An Ideal Appliance?

 in
Inside the Teak 3018
The Bad

To put it bluntly, the Teak 3018 isn't as advertised. The BIOS is its only firmware. No operating system, firewall, routing software or anything else that would qualify it as a “Network Security Appliance” comes with the box. The real story is that the 3018 is simply a general-purpose platform that can be made into pretty much anything your geeky heart desires. Be that as it may, it isn't anything out of the package but a bare-bones system. It's not a network security “appliance” as delivered. It's a system designed for OEMs to build into network security appliances.

As an OEM system, the Teak provides a good solid hardware platform, but it's not without a few serious flaws. There are two basic classes of beefs I have with the thing: hardware problems and documentation issues.

Hardware Problems

Although the selection of the hardware that goes into the Teak is deliberately Linux-friendly, the way the hardware is put together isn't particularly impressive. To begin with, in both of the systems we received, the wireless antenna wires were routed through the cooling fins on the CPU heat sink—not an auspicious way to string a thin-gauge coax, to say the least. Sharp bends over sharp edges not only abrade the insulation, they also mess with the impedance of the cable, which can cause RF signal loss and other nasty problems.

The internal layout problems don't stop there. The wireless chipset isn't on the motherboard, but is instead plugged in via a MiniPCI wireless card, which sits on a riser card floating above the motherboard. This would be a fine arrangement if the card didn't sit directly above the CompactFlash card slot and cover it so completely that it's not possible to load or unload a CF card without pulling out the wireless apparatus. If you're wanting to use a hard drive instead of a CF card, you're still going to run into some trouble. The system includes a handy drive-mounting cage that will hold your 2.5" IDE drive almost exactly the right distance from the controller port for the included hard drive cable to reach. “Almost” is the keyword here. The supplied flat cable had been crimped into a rough cylinder by a pair of tie-wraps, leaving no slack in the cable and putting excess stress on both connectors. This isn't a good idea, as it introduces unnecessary failure points in the cable and connectors.

The unit also includes an XVGA port that isn't routed to the outside of the box, which is itself a fairly defensible decision in something intended to be a network appliance. However, there is no pre-scored punch-out for those who wish to add a video connection permanently to their product, perhaps as a real-time network status display. Note that only one XVGA cable and one SDK CD-ROM were supplied for the two units. This is most likely because this is an OEM product, and an OEM will usually need only one of each as samples and then duplicate them as needed for production.

Documentation Problems

Particularly vital to a piece of OEM hardware is good documentation. Here again, the Teak falls down. There is no hard-copy documentation, only a CD-ROM full of text files and PDFs (with no PDF reader included).

The CD-ROM contains a slew of documentation for a wide range of models and is not particularly well organized. What's worse, it doesn't actually include some of the most important pieces of documentation on, for example, the motherboard, which you're left to find yourself on-line. Worse yet is that the documentation supplied for the Geode chipset is the preliminary set. The current documentation on the AMD Web site is at revision 2, and there are some significant changes from the preliminary docs. The CD-ROM itself doesn't have a README file, and the package the Teak comes in doesn't have a packing list, so there's no way to be sure that you've gotten everything you're supposed to unless, for example, you bought two or more of them. As an OEM company, that's not a problem, because it's something that's generally covered in the purchase order when the contract is negotiated, but if you're ordering a single box to hack for your own personal project, you're going to have a hard time figuring out whether you got everything you were supposed to. See the sidebar for a packing list I built based on the two boxes I got for this review.

Unfortunately, the documentation's troubles don't end there.

The block diagram—essential for proper software and embedded system design—is scanned at a very low resolution. Hard to read on the included PDF, it becomes marginally legible when printed out. The block diagram itself is incomplete—the Wi-Fi module isn't included on the generic block diagram, not to mention there's no indication that it's plugged in to the MiniPCI slot. Neither the block diagram, nor the other documentation, indicates the type of Wi-Fi card—we identified it by looking at the labels on the chipset and finding the manufacturer details on the FCC Web site.

There's also the curious matter of J12, a set of pin connectors on the motherboard that do something—what, you may ask? We haven't the foggiest idea. It may be for the video capture hardware, or it may be for the sound chip, or something else. There's no way to tell—it's not in the documentation, and it's not silk screened on the motherboard.

Information on the BIOS—including any place to download updates—is also curiously absent from the documentation. Meanwhile, on the CD-ROM, they do supply an audio driver compatible with the onboard audio chipset, while the location of the pins for accessing and wiring up the speaker/microphone/line-in ports to the audio hardware is curiously absent from all documentation. This is understandable, as this is a network security appliance, not a general-purpose box.

The specs for the box mention a BIOS ROM upgrade utility, but there's no sign of it on the SDK CD-ROM. And then, there's the GeodeROM documentation. AMD doesn't make the GeodeROM available, so why's it there? Checking the AMD Web site, we found out that the GeodeROM documentation is supplied because it contains useful hints on how to make the best use of the chipset.

The two boxes we got had an external label problem as well. The first box was labeled NSM-3018-1, while the second box had a label showing NSM-3018-7. We suspect this is a printer's error on the second label, but there's no way to be sure with what we were provided.

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The marketing

Misafir's picture

The marketing literature makes it look like it's designed to compete with the sort of firewall/switch appliances that you get at your local computer shop

Wireless security

Johanna's picture

It's not as if wireless security devices are simple appliance parts everyone can get in their cart while shopping. These things should be bought after talking with an authorized person in the field.

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