Pfsense Laptop - Ethernet ExpressCard Compatibility



  • The questions I have seen around the web, no one seems to have a definitive answer to what Ethernet ExpressCard is compatible,
    and works well with FreeBSD/Pfsense. Well I have done some of the leg work for you as I am considering going down the path of
    using a Thinkpad T61 as an firewall. You can pick one up on the cheap for $100 to $150 bucks. Keep in mind this will be used in an home
    office environment 30/6 cable connection running many Pfsense plug-ins and rules.

    What are the benefits?
    For starters, you get a low power 35w Core 2 Duo Processor that has a passmark rating in the 2000 range.
    And how about a Built in Monitor and Keyboard to boot.

    But what about that second Ethernet connection?

    FreeBSD hardware support list
    http://www5.us.freebsd.org/relnotes/CURRENT/hardware/support.html#ethernet

    The re(4) driver supports RealTek RTL8139C+, RTL8169, RTL816xS, RTL811xS, RTL8168, RTL810xE and RTL8111 based Fast Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet adapters including:

    I assume RTL8111 includes all RTL8111xx?

    Wish there was an Intel based controller :-\ but here are the few choices I have found so far. There are older ExpressCards
    out there but I have only looked at the main ones which seem to be dominate in the supply chain. If you would like to
    add some older ExpressCard that you know there chipset is on the FreeBSD hardware list please do.

    SYBA SD-EXP24010 ExpressCard 1x RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet Card
    Realtek RTL8411 Chipset
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16839328041
    http://www.sybausa.com/productInfo.php?iid=1048¤tPage=0
    http://218.210.127.131/products/productsView.aspx?Langid=1&PNid=13&PFid=5&Level=5&Conn=4&ProdID=311
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Realtek
    Syba seem to be an ok company, I think?

    StarTech EC1000S ExpressCard Gigabit Ethernet Network Adapter Card
    Realtek - RTL8111DL Chipset
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16839158038
    http://www.startech.com/Networking-IO/Adapter-Cards/1-Port-ExpressCard-Gigabit-Laptop-Ethernet-NIC-Network-Adapter-Card~EC1000S
    Not sure what to think of Startech other than there products seem over priced. And I believe the RTL8111DL is an older chipset line any way.

    BELKIN F5U250 Gigabit Ethernet ExpressCard
    Generic Marvel Yukon Chipset. ???
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16839314004
    http://cache-www.belkin.com/support/dl/p75030_f5u250_man.pdf
    Seems as though Belkin is only willing to state its an Generic Marvel Yukon Chipset. ???
    No telling what could be in the card. Again they seem over priced compared to SYBA.

    Have looked at maybe doing an ExpressCard to PCI-E 16X Card adapter ….. not sure if it would be
    compatible and the trouble of putting an Intel Pro 1000 PT Dual Gigabit Ethernet in an Diy project box.
    http://www.hwtools.net/Adapter/PE4H.html

    Anyone that would like to contribute other ExpressCards and confirm compatibility please do for the community.



  • You could also use a smart switch and vlan the WAN interface to the onboard NIC instead of adding a NIC card.

    That is what I do with an old DELL notebook.



  • I plan on setting it up in both network configuration to test network latency and throughput.
    I think in the end, I will be using an Expresscard as I think running a single nic may incur a latency penalty?



  • If you haven't bought your laptop yet, a decent laptop with a PCMCIA slot can get you all sorts of supported cards, almost all will be 10/100, but that's probably plenty fine for your WAN side (found one Gb, but was an old Realtek chipset, probably best avoided.)  There's lots of laptops with Core2Duos for cheap that have PCMCIA and Intel chipsets; my quick look at Dell Latitudes popped up with some (the ThinkPads I was finding seemed to be a bit more expensive.)

    Of course, I'm derailing from your stated thought, but just offering alternatives.

    Remember, though, that the CPU is only part of the equation and that the thermal design is the top of what it should be designed to dissipate, not exactly what it puts out.  Most Core2Duos will idle down to a fairly low wattage, not always with a delta temp that matches their thermal design.  What I'm getting at is I would try to not judge a system's total wattage by it's CPU TDP.

    Take the laptop you're looking at with a CPU with a TDP of 35w.  Imagine that it was originally ordered for an industrial engineer, maybe he uses CAD or something, or just thought he needed a better video card, so they ordered it with an NVIDIA Quadro NVS 140M that was available.  I can't say what the BSD driver is going to do with that, such as if it plays nice with power, so maybe we assume that it runs at full speed all the time.  Luckily, with this one, it'll only take about 10 watts, but some take a lot more.  And with most laptops, unlike desktops, you generally can't just pull out the video card and resort to onboard video, that card may be on the board permanently.  All things being equal, a laptop is often a decent source of low power hardware, but not always.  In this instance you could easily see 45 or more watts at idle, especially if it has onboard WiFi (I didn't check to see if it's removable) that might not be able to be electrically disabled, since if it isn't supported it's just dead weight, physically and electrically.  Oh, and some machines came with 7200RPM hard drives, but that's usually easy enough to replace with an SSD.  I'd pop the CDRom drive too, no need for it once it has its OS.

    Also watch out for dust; laptops aren't always exactly great about dealing with dust in their vents.  Since it's on all the time, that can build up.

    But, don't get me wrong, laptops can work just fine for this kind of thing, I've done it (mostly on the server side, though; my first personal web server was a 486 Laptop.)  What you may gain is built-in battery backup, that could be kind of handy; assuming the Lithium Ion battery hasn't oxidized, but replacements may be inexpensive.

    Going the VLAN route, like NOYB mentioned may be a decent alternative.



  • @Clear-Pixel:

    I plan on setting it up in both network configuration to test network latency and throughput.
    I think in the end, I will be using an Expresscard as I think running a single nic may incur a latency penalty?

    Using a single NIC shouldn't change the latency other than you end up with an extra local switch hop between the router and your cable modem since the switch has to do the VLAN translation. The VLAN tagging itself shouldn't add any noticeable latency, though.  At your connection speed you shouldn't notice any bandwidth constraints either, unless you're using your pfSense install to do some internal network filtering, which you probably aren't.  Even if you were splitting up a 100Mb NIC you would probably be fine for standard internet traffic (30+30+6+6=72.)



  • Thanks matguy and NOYB …. what would we do with out you ....  :)

    Haven't bought yet ..... looking at T61, T400 or T500

    Yea forgot to add that the on board battery works as a UPS in preventing hard-drive corruption on brief power grid glitches which occur every now and than. That's a nice + in my option! No need to buy UPS just add a surge protector.

    The other week I was looking at a Dell or HP SFF desktop  ::) but I flipped and started thinking about how a laptop would be an nicer alternative sense you have redundant power, built-in keyboard and monitor and should perform just as well as a desktop.

    As for the different issues being a laptop, dust restricting air flow in a already tight confined area, and disabling unnecessary components.

    • A good vacuuming every 6 months should take care of the dust/airflow issues. I perform this on my workstation every 6 months or so anyhow.

    • The disabling of unnecessary components I would think it shouldn't be a problem. I may be very wrong about that, but I'm still looking into it.

    • As for the TDP…..Never really thought of it as JUST heat dissipation .... you're right! You shouldn't use TDP as the soul judgement of power consumption.

    As for using vlan I will give it a shot!

    Will dig into it some more tonight, and report back  ;D



  • [Insert big "Thumbs Up" emoticon here]



  • You're welcome Clear-Pixel.

    Here's a couple more things.

    1. Power supply’s are also not 100% efficient.  So there is some additional power there.  But that pretty much applies to all machines regardless of laptop, desktop, etc.

    2. If you want to save some more power.  Once you get it all figured out and running.  Replace the HD with either an SSD or USB Flash Drive.  Though most recommend using the Nano build, I'm running the "full" install on a 4GB USB Flash Drive with a duplicate for when it dies.  We'll see how long it last.  But at only $5 ea. who cares.


  • Netgate Administrator

    @NOYB:

    1. Power supply’s are also not 100% efficient.  So there is some additional power there.  But that pretty much applies to all machines regardless of laptop, desktop, etc.

    That's true. Though laptop power supplies are generally more efficient, usually a lot more efficient. A laptop designer has a much better idea of the power envelope over which the device has to operate, there isn't much you can do to increase it's power consumption dramatically. Desktop are far more customisable. Switching power supplies will operate most efficiently at the top end of their design power so the smallest PSU you can use is usually most efficient.
    Additionally a high efficiency PSU reduces the need for cooling and heat is a very big issue in laptop design.

    Steve



  • @Clear-Pixel:

    The questions I have seen around the web, no one seems to have a definitive answer to what Ethernet ExpressCard is compatible,
    and works well with FreeBSD/Pfsense.

    If you're still in the laptop research phase it might behoove you to check out the FreeBSD Mobile Computing forum, if you haven't already. I searched the forums and didn't find any reference to the cards you were considering but Thinkpad is pretty popular among FreeBSD users and you may save yourself some headache down the road as far as compatible hardware is concerned.

    @Clear-Pixel:

    Seems as though Belkin is only willing to state its an Generic Marvel Yukon Chipset. Huh
    No telling what could be in the card.

    My laptop is a Sony Viao with 1.6GHz Dual Core Intel CPU and 2GB RAM running FreeBSD 9.0-RELEASE-p3. It has an Marvell Yukon 88E3082 10/100 Fast Ethernet and an Atheros 5424/2424 wifi card that are both supported.



  • After doing more research on the Thinkpad T61 & T400 I found very little to support that the on-board nic will function reliably. The 3 Expresscard choices I found Suck  :'( Realtek …. Not really!

    The more I dug around, even most desktop system on-board nics are not listed on the pfsense hardware compatibility list. But it seemed as though many are utilizing there on-board nic's ???. I do understand that even though its not listed, it could still function.

    So to prevent headaches from having to hack drivers, not that I know how. I'm back to the SFF Desktop.... :'(

    Correct me if I'm Wrong.



  • @Clear-Pixel:

    After doing more research on the Thinkpad T61 & T400 I found very little to support that the on-board nic will function reliably.

    I found a few references to the T400 in the FreeBSD Mobile Computing forums:

    Notebook / Laptop compatibility list

    Lenovo T400 report

    T400 - fully compatable

    Since pfSense is FreeBSD based it's probably a safe bet to say it will work with it too.  It's up to you though.


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