pfSense Hardware: A Scrounger’s Guide (Part One)

pfSense hardware

The Pentium P-233 that served as my m0n0wall firewall/router

When I started using pfSense as my primary firewall, it replaced my previous firewall solution: a Pentium P-233 running m0n0-wall. I eventually switched to a Neoware thin client running pfSense, which I ultimately upgraded to version 2.1.3. The Neoware thin client meets the pfSense hardware requirements for running pfSense on an embedded system, and offered pretty good value for the money – one would be hard-pressed to put together a system more cheaply than these pfSense appliances which has the same features and functionality. Yet while running pfSense from a thin client may be the best option for some users, if you have an old computer that meets the pfSense hardware requirements, this may be the better option. For that reason, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to see how easy (or how hard) it is to turn an old PC into a pfSense firewall.

Indeed, the system I used to run m0n0wall had been scrounged from spare parts. The case and power supply had come from an old barebones system I had bought in the late 1990s. The motherboard/CPU was one of a lot of three I had bought on eBay a few years later, and the CD-ROM was from a group of spare CD-ROM drives I had, as was the floppy drive. I only had 32 MB of RAM initially. I found that with only 32 MB of RAM installed, m0n0wall’s web-based configurator would eventually crash (although the firewall itself would continue to function). I found another 32 MB of RAM on eBay for a few dollars, and my system was complete. The NICs had also been taken from old computers, although I eventually bought a lot of 10 Intel Pro 100 cards for $35. As underpowered as this system might seem, it served ably as my firewall for several years. Thus, I began to wonder if I had any old hardware that could run pfSense, and decided that for my next mini-project, I would take an old computer and turn it into a serviceable pfSense router.

pfSense Hardware: The Guidelines

For this project, I set out some basic guidelines:

  1. The hardware had to meet the general requirements for pfSense hardware. These requirements are listed on the official pfSense web site. For any installation, a Pentium II or better with at least 256 MB of RAM is recommended. For hard drive installations, a 1 GB hard drive is required (and a CD-ROM drive for installation).
  2. When possible, I would scrounge from existing resources to put together a system that would serve as my new pfSense box. If necessary, I would buy new hardware, but only as a last resort.
  3. I was not completely sure what the final system would have installed on it, but I knew at a minimum I wanted to have the most recent pfSense version (2.1.3 at this writing), and probably Squid, SquidGuard, and probably some other packages.
  4. To the fullest extent possible, I would document the process, so I would have a record of what worked (and what didn’t work).

These guidelines should provide a rough road map for this project. In the next article, I will cover the selection of hardware, putting together my pfSense box, and installing pfSense onto it.

External Links:

Hardware for pfSense at – pfSense hardware requirements guide

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