Cheap hardware for homelab



  • I'm looking for some cheap hardware to use as a router/gateway as I'm setting up my homelab in order to experiment more on networking.

    Budget: 200-300€ max (and IMO it's too much, it's a router geez)

    It'll be used as a router/firewall/gateway/NAT and it should be able to handle up to 50MB/s downlink. VPN at a decent speed is optional but very welcome.

    It should obviously have at least 2 NIC (and a built-in switch is an awesome bonus)

    I've looked at the official pfsense hardware but the only one within my budget (SG-1000) seems like a bit underpowered with a 600 MHz CPU.

    Got any recommendations based on these specs?  I'm just starting out and not sure where to look.



  • You have lots of options, do a search on Amazon. Avoid J1800 and J1900.

    The following is a decent box within your budget:
    https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01N4CVSRB/ref=sxbs_sr_ss_b_1?pf_rd_m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&pf_rd_p=1481071587&pd_rd_wg=jd5CP&pf_rd_r=NQRS6FRV683565P72JR4&pf_rd_s=desktop-sx-bottom-slot&pf_rd_t=301&pd_rd_i=B01N4CVSRB&pd_rd_w=mwTfL&pf_rd_i=qotom&pd_rd_r=99fee4ba-f927-4c1b-ab05-fde97a7374f5&ie=UTF8&qid=1511533217&sr=1

    If you're going to run a lab for testing/troubleshooting sooner or later you would need a duplicate system. You don't need to buy the second box right away but it better be as close to your first box as possible, so you can't wait too long as hardware changes almost overnight. Then you would need some extra/spare parts like memory chips, small size hard disk drives, ssds, extra net cables etc.



  • I'm looking for some cheap hardware to use as a router/gateway as I'm setting up my homelab in order to experiment more on networking.

    If it should be running pfSense, then I would tend to go with;

    • APU2C4 bundle (case, board and PSU)
    • mSATA
      – 16 GB (firewall only)
      -- 32 GB (installing more packets and logging)
      -- 64 GB (more packets, logging and squid caching)
      -- 120 GB (more users, more traffic and squid caching storage)
    • Compex WLE200NX or UBNT SR71-E
      WiFi cards if only if really needed but htis two ones are working very well!

    Budget: 200-300€ max (and IMO it's too much, it's a router geez)

    You are comparing a small plastic router against a x86 software firewall based on FreeBSD and this is not
    a small Linux kernel like other are using it is also not ASIC/FPGA based and pushed! So the real work must
    be done alone by the CPU or SoC.

    It'll be used as a router/firewall/gateway/NAT and it should be able to handle up to 50MB/s downlink. VPN at a decent speed is optional but very welcome.

    APU2C4 will do that with ease.

    It should obviously have at least 2 NIC (and a built-in switch is an awesome bonus)

    APU2C4 are coming with three NICs or LAN ports and could be pimped up to 4 or 5 LAN Ports.

    I've looked at the official pfsense hardware but the only one within my budget (SG-1000) seems like a bit underpowered with a 600 MHz CPU.

    SG-3100 device for ~$350 from netgate, it will be also nice running and is powerfully enough
    for ~95 MBit/s OpenVPN and ~300 MBit/s IPSec VPN performance.

    Got any recommendations based on these specs?  I'm just starting out and not sure where to look.

    pfSense SG-3100
    PC Engines APU2C4
    Qotom-Q355G4 Intel Core i5-5250U Processor 4 LAN Ports



  • As stated above, the best choices for your setup are:

    pfSense SG-3100
    PC Engines APU2C4
    Qotom-Q355G4 Intel Core i5-5250U Processor 4 LAN Ports

    I'd start out with the APU since it's slightly more powerful than the SG-3100, but if you don't need more power, the SG is the way to go. The Qotom is a lot better (faster, more NICs) but will cost more depending on where you are.



  • Qotom also has celeron model q310g4 or i3 model q330g4
    https://www.aliexpress.com/item/QOTOM-310G4-3215U-Barebone-mini-pc-Dual-core-4-nics-Mini-pc-Ubuntu-Industrial-desktop-Computer/32769767156.html

    It seems similar manufacturers are Qotom or MiniSys, other brands all are from these two brands' OEM/ODM.



  • If you want to do it cheap, get refurbished stuff.
    A PC with a cpu that supports aes-ni (requirement for pfsense 2.5). 50-100€
    An extra nic or two (preferbly intel). about 10-15€ each.



  • @Mats:

    If you want to do it cheap, get refurbished stuff.
    A PC with a cpu that supports aes-ni (requirement for pfsense 2.5). 50-100€
    An extra nic or two (preferbly intel). about 10-15€ each.

    I HIGHLY Suggest "Preferably Intel".  I have used realtek and tplink with no real issues in the past (only had 150mb ISP then)….that is why I'm actually here today.  I haven't really had time to come check up on the boards lately.  I just came to catch up and saw this post.  I have used refurbs like many here do.  I have been stuck on my core 2 duo for years now...and it STILL runs fine.  I have had no issues.  However, I just bought another home recently...before moving in I got AT&T gigapower...and I didn't have enough spare Intel NICs so..my 3rd NIC was realtek....it would only do 500-600mb+...I was like wtf? I was thinking I couldn't use a core 2 duo anymore...so ....I had a spare core i7 just layin around....same issue and found out it was the NIC.  The 2nd NIC (Intel) worked fine....so...fast forward to today...I was like...hmmm...my old/original FW...is now at my new house...fully configured still...plugged it in...and I had my full speeds up/down on both LAN Nics....constantly ~950mb+.  On a dual intel NIC that I have had for years.  I only have 2GB ram.  I don't run much anymore...just a couple game servers on 2nd NIC, 1st NIC is my home network with a few pcs/laptops/phones/smart devices (nest/google,tivo/vonage/home security/etc) and I use Open VPN to get back home without any issues...unless the remote place I am at has crappy service lol.

    Here is some of my info on my old box that I just plugged back in and using again:

    BIOS Vendor: Dell Inc.
    Version: A05
    Release Date: 08/17/2009
    Version 2.3.4-RELEASE-p1 (i386)
    built on Fri Jul 14 14:53:03 CDT 2017
    FreeBSD 10.3-RELEASE-p19

    CPU Type Intel(R) Core(TM)2 Duo CPU E7500 @ 2.93GHz
    2 CPUs: 1 package(s) x 2 core(s)

    Disk usage ( / )
    2% of 140GiB - ufs
    Memory usage
    7% of 1947 MiB



  • Yeah, a good NIC vs. bad NIC an make a world of difference. Regarding that E7500, it has no AES-NI, so pfSense won't support it anymore when 2.5 comes out. It's mostly because of the AES acceleration, but also a point at which Intel makes chips with at least some features that are also included in chips that have AES-NI. They could probably state that you need a CPU with at least:

    SSE4
    64-bit
    2 threads at the same time
    DMI or better
    1Ghz or better

    but if they say: get one with AES-NI all those other things are included already.



  • Thanks for all the help. From what I've seen I'll probably end up with an APU2C4 + a managed switch since it's probably cheaper than the other systems suggested.



  • @solirios:

    Thanks for all the help. From what I've seen I'll probably end up with an APU2C4 + a managed switch since it's probably cheaper than the other systems suggested.

    A managed switch is probably a good thing to have anyway. It makes organising your network a whole lot easier!



  • @johnkeates:

    @solirios:

    Thanks for all the help. From what I've seen I'll probably end up with an APU2C4 + a managed switch since it's probably cheaper than the other systems suggested.

    A managed switch is probably a good thing to have anyway. It makes organising your network a whole lot easier!

    Agree with John…a managed switch actually gave me a work around in my new house today since I dont have cabling ran everywhere "Yet".  I had to basically trunk some vlans to utilize 1 cable I do have in place from one end of the house to the other for now...it's a long story...but my main managed switch now is just a cheap HP ProCurve 1810G 24 port...i bought it for around 150-200 I think a few years back...and I don't recall it ever locking up.  I just moved and noticed the uptime was over 2 years.  I have APC UPS's everywhere...and hardly had power issues in my old home.

    The HP ProCurve 1810G was a replacement to corporate level switches that I had previously (nortel/cisco) but i got tired of the power consumption/noise/heat.  This HP has most of the features, uses less power, a million times quieter because of ZERO fans.  It's a little learning curve if you're used to the CLI of most other corporate switches...but it does everything I need.  You should check it out for your home lab.  It's managed, passive cooling, quiet, stable, and even has fiber connections if you need/want (only 2)



  • i have a qotom J1900 with 4 intel nics and 4gb ram for sale. i moved to a rackmount system.
    PM me if interested. I am from germany.


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