Force installer console to use laptop's TV output

  • Long story made short I have a fairly run of the mill Acer Aspire notebook I'd like to try and get pfsense running on. GM965 video, Broadcom BCM5906 ethernet, BSD supported Atheros Wifi. Catch is the LCD is seriously busted beyond the point of even trying to make out any console text whatsoever. So it is a headless box. I do have one lone TV with VGA that I can use but is a bear to disconnect and drag to where the notebook is. But within feet of the notebook I have another TV but does not have VGA (unfortunately, even though it is a modern Plasma set. Sad oversight on Panasonic's part). I could do S-Video from the notebook but from prior experience on other distros this laptop doesn't like enabling that output when the console comes up and limits to the LCD.

    Any suggestion on how I can force the install to go to the TV output on this thing? Or at the very least a sequence of keys that I can 'fly blind' with just to get a basic install and have a working network I can shell into?

    Thanks guys!

  • So the laptop does have VGA output?

    You could temporarily hook up a VGA monitor to get you into the bios where you should be able to change the default boot screen.

    The other possibility is Fn-F3 (Fn-F4?). Sometimes you can switch video pre-boot with a Fn-F? combo on the keyboard.  Perhaps the Acer site has a manual or more info.

  • Netgate Administrator

    Does it have a serial port?


  • Sorry for the delay in getting back to you guys. Nope, no serial port on this thing either. This particular model is short on available ports. Basically a couple USB's, ethernet, 56k, express card, headphone, mic, S-Video out, and power.

    I'm going to give it another whack this morning. Maybe try hooking up a USB keyboard and closing the lid and see if that helps any in getting it to switch over. Worst case I'll just break down and drag it to the one TV with the VGA input. It has been a while since I dabbled with pfSense but am I correct in thinking that as long as I can get the LAN interface configured and pfSense installed I can come back later and reconfigure interfaces and such?

    My initial setup is going to be USB WAN from my cable modem until I can get an expresscard ethernet card and do proper ethernet straight through. My experience with doing USB in this configuration has not been favorable. I did that many moons ago on Smoothwall and any time sync on the cable modem dropped the WAN dropped and wouldn't pick back up without rebooting the router. Needless to say I had to craftily script it to keep hammering on and if it died, just reboot. Annoying at best.

  • ….. as long as I can get the LAN interface configured and pfSense installed I can come back later and reconfigure interfaces and such?

    Basically correct, although I would install pfsense first and use the console to configure the LAN interface  ;)

    Once you have a LAN interface working you should be able to plug it into a switch and then attach another device and get a DHCP address from the default network.  Login with a browser at the LAN address (defaults to and you can configure everything else.

    As far as USB for the WAN interface, I wouldn't expect much in the way of performance.  Many USB NIC's are buggy at best and some simply won't work at all.  Your past experience has probably not improved much.  As a further thought, you may want to try the USB WAN stuff while you have the big screen attached as it may be helpful to see from the console what's happening with your interfaces. You might want to consider finding a cheap (sometimes free) 15/17" VGA monitor just to plug into the laptop when you need a console screen.

    Keep at it and let us know how it goes  :)

  • Netgate Administrator

    You could try a 'pre-flght install' using a config file already setup to use your onboard NIC as LAN. Not sure if you would still need console access:

    Expresscard-serial adapter?

    I would probably try installing to the harddrive in another box and configuring the one interface correctly. That may mean editing the config file before you boot the drive in the laptop. To do that boot a live BSD CD like PC-BSD or GhostBSD in the install box, mount the HD and edit the files. You'll also need to edit the fstab if the HD uses a different mount point in the laptop because you won't be able to do it from the console. It may prove tricky finding the mount point!

    Edit: If you have a working console via the VGA port then none of that's necessary!  ::)


  • Rebel Alliance Developer Netgate

    On my Acer laptops there is an Fn key combo that cycles connected outputs, Fn-F5. I don't know if that works to turn on the s-video out but it's worth a try.

    Oddly, I have lots of TVs with VGA and HDMI but none nearby with S-video.

  • @jimp:

    Oddly, I have lots of TVs with VGA and HDMI but none nearby with S-video.

    Yeah. I have a relatively modern (2007) Panasonic Plasma set but the annoying part is no VGA. Just the normal Composite/Component/S-Vid/HDMI. European versions of this same model have VGA though no problem.  ???

    Tried all manners of getting the TV output to work to no avail. Even leaving the lid closed and attaching a usb keyboard. TV flashed a few times like it wanted to show something but just remained black. I just broke down though and moved it temporarily to the one TV that has a VGA input on it. Just long enough to install and configure the interfaces.

    But at that point it led me down to another 'gotcha' in which the USB interface on my cable modem doesn't go above 1.1 speeds so 12mbps USB speed at best. With a 20/2 tier on my service I was seeing about 3/1 on speed tests. So that option is definitely out the window. Looks like I'll have to wait til I can get that ethernet expresscard and do it right.

    Thanks for all the help though guys. :)

  • Netgate Administrator

    You could use VLANs with your one ethernet port. That wouldn't impose any restriction on a 20/2 connection.


    Edit: Typo, 'wouldn't '.

  • @stephenw10:

    You could use VLANs with your one ethernet port. That would impose any restriction on a 20/2 connection.


    I'm actually seriously considering that at this point but just have to wrap my head around how to accomplish it. On the pfSense side I imagine it is a piece of cake. Just figuring out how to get Tomato to cooperate on my main 'switch' to route things around. And time to take the network offline to accomplish it of course. ;)