pfSense Installation: A Scrounger’s Guide (Part Two)

pfSense installation

The computer I used as my new pfSense box.

In the last article, I discussed my project to turn an old computer into a pfSense firewall and set some guidelines for the project. In this article, I get to configuration of the pfSense box and pfSense installation.

pfSense Installation: Selecting the Hardware

As you recall from part one of this series, the base system requirements for a pfSense installation are:

  • Pentium II or better
  • 256 MB RAM
  • 1 GB of disk space for a standard installation; 512 MB of disk space for embedded systems

I immediately realized the system I used for m0n0wall would not make the grade (too slow and not enough memory). However, I had another old system that might work. I had a Pentium III (733 MHz) with 256 MB RAM. The motherboard for this system died a few months ago; I found a replacement on eBay (for $15), but the system has been running slow ever since. It seemed like an ideal candidate for conversion to a pfSense firewall.

Since I did not want to erase the contents of the original hard drive, I had to find another one to install into the system. I went through a box of old hard drives and found a Western Digital Caviar 22000. With 2 GB of disk space, it had more than enough space for pfSense. I swapped out the original hard drive with the Western Digital.

The next consideration was what network cards to install on the system. You need at least two NICs: one for the WAN and one for the LAN. Installing a third NIC allows you to have an OPT1 interface for a DMZ. Fortunately, there was already one Intel Pro 100 NIC in the computer, and I had a spare two. The Intel Pro 100s are PCI cards, and there are three PCI slots on this motherboard, so I used up all the available PCI slots, but that shouldn’t be a problem. If you need to buy NICs, the folks at recommend purchasing Intel cards (or systems with built-in Intel NICs) up to 1 Gbps. It would behoove you to by Intel PRO 1000s, at least for the LAN and OPT1 interfaces (on the WAN side, using a 100 Mbps NIc will not create a bottleneck for most residential broadband customers). A quick eBay search revealed than PRO 1000s are available for less than $10 (for both PCI and PCI-X interfaces). My Neoware thin client has a 1 Gbps 2-port NIC for the LAN and OPT1 interfaces, and a 100 Mbps NIC for the WAN interface. An upgrade to Intel PRO 1000s on this system is definitely something I will consider in the near future.

pfSense installation

The Compaq Deskpro motherboard recognizes the Samsung drive, so we can proceed.

With the hard drive and NICs installed, I was ready to move the computer over to the test bench and begin pfSense installation. After running setup to make sure the BIOS recognized the Western Digital drive, I put the pfSense CD in and booted the system. When prompted whether to boot pfSense from the CD or run the installer, I hit “I” and invoked the installer. This is where I had my first real setback: although the motherboard’s BIOS recognized the Caviar, pfSense did not, and I therefore could not install pfSense onto it. Fortunately, I had a Samsung sW0434A (total capacity: 4.3 GB) I could install (again courtesy of the box of old hard drives), so I powered down the system and replaced the Western Digital with the Samsung.

pfSense Installation: Options

Once the hard drive had been replaced, I was able to boot pfSense from the CD and begin pfSense installation. When the installer starts, you have a chance to change the video font, change the screenmap, change the keymap, or accept the settings. Since I had no reason to change the defaults, I chose “Accept These Settings“.

On the next screen, you have a choice between quick/easy install and custom install (there are also options to rescue config.xml and reboot). In most cases you can opt for the quick/easy install, but if you do not want to reformat the hard drive, or if you want to partition the hard drive onto which pfSense is installed, or specify a different hard drive geometry than what was detected by pfSense, you want to opt for the custom install. I just wanted to reformat the hard drive and install pfSense onto it, so I opted for “Quick/Easy Install“.

Next, the pfSense installer will give you a choice between installing the standard pfSense kernel, or the embedded kernel (which has no vGA console or keybaord available). I selected “Standard Kernel” and continued. After a few minutes, pfSense was installed, and I was prompted to reboot the system. With pfSense installation complete, I rebooted the system and was ready to run pfSense on this computer for the first time.

When pfSense runs for the first time, it will ask you to assign interfaces. I assigned fxp0 for the WAN and fxp1 for the LAN. [I opted to set up OPT1 from the web configurator, later on]. I also assigned the IP address for the LAN interface.

By now, pfSense installation and configuration was complete, and I had a fully functional pfSense box, but I hadn’t connected it to my network. That’s no fun, so in the next article, I will talk about what happened when I used the new system as my firewall.

External Links:

pfSense Hardware at

Intel PRO/1000 GT Desktop Adapter – Overview at

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