Jetway JBC420 review: Roll your own networking gear

Designed with network appliance use in mind, the Jetway JBC420 is a power-sipping marvel

Editor's Choice
Price
£195
  • Outstanding power consumption; Small and light; Twin Gigabit Ethernet ports; Great value
  • Performance too poor for desktop use

Looking at the Jetway JBC420, you might reasonably assume it's a mini PC, in the style of the Shuttle DH370 or the QuietPC AMD Sentinel Fanless, but you'd only be half right. It is technically capable of being used as a desktop device - it's got full support for Windows 10 and all the necessary ports - but it's actually designed to be used as a network appliance.

The idea is to provide a low-cost hardware platform on top of which businesses (or dedicated networking hobbyists) can install their own network management software to handle traffic routing, network security or packet analysis duties.

The specifications tell you all you need to know about the Jetway's wheelhouse: two network ports, a small SSD, 4GB of DDR3 memory and a low-end Celeron processor combine to produce a system that struggles as a general-purpose desktop - a theory borne out by its dismal performance in every compute benchmark we ran - but what it does have are dual Intel Gigabit Ethernet ports and a combined RS232/422/485 serial port.

Coupled with its compact size, being one of the smallest and lightest systems we've seen short of the Raspberry Pi 4, this makes the Jetway JBC420 a great choice for a roll-your-own router, firewall or gateway project. The machine runs silently, using the chassis as its heatsink, and its power draw at idle is a mere 5.9W. Even at load, the Jetway drew an absolute peak of 13.1W - less than some rival systems at idle. It also boasts the most mounting options of any machine in its category, coming as standard with VESA, wall and DIN rail mounting hardware.

The price, too, is more than reasonable - although the headline figure is with the system being supplied without an OS, shaving north of 100 off compared to most of its rivals. Throw a Linux or BSD-based operating system on there and you've got a fully custom network appliance for little more than the cost of a high-end consumer off-the-shelf equivalent. Elsewhere, the four processor cores and presence of AES-NI cryptographic acceleration instructions make up for the Celeron's relative lack of overall compute performance.

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Only the warranty comes as a slight disappointment, but the low cost of the system and free build service helps soften the blow: while two years of return-to-base service is above the industry average, it would have been nice to see it matching the three years offered by some of its competitors.

The Jetway JBC420 is a fairly unique device, which makes it somewhat hard to categorise; it's not really a security gateway or firewall, but it's not really a mini PC, either. What it is, is a light, low-cost and compact block of basic compute resource that's perfect for projects where you need the flexibility of a Raspberry Pi-style platform coupled with just a little more processing power.

It's a niche use-case to be sure, but it's one this machine absolutely nails, and you want to build your own network appliance, there's really nothing else like it.

Verdict

The Jetway JBC420 is a unique little machine that's next to useless as a mini PC but absolutely outstanding as the basis for a homebrew networking appliance for tasks like routing or firewall management.

Processor

Intel Core i5-7260U

RAM

4GB DDR4-2400 SODIMM

Front USB ports

2 x USB-A 3,

Rear USB ports

2 x USB-A 3

Graphics card

Intel HD Graphics 400

Storage

500GB, M.2 NVMe/SATA, 4 x SATA

Operating system

None

Warranty

2yr RTB

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