Finally perfected my Watchguard x750e



  • Hi everyone.  This isn't pfSense related, but just about everything I learned for this project has come from these forums, and the info may help others trying to install pfSense on their Watchguard units, so hopefully this is appropriate.

    Several years ago I used the very helpful info provided in these forums to successfully install pfSense (and then Vyatta) on my Watchguard x750e.  Like many projects I obsess over, once it was finalized, I stuck it on a shelf and haven't touched it since.  I became interested this week in revamping this project, albeit with a slightly different purpose.  I wanted to create a network security appliance, complete with firewall (nftables), IDS/IPS (Snort + Guardian), and whatever else I think of to throw on here.  I pulled the Watchguard off the shelf, dusted it off, opened it up, and immediately started recollecting where I had left off.

    (Flashback) So back in 2011(?) when I was working on this the first time around I ended up soldering a USB connector to the mobo and evidently connected a USB hub to it.  I removed the IDE HDD and installed my final OS (Vyatta) to a USB flash drive.  Maybe "install" isn't the right word, because what I really did was flash the flash drive with a .img file Vyatta provided (just like is available for pfSense, which I did the first time I installed anything on this box).  IIRC, I resorted to this because I couldn't just install anything to the flash drive.  I had mixed success using various flash images, and the pfSense and Vyatta ones were the only ones that seemed to work.  The flash drive used is a 2GB stick, because (I incorrectly concluded) that the mobo couldn't boot from USB sticks larger than 2GB (or maybe couldn't read 4GB and above). (End Flashback).

    I had a hell of a time the past 2 days trying to accomplish my goal.  This was partially due to the incorrect assumptions I had made the first time around, partially due to making other incorrect assumptions this time around (regarding booting Ubuntu via serial console, among others).  In regards to the serial booting (which I had done 3 years ago), I was able to get to the mobo boot screen but not past the chipset feature list, and I couldn't get into the BIOS options either (which ended up being due to something separate).  I decided that I had had enough of screwing around with serial consoles and decided to pursue a VGA output.  I thought this meant having to solder a VGA cable to the pinouts on the mobo, but it turns out I was able to get a kit from Radioshack that had wires meant to be connected to included pinouts (which were then soldered) on circuit boards.  I was all set to ghetto-rig some adapter when I decided to try to connect these wires to the pinouts on the mobo and to the male VGA cable.  It turns out this worked perfectly!  Not only did they fit, but they're snug enough not to just slip right off.  After doing this I anxiously booted the Watchguard unit connected to my monitor and voila!  Video output!  So long serial cable, you unforgiving bitch.

    In regards to the BIOS options: I recalled from a while back that I screwed with the BIOS enough that I somehow messed it up permanently (and that the only fix was reflashing).  I don't understand that, since I've never seen that happen on any other computer, but lo-and-behold, I re-flashed the BIOS again today and that fixed the issue I had of being unable to enter the BIOS options.

    Now that I was able to see WTF I was doing and could get into the BIOS options, I now needed to figure out how to boot from a generic USB stick (not one flashed with a particular .img file).  Eventually I discovered that my assumption from years ago regarding size of the USB stick was incorrect and that the Watchguard seeing the USB stick as a HDD (rather than just a flash drive), and in turn being able to boot from it, was actually dependent on the alignment (or start) of the partition on the stick.  After experimenting over and over I finally was able to consistently make the device see and boot from whatever USB stick I threw at it.  To facilitate this process I used Rufus (http://rufus.akeo.ie/) to create a bootable USB stick (using the advanced options to make the device work with legacy machines).

    So yea, that's about it.  I'm installing as we speak.  The real thing to take away from this is that the VGA output can be achieved without soldering anything (using the method I described above), and while you can't get around soldering the USB connector, if you connect it to a hub after you've created the port, you can then attach a keyboard, mouse (if need be) and several USB drives, all of which can be used as boot devices to house whatever you want to install on this unit.

    This post wouldn't be complete without pictures, so here's the device in its current state.  http://i.imgur.com/RFRKGiZ.jpg


  • Netgate Administrator

    Which BIOS are you running? The most recent, derived from the SSL box, can boot significantly more things. There has also been a suggestion (I've not a chance to test it yet) that enabling the SATA controller in the bios will boot even more things.

    https://forum.pfsense.org/index.php?topic=20095.msg410372#msg410372

    Steve