How to build an embedded ALIX system (newbie)



  • Hello,
    I've been using pfSense on an old ATX personal computer for months and it replaced my old and unreliable all-in-one modem+router to surf on the net.
    Though it is the best solution, it has some disadvantages: space, noise and consume.
    Modding the old ATX PC is not cheap and it would costs as much as buy an embedded board to run pfSense in a noiseless way and locate it in a little space.
    So, I've started to look how to build and where to buy these ALIX boards which supports pfSense and satisfies my needs (p2p without crash, voip, surfing on the web, WPA-PSK/WPA2-PSK encryption).
    I've to ask you some questions:

    1- Do ALIX boards have better performance than SOHO networking products you can find in usual shops (i.e they don't crash easily if p2p apps are used)? Before using pfSense, I bought several SOHO products and they got me crazy due to bugged firmware and incomplete features, which don't suit my needs.

    2- As I've already said, my needs to satisfy are: 4 PCs surfing on the net (p2p may be used on 2 PCs), whose two uses wireless (preferably WPA-PSK or even better WPA2-PSK)

    3- I took a look on PCEngines and I didn't understand where to buy required components, since I am a European end-user (Italy) and on those pages they said they didn't sell to end-users due to strict of recycling regulations (http://pcengines.ch/order.php). ???

    I am unsure what components I need to build a fully working embedded system, so help me to check if the following list is correct:

    -no. 1 ALIX board (which model supports wifi?)
    -no. 1 case for ALIX board (are there differents models? Have I to drill holes for pigtail?)
    -no. 1 CompactFlash (I've already have a 2GB one, can I use it?)
    -no. 1 powersupply for ALIX board
    -no. 1 minipci wireless card which supports at least WPA-PSK or better WPA2-PSK encryption
    -no. 1 pigtail (I think it is the adapter to connect the minipci wifi card to the external antenna through the RP-SMA connector, is it right?)

    • RAM bank (I've PC100/133 SDRAM ones, 64/128/256MB and a 256MB DDR-I, can I use them again?)
    • ethernet modem
    • nullmodem cable for COM1

    Would I be able to build it with less than $200 including shipping costs?

    Thank you in advance! ;)



  • @firestar:

    3- I took a look on PCEngines and I didn't understand where to buy required components, since I am a European end-user (Italy) and on those pages they said they didn't sell to end-users due to strict of recycling regulations (http://pcengines.ch/order.php). ???

    LinITX.com https://linitx.com/info.php?info=shippingreturns carries ALIX and claims to ship to end-users in Italy. I'm sure there are other options as well.



  • here http://blog.pfsense.org/ you will find all answers for your hardware questions. (scroll down to "alix boards now available" chapter
    with wireless you probably wont be able to go below $200 unless you have your own wifi card, pigtale and antenna.
    in us alix board, case and power supply go for ~$180. wireless kit will bring it to $230. + shipping



  • I've another doubt about Alix boards: since ACPI isn't supported, how reboot/shutdown is managed by FreeBSD? Now I'm using an old standard ATX PC and when I don't need the router and its services I connect to it through SSH and I shutdown it. If you are an Alix owner, how do you do it? I'm curious to know how I will have to handle the ALIX board. ::)

    Bye! ;)



  • Why would you want to shutdown a firewall? :D
    As for reboot: just select the reboot option and it reboots ^^



  • Why would you want to shutdown a firewall?
    As for reboot: just select the reboot option and it reboots

    I want to shutdown my Alix board when I have to do some kinds of maintenance which is not possible through a SSH connection.
    I've just set up my Alix, but I don't understand how can I safely shutdown it: if I choose "Shutdown", it reboots again:

    *** FINAL System shutdown message from root@pfSense.local ***
    System going down IMMEDIATELY
    
    #
    System shutdown time has arrived
    
    pfSense is now shutting down ...
    
    Waiting (max 60 seconds) for system process `vnlru' to stop...done
    Waiting (max 60 seconds) for system process `bufdaemon' to stop...done
    Waiting (max 60 seconds) for system process `syncer' to stop...
    Syncing disks, vnodes remaining...0 0 done
    All buffers synced.
    Swap device ad0s1b removed.
    Uptime: 29m36s
    ukphy0: detached
    miibus0: detached
    ukphy1: detached
    miibus1: detached
    ukphy2: detached
    miibus2: detached
    
    The operating system has halted.
    Please press any key to reboot.
    
    PC Engines ALIX.2 v0.99
    640 KB Base Memory
    261120 KB Extended Memory
    
    ...
    
    

    How can I understand when is it safe to switch off electricity to the board before pfSense loads data from CF again? There is no beeper and the three LEDs are unused at this time.
    When I chose "Halt system" from console or SSH, I expect FreeBSD syncs all cached data to disks and to see a message like "It is possible to power off" and it stays there without rebooting, as the old Win98 screen if you ever used it.
    It will be obvious for you, but I am new to these new amazing hardware…
    Another question: is it true 12RC-4 embedded images are broken? Have I to use 12RC3 ones? ???

    Thanks



  • @firestar:

    I want to shutdown my Alix board when I have to do some kinds of maintenance which is not possible through a SSH connection.
    I've just set up my Alix, but I don't understand how can I safely shutdown it: if I choose "Shutdown", it reboots again:

    *** FINAL System shutdown message from root@pfSense.local ***
    System going down IMMEDIATELY
    
    #
    System shutdown time has arrived
    
    pfSense is now shutting down ...
    
    Waiting (max 60 seconds) for system process `vnlru' to stop...done
    Waiting (max 60 seconds) for system process `bufdaemon' to stop...done
    Waiting (max 60 seconds) for system process `syncer' to stop...
    Syncing disks, vnodes remaining...0 0 done
    All buffers synced.
    Swap device ad0s1b removed.
    Uptime: 29m36s
    ukphy0: detached
    miibus0: detached
    ukphy1: detached
    miibus1: detached
    ukphy2: detached
    miibus2: detached
    
    The operating system has halted.
    Please press any key to reboot.
    
    PC Engines ALIX.2 v0.99
    640 KB Base Memory
    261120 KB Extended Memory
    
    ...
    
    

    The thing you have to remember about an embedded installation is the filesystem is normally in the read-only mode - it only switches to read/write mode to make changes that carry across reboots (such as updating the config.xml file that contains the configuration information).  The "rest" of the "filesystem" is in RAM and if power is lost it is not anything critical, such as log files and temp files… to power off the system you just pull the plug :)

    If, on the other hand, you do a full install then you are running in a true filesystem on disk that is read/write and you could corrupt the filesystem by just pulling the plug - there you would need to perform an orderly shutdown.

    How can I understand when is it safe to switch off electricity to the board before pfSense loads data from CF again? There is no beeper and the three LEDs are unused at this time.

    Yea - if would be nice if the LEDs were put to use - I may look into it as some point later on but I am now buried in a kernel mode in a different environment (linux) for a different project… argh

    When I chose "Halt system" from console or SSH, I expect FreeBSD syncs all cached data to disks and to see a message like "It is possible to power off" and it stays there without rebooting, as the old Win98 screen if you ever used it.
    It will be obvious for you, but I am new to these new amazing hardware…

    Think of it as a appliance - much like the way a Linksys wireless router works - all of it's filesystem is contained in a compressed filesystem file and is "clooped" up with links to the RAM - the kernel uses the links to read information and program files in the filesystem and runs everything in the RAM - pfSense works somewhat the same way but is not using a "compressed" clooped filesystem (I think - could be wrong but I am sure someone will correct me here :) ).  Being a read-only system it is rather very hard to "corrupt" the filesystem!

    Another question: is it true 12RC-4 embedded images are broken? Have I to use 12RC3 ones? ???

    I don't know - have not worked with the 1.2RC4 image yet :)

    gm…



  • When you see "The operating system has halted." it is safe to power off the box. However like stated above the file system is mounted read only so even if you pulled the plug when it was running it shouldn't matter.

    Not sure why you would want to shut it down remotely unless you have it connected to a power strip that you can remotely turn it back on. Otherwise once its shut down its not going to start back up again.


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