I recently replaced my Linksys WRT54GL routers (running DD-WRT of course) with an ALIX 2c3 running pfSense. Not only is it faster, better-built, and has more features, it looks cool. Unfortunately, the cost for a refurbished 2c3, enclosure, and power supply was around $150.
For those of you wanting to build your own tiny pfSense system, I’ve found an alternative. It’s not as small, or as completely quiet, but can provide just about equivalent functionality.
First, buy a used MaxTerm MaxSpeed 8300 thin client off ebay. That seller has them for $45 shipped, buy-it-now. These were sold as XP Embedded thin clients, but are actually complete PC systems with 512M memory, a VIA C3 “Ezra” 800Mhz CPU, and a 512M Compact Flash card and reader standing in for the main hard drive.
Take off the stand and top cover, and they look like this:
In these pictures, I’ve already installed an Intel Pro/100 Server-S PCI 10/100 network card in the PCI slot. The CompactFlash card reader is below the PCI slot; you’ll have to remove the small cover concealing it.
As received, these systems (I bought two) have Windows XP Embedded installed on them.
You’ll want to take the 512M CF card installed in the system, and use your USB card reader and another system (you DO have another system and a CF card reader, right?) to write the pfSense image to the card.
If you boot the system without a CF card installed, the screen will look similar to this:
Once the pfSense install image is written to the card, put it back in the system and boot.
At this point all console I/O switches to the serial port. You’ll need to connect another system (or a dumb terminal, etc) to the serial port on the back of the system and continue initial configuration there. The cable should be a null modem, the speed 9600 N81.
Once initial configuration (network port and IP assignments) is done via the serial port, you can continue final configuration and setup via the web interface, and do all further management through SSH or the web.
I’ve been running a pfSense box for about two weeks now, and am really happy with it. With these thin clients, I can now build a firewall for a friend, and have a spare in case of problems with my ALIX board.