"Nanobsd" v. "Embedded" Versions

  • I have been running the nanobsd version of pfSense via a USB drive for over two-and-a-half years now.  I desired to obtain quicker reboot times and increased reliability, so I recently purchased a SATA-DOM to replace the USB drive.  Loading pfSense onto the SATA-DOM, however, has become a bit of a nightmare for me.

    I purchased an 8GB SATA-DOM and connected it to my (Windows 8.1) computer to flash it with the nanobsd version of the pfSense firmware–no go, my computer would not recognize the SATA-DOM.  I subsequently read online that there are issues with Windows not being able to recognize SATA-DOMs, so I plugged the SATA-DOM into my pfSense motherboard (Supermicro) and it, fortunately, recognized it right away.  I then attempted to use IPMI to flash the firmware on the SATA-DOM.  It would not work with the nanobsd firmware: I had to use the CD iso version of the firmware on the SATA-DOM and I evidently successfully loaded the "embedded" version from the iso via IPMI.  A problem then arose related to the fact that the embedded firmware on the iso evidently does not include vga support, so I was not able to configure the initial pfSense settings via IPMI.  My computers, of course, do not have serial ports (my Supermicro pfSense box, however, does) so now I am faced with having to rig up some kind of USB to serial adaptor and a (long) serial cable to do 30 seconds or so of initial configuration before I can use pfSense via my SATA-DOM install.

    My questions:

    1.  Is there a way around having to do the initial pfSense setup via serial interface with the "embedded" firmware before I can load my saved configuration file via the pfSense gui?

    2.  Is there any way I can install the nanobsd version of pfSense on my SATA-DOM (perhaps I should have purchased a small SSD instead of the SATA-DOM)?

    It is odd to me that the "embedded" version of pfSense still does not include an option for vga support.  What was the thinking in the decision not to include it?  I have a feeling that someone is going to tell me that these issues have been discussed elsewhere, but please point me to the links of the discussions if such is the case.

    Thank you for your help.

  • NanoBSD comes in two variants, Serial and VGA.  You need the latter.  Details on the 4 types of images are at the link below.


    Also, depending on the type of DOM you bought (SLC, eMLC, or high-quality MLC), you may want to use the full version, not NanoBSD.  This is considerably easier to install.

  • Netgate Administrator

    You may be able to use the 'pre-flight install' method.
    You could copy your config.xml file into /conf/ before you install it. If windows doesn't recognise it try running a live Linux CD or a live *BSD CD.
    If you find a live CD that does recognise the SATA-DOM you could copy the nano image to it that way.

    I believe the fact that it uses a serial console is about the only difference between the standard and embedded kernels. I'm unsure though perhaps one of the devs can clear that up. It's certainly the biggest difference.

    How often do you reboot? How long does it take?


  • Jason:

    I use the vga version of nanobsd with my USB drive–I do understand the difference, thanks.


    I have an issue with my dsl service where my PPPoE connection terminates and the only way to fix it is to reboot.  I may have to reboot as little as once per week or as often as several times per day. Rebooting can take ca. 3-4 minutes.  I am using the Viking dsl card in my pfSense box, so it might be part of the issue.  I am still researching this matter and may ultimately substitute an (more stable) external dsl modem for the Viking card to solve the problem.

    After I made my initial post on this subject, I read your recent response to another poster on the difference between the "nanobsd" and "embedded" versions of pfSense--based, in part, on what you said there, I would really like to find a way to load the nanobsd version onto my SATA-DOM (it would be nice if the CD iso offered that version).  I don't know why the BIOS in my Windows computer did not recognize the SATA-DOM, so I would like to find a way of using IPMI to load nanobsd pfSense onto the SATA-DOM installed in my Supermicro pfSense box.  Any ideas???

    When you say, "If you find a live CD that does recognise the SATA-DOM you could copy the nano image to it that way," what do you mean (and how do you go about doing it)?  I used the pfSense "Live CD" iso via IPMI Virtual Image tool (i.e., I did not have to burn the iso to a physical CD) to install the "embedded" pfSense on the SATA-DOM.  Is there a way of installing the nanobsd version using that method?

    Otherwise, I guess my only other option is to buy a small SSD, connect it to my Windows computer, and flash the nanobsd version of pfSense onto it before installing the SSD in my pfSense box.  I suppose, alternately, I could just buy a small 2 1/2" hard drive and do the full version install of the software, but it would likely not boot as fast as a SATA-DOM or SSD.

  • Netgate Administrator

    So your Windows box doesn't recognise the SATA-DOM at all even at the bios level? That rules that out then!

    You probably can do this from the pfSense live cd but it might be more complex it need be. I had imagined just booting any live Linux CD like Ubuntu. If you boot that via IPMI on the supermicro box you can download the Nano+VGA image and dd it to your SATA-DOM.
    If you use a live BSD CD like GhostBSD you can mount the UFS file system on the DOM and copy across your config file before you boot. You can easily just restore the config after first boot though.


  • I, unfortunately, do not have a CD drive installed in my pfSense box, so it sounds like I would have to put Ubuntu on a USB drive (if that is even possible) and then download and flash the pfSense nanobsd via IPMI control–that sounds like a lot of work to get to that end.  I wish that there was an easier way to do this.

  • Quick question.  Did you buy one of those quirky DOMs that is supposed to get power from the SATA port?  If so, that might be the issue.  Most SATA ports don't provide any power (or enough power) and that might explain why it isn't detected.

  • Interesting you would ask:

    I just got off the phone with Memory Depot.  A power cable came with the SATA-DOM, but the MD sales person asked me to try removing it with the SATA-DOM installed in the Supermicro board and see if the SATA-DOM still worked (i.e., via pin 7 power).  He said it could be that the SATA-DOM will only work with pin 7 power, which my Supermicro board may provide but my ASUS Windows machine does not provide, and was not designed to work with the external power cable that came with it.

    I will find out the answer to this question when I go home tonight and try the experiment.

  • Netgate Administrator

    If you can boot the pfSence install CD via IPMI I can't see why you couldn't boot an Ubuntu CD. Then it's just typing a few commands to download the Nano image and dd it to the DOM.
    You can do it straight from the pfSense CD if you already have that setup you just might need to extract the nano image somewhere first I'm not sure what sort of ram disks you get.


  • Perhaps I could boot a Ubuntu ISO in the IPMI virtual utility and then just use the "dd" command to copy my already configured nanobsd pfSense from my USB drive to my SATA-DOM?  I've never used Ubuntu before, so it would be an interesting experiment.  Any suggestions as to where to download a Ubuntu iso?

  • Ubuntu runs from USB, so does opensuse, both not a really big deal, as even I managed to get that up and running several times :-D



  • Thanks, chemlud; upon further thought, do I really need an operating system–shouldn't any good, low-level, disk cloning utility that runs as an iso off of a CD do the trick?

  • Jason:

    It turns out that, no, the SATA-DOM isn't operating on pin 7 power and needs the power cable to run on the Supermicro motherboard.


    By Jove, I did it!  I used the iso of a cloning program called "Clonezilla" via IPMI's virtual media utility to copy the content of my old USB drive to my new SATA-DOM.  Thanks to all for your help–in particular to Stephen.

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