Some hardware advice needed



  • Hi,
    First of all thanks for the wonderful project Pfsense that you guys have :)
    I am a little new to the subject of embedded x86 stuff so please forgive me if those are stupid questions.

    I am thinking of getting the ALIX 2C2 and some wifi card with antenna to go for the setup.
    I also plan to use the standard box that people at linitx sell.
    There are two questions :
    1. What wireless mini pci card would you recommend since there are a few on their website?
    2. Would it be possible to somehow fit in an old 80 gig 2.5" drive I have lying around and have PfSense boot from it?

    I suppose I would need an adapter from 40 to 44 pin for the ide interface and somehow be able to fit it into the box and have it fixed in place.
    If anybody has/had similar setup I would love to hear your thoughts.



    1. Take a look at the Wireless sub-forum where there's even a sticky about recommended hardware ;)

    2. If that particular one has an IDE header then yes, if it doesn't then no.



  • Thanks for the wireless link.

    Regarding storage that was quite stupid for me since I just assumed that the ide port should be there.
    You are right , these boards don't have ide connectors on them.
    What about http://linitx.com/viewproduct.php?prodid=11749 ?
    This is a mini pci with ide , cf and sata interfaces.
    Would it work under PfSense?
    If not is there a way to have all the packages available for the embedded version?
    I expecially want to use Snort since I use it with my current router and would like to keep it.
    I would have it connected to my home linux server where BASE is running.



  • Some people have had success with microdrives, hard drives that will plug into a CF socket. I gave up trying to get a 4GB Seagate micro drive working with FreeBSD.

    Some of the Alix boards have USB interfaces. I don't know if the BIOS supports booting from the USB interfaces but if it does, you could use a USB hard drive adapter for a notebook drive. Not all of these work with FreeBSD. I bought a number of these on eBay. They all looked the same but two different brands of adapter chips were used. One of the chips worked well with FreeBSD, Windows and three different Linux versions but the other chipset would work only with Windows and the later versions of Linux. If you decide to go this route you may be able to puchase an adpter on the understanding you can return/exchange it if it doesn't work with FreeBSD. I can look up the chips brand and model if it would be useful to you.



  • Ok I have read the motherboard manual a little more carefully and they say that 2c2 can be equipped with ide header on request.
    I will email the guys in the store and ask if such a board can be arranged for me.

    If not possible I am still thinking about that mini pci card from my previous post .
    Since this is natively 44 pin header , it sounds like a perfect  solution if only is supported under FreeBSD.
    Apparently it uses VIA VT6421A as a chipset.
    Any info on support for that?

    I don't think usb is supported for boot and except it would look really messy having the usb enclosure hanging out on a usb cable.
    I would prefer an internal solution :)
    I am also not sure whether the power supply has enough juice for external usb hard drives.



  • Check the FreeBSD hardware support page at http://www.freebsd.org/releases/7.1R/hardware.html for the IDE controller on the mini-PC board. If thats silent it could be worth checking the ata man page through  http://www.freebsd.org/cgi/man.cgi Maybe better still would be an assurance from the shop they will take the mini PCI card back if it doesn't work with your preferred version of pfSense.

    Regarding the USB drive adapter, some of these are only marginally bigger than the drives themselves and have very small PC boards. I haven't measured it but I suspect they would take only marginally more power than the drive itself. So, if your power supply can handle the motherboard and drive mounted internally its highly likely to be able to handle the motherboard and drive in a USB adapter.

    One thing I would be cautious about mounting the drive internally: what will the additional heat do to the internal temperature? I have a mini ITX system in a small box which I ran for a while with the lid off because the 3.5 inch drive was generating too much heat too close to the 12V to ATX power adapter and causing the power adapter to shutdown. And this in a box with a fan on the side wall. (I've since solved that problem by changing to a solid state drive.) I think the standard Alix boxes are pretty small which suggests this might be an issue that needs research.



  • Yeah this is worth checking.
    I still think it could work since this is a laptop 4200rpm drive which shouldnt generate too much heat as opposed to 3.5" ones.
    Right now it resides inside an enclosure and when I use it it hardly feels warm when operating.
    This adapter is not listed as supported and there are some reports found in Google that its not yet supported in FreeBSD.
    I am not sure though whether they refer to the sata ports for which I could care less if these don't work or the ide part.
    Anyway back to the other possibility :
    Is it possible to have full version with packages on cf card with read only filesystem?



  • Depends on your packages.

    Some people have managed this, others have a working full install on CF and some of us have found working Microdrives and use those.



  • I would really be interested on the full install with cf.
    If necessary I could use a usb stick for writable filesystem.
    Any pointers on howtos for that?



  • Just do the full install.  If you're using a cheap (domestic) grade CF then it'll fail after some unknown amount of time ;)

    Better to try to find a compatible Microdrive - if you search the forum you'll find many threads.



  • Ok then I just bought a 4 gig hitachi microdrive.
    According to some threads here they are known to work so good luck to me :P
    Another question I wanted to ask is regarding the install procedure.
    Should I use a usb cdrom and boot from the install cd or is there some other way?
    I am asking because I am not sure whether alix boards actually support booting from cd.



  • You can either boot from USB CD (if the board supports it) or put the Microdrive into a CF adapter on another host and install there.



  • Does it matter what kind of cf-ide adapter to choose?

    Also after I have the OS installed I guess the boot needs to be changed to accomodate the device change right?



    1. Yes.  If you pay peanuts you'll get cheap and nasty.  Some of the cheap and nasty adapters don't work well (I've seen problems with them not supporting booting - for any OS).

    2. The boot order of the BIOS yes.  The boot order on the OS maybe.



  • Well I don't actually need to be able to boot from the cf-ide adapter.
    All I need is to have it recognize my microdrive and let me install the OS from bootable cd.
    Then I remove the microdrive and install it on the ALIX board.
    That means all I need is to make sure the microdrive is recognized right?



  • Yes, even a USB-CF adapter should do.



  • I run a 40g 2.5" drive inside the standard ALIX case with a full install of pfSense including squidGuard.  The ALIX has plenty of power for web filtering in a small office.  The hard drive is fastened to the case top with double sided thermal tape, and a 6" 44 pin ide cable connects the drive.(no separate power required)  If you want to see pictures they are available here:  http://www.geardiary.com/2008/02/17/a-open-source-router…with-more-power-the-lx800-40-review/

    On an ALIX, a full install of pfSense uses less than 10 watts of power, with the cost of electricity these days it will pay for itself in about 18 months.  If you don't want to enjoy the fun of doing it yourself you can buy a pre-assembled firewall at http://nw-ds.com/products/firewall/lx800-40.html  For those that enjoy assembling hardware, instructions for setting up pfSense on an ALIX with an IDE drive are available at http://forum.pfsense.org/index.php/topic,13509.0.html


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