Latitude D800 success!



  • Hi, everybody.  This is my first post.  I thought I'd give you a short story of how I got pfSense installed and working on an old laptop.

    I had a 7-year old D800 (Dell laptop) that was sitting on the shelf, gathering dust.  It was perfectly functional, but too old for any serious work.  I wanted to try and install pfSense on it.  When I made that decision, my router/firewall was a WRT-54G running DD-WRT.  The main reason for replacing it was so I could turn it into a dedicated wireless access point, and more importantly, get it out of my home server closet and put it in a better location.

    Obviously, the laptop had only one Ethernet port, which was an issue.  So I stuck in a Linksys PCM100 PC-card 10/100 Ethernet card to provide a second RJ-45 jack.  PfSense installed on the laptop…seemingly without a hitch.  It detected both the internal and the PC Card devices.  But, curiously, the Linksys device seemed to be power cycling.  I was using it as my WAN port.  In the pfSense interface, I could see it cycle from "down" to "up" to "up and with an IP address" to "down" again.  And there was no functional connectivity - I couldn't get to the Internet.

    Thinking that I had a defective PC card, I swapped in another Ethernet PC card (SMC8040TX).  This, too, was detected by pfSense.  This, too, was exhibiting the up/down, up/down behavior that I was getting with the Linksys.

    Putting on my basic troubleshooting cap, I was leaning toward a bad PC Card slot in the laptop.  I'm a Windows guy, not a BSD guy, so before I started digging through BSD PC Card documentation, I wanted to try something I knew.  So I installed Windows XP on the laptop to test whether the PC Card slot was any good.  And it was.  Once I had the correct drivers installed, both PC Card Ethernet devices worked immediately and perfectly.

    Shoot.  Not a bad PC Card slot - it's some issue with the pfSense software.  I did a little Googling to see if there was an obvious answer, but came up empty.  As a last resort, I reinstalled pfSense and tried a Linksys USB300M USB Ethernet adapter.  Lo, pfSense detected it and connected!  Thank goodness.

    So now I have this ancient D800 laptop running pfSense, with the LAN port assigned to the internal Ethernet (gigabit) and the WAN port assigned to the USB dongle (10/100).  As much as I prefer not to use USB for networking, I have to say it's working perfectly.  In addition, Internet speeds are actually BETTER than with the WRT-54G.  And now I'm well on my way toward setting up a vLAN, although it may be a better option to simply get another USB dongle and run my wireless access points on a totally separate subnet.  Any advice is welcome (I have no managed switches though).

    Anyway, the main purpose behind this post was to let anybody else considering repurposing an old laptop that it CAN be done fairly easily, provided you have the correct hardware.  In other words, had I been able to find a post such as this, it would have saved me a chunk of time.

    -sacman



  • @sacman:

    Hi, everybody.  This is my first post.  I thought I'd give you a short story of how I got pfSense installed and working on an old laptop.

    I had a 7-year old D800 (Dell laptop) that was sitting on the shelf, gathering dust.  It was perfectly functional, but too old for any serious work.  I wanted to try and install pfSense on it.  When I made that decision, my router/firewall was a WRT-54G running DD-WRT.  The main reason for replacing it was so I could turn it into a dedicated wireless access point, and more importantly, get it out of my home server closet and put it in a better location.

    Obviously, the laptop had only one Ethernet port, which was an issue.  So I stuck in a Linksys PCM100 PC-card 10/100 Ethernet card to provide a second RJ-45 jack.  PfSense installed on the laptop…seemingly without a hitch.  It detected both the internal and the PC Card devices.  But, curiously, the Linksys device seemed to be power cycling.  I was using it as my WAN port.  In the pfSense interface, I could see it cycle from "down" to "up" to "up and with an IP address" to "down" again.  And there was no functional connectivity - I couldn't get to the Internet.

    Thinking that I had a defective PC card, I swapped in another Ethernet PC card (SMC8040TX).  This, too, was detected by pfSense.  This, too, was exhibiting the up/down, up/down behavior that I was getting with the Linksys.

    Putting on my basic troubleshooting cap, I was leaning toward a bad PC Card slot in the laptop.  I'm a Windows guy, not a BSD guy, so before I started digging through BSD PC Card documentation, I wanted to try something I knew.  So I installed Windows XP on the laptop to test whether the PC Card slot was any good.  And it was.  Once I had the correct drivers installed, both PC Card Ethernet devices worked immediately and perfectly.

    Shoot.  Not a bad PC Card slot - it's some issue with the pfSense software.  I did a little Googling to see if there was an obvious answer, but came up empty.  As a last resort, I reinstalled pfSense and tried a Linksys USB300M USB Ethernet adapter.  Lo, pfSense detected it and connected!  Thank goodness.

    So now I have this ancient D800 laptop running pfSense, with the LAN port assigned to the internal Ethernet (gigabit) and the WAN port assigned to the USB dongle (10/100).  As much as I prefer not to use USB for networking, I have to say it's working perfectly.  In addition, Internet speeds are actually BETTER than with the WRT-54G.  And now I'm well on my way toward setting up a vLAN, although it may be a better option to simply get another USB dongle and run my wireless access points on a totally separate subnet.  Any advice is welcome (I have no managed switches though).

    Anyway, the main purpose behind this post was to let anybody else considering repurposing an old laptop that it CAN be done fairly easily, provided you have the correct hardware.  In other words, had I been able to find a post such as this, it would have saved me a chunk of time.

    -sacman

    Thanks for the heads up. I am looking to do the same. How is your new rig working out for you?


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