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simple stand-alone firewall

>From the standpoint of protection of a LAN (two or three machines) for
a home or home office, how effective is a firmware-based
firewall/router in comparison with a software-based stand-alone
firewall/router?  Is either significantly better than the other?

I am thinking in terms of devoting an old computer (200 MHz Pentium)
to the task of firewall/router.  In years past (back in the dark epoch
when I was running Window$), I discovered SmoothWall while struggling
with a DSL line with PPPoE.

After downloading a small CD ISO image from the SmoothWall web site,
it took me less than an hour to install and configure SmoothWall.
With SmoothWall, it was not necessary for the user to study the subject
of firewall configuration -- the default SmoothWall configuration was
perfectly adequate for most users.

I quit using SmoothWall several years ago, when a friend gave me a
firmware firewall/router and convinced me that I ought to make the
transition, simply for the economy in terms of desktop space and
electricity.  And I no longer have the curse of PPPoE.  

But now I think that it might be prudent to return to a devoted
machine and software, and I would much prefer to use a Debian package
instead of SmoothWall.

Is there a good firewall application in Debian which provides a secure
default configuration?  Or must I learn how to configure a firewall?


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