouterOS ISO CD image and burn to a disc.

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