If you have read a few of my articles, you know I think running pfSense router software is a great idea. I rebuilt my home lab and bought new hardware to run pfSense that has worked great. A few years ago I wrote an article about good choices for pfSense hardware. Even though I’ve kept that article up to date, after going through the research myself again, I’ve decided it’s time to write a brand new article on the subject. So let’s take a look at 11 great choices for pfSense hardware.
Editor’s Note: This article was last updated on 4/28/2022
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pfSense hardware requirements
Everyone will have different hardware needs but here are some common requirements for pretty much any build:
- The CPU must be powerful enough to route your Internet traffic. The faster your traffic, the more powerful the CPU you will need.
- Sufficient RAM for the packages you want to run. pfSense doesn’t normally require much RAM, but if you are going to do a lot with it you may need more than the average user. This is especially true if you want to run intrusion detection/protection systems like Snort and Suricata.
- The CPU should support AES-NI. This is an encryption instruction set that helps pfSense performance, especially with VPNs.
- At least 2 network interface cards (NICs). You can get away with one using VLAN tagging, but that adds unnecessary complications. In general, you want one NIC for each interface (LAN, WAN, etc.). You probably want an Intel NIC for the best performance and reliability.
For reference, the minimum pfSense hardware requirements are:
- 600 MHz CPU
- 512 MB of RAM
- 4 GB hard drive
- A compatible network card (again, best two have at least two NICs)
- A bootable USB drive or CD/DVD-ROM for installation
Netgate (the company behind pfSense) says the above specs are good if you’re okay with less than 100 Mbps of unencrypted throughput. I think you should look to achieve speeds faster than that, which all of the hardware choices in this article will greatly exceed. Let’s look at some appropriate hardware choices. These are listed in no particular order; they are all great choices. You’ll have to pick the one you want based on your budget and needs.
First Choice: Protectli Vault 4 Port Mini PC
- THE VAULT (FW4B): Secure your network with a compact, fanless & silent firewall. Comes with US-based Support & 30-day money back guarantee!
- CPU: Intel Quad Core Celeron J3160, 64 bit, up to 2.2GHz, AES-NI hardware support
- PORTS: 4x Intel Gigabit Ethernet ports, 2x USB 3.0, 1x RJ-45 COM, 2x HDMI
- COMPONENTS: Barebones for maximum customizability (no RAM or mSATA). coreboot BIOS optional, must be installed by user.
- COMPATIBILITY: No OS pre-installed. All hardware tested with pfSense, untangle, OPNsense and other popular open-source software solutions.
This is an extremely popular choice for pfSense builds. With its hardware it should easily be able to achieve gigabit speeds and perform well with multiple pfSense packages installed. The version listed above is a barebones version, meaning you’ll need to buy an hard drive and RAM to complete the build. Below are a few different versions of this hardware that might better suit your needs:
Second Choice: Qotom Mini ITX Q330G4 Intel Core i3
- 4 Gigabit LAN, 2x USB 2.0 ports, 2x USB 3.0 ports
This is the hardware I recently purchased to run pfSense. It easily achieves the near gigabit speeds offered by my ISP, CenturyLink. I run Snort, and a few other packages and this box doesn’t break a sweat. Qotom makes a ton of other devices and configurations, some of which I’ll list below:
Third Choice: Zotac Zbox CI329
- Intel N4100 Processor (quad-core 1.1GHz, up to 2.4GHz)
- Intel UHD Graphics 600, Triple display ready, 4K ready at 60 Hz, HDMI 2.0, DisplayPort 1.2, VGA
- 802.11AC Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, Dual Gigabit LAN
- 4 x USB 3.0 (1 x Type-C), 1 x USB 2.0
- Fan-less, passive cooling, VESA mountable
I used an older version of this for years. The only downside is the Realtek NICs, but it was solid. I eventually repurposed this as a lightweight desktop box for a while. Zotac makes other boxes that might fit the bill too:
Fourth Choice: Netgate models
- [Easy to Set Up] Pre-loaded with pfSense Plus software to get up and running fast - simply unbox it and start customizing for your secure networking needs
- [Powerful Dual Core] A dual core ARM Cortex-A53 1.2 GHz delivers near gigabit routing of common home iPerf3 trafﬁc and in excess of 650 Mbps of ﬁrewall throughput
- [Efficient Operation] Low power draw, a compact form factor, and silent operation allow it to run unnoticed when placed on a desktop, wall, or rack
- [Flexible Configuration Options] Three (3) 1 GbE switched (WAN/LAN/OPT) ports allow you to configure three separate 1 GbE switched ports for nearly a gigabit of bi-directional trafﬁc
- [Stable, Higher Transfer Rates] 1GB DDR4 RAM - DDR4 memory allows more stable, higher transfer rates.
Netgate is the best place to go for an out-of-the-box, fully working, and supported solution. They are the maintainers of pfSense and they sell a few relatively affordable models appropriate for home users. The SG-1100 above has 3-gigabit ports which means you can use this for multi-WAN or VLANs. It’s fairly low-powered but suitable for most home applications unless you plan on running a lot of intensive packages.
The SG-2100 is a step up from the SG-1100. It has 1 WAN ports and 4 LAN ports (which can be used for multi-WAN), as well as more processing power and RAM. If you are looking for higher throughput and running more packages this option might be more suitable. The SG-3100 is similar to the SG-2100 but more powerful (and thus more expensive) with an additional WAN port. If you have a large network, a fast ISP, and want to run IPS/IDS with VPN this will definitely get the job done.
Fifth Choice: GEEK+ Mini PC
- 🚀【Advanced Thermal System and Multiple functions】Built-in silent fan design enhance the heat dissipation, Support Wake-on-LAN, Auto power-on and PXE. G34 is an ideal Mini Desktop for home, office, media center, digital signage, digital security and surveillance etc.
- 🚀【TIMELESS & EFFORTLESS】Two HDMI output port can support dual-screen display conveniently, which means it will increase work efficiency. 4K HD for visually home entertainment. 【Windows 10 Has Been Activated in Advance】The genuine WINDOWS Key has been pre-installed so that buyers can use it directly, saving the trouble of installing the system.
- 🚀【STRONG WIRELESS SUPPORTS】The latest wireless connectivity with 802.11ac Dual Band 2.4 & 5GHz Wi-Fi,it offers data rate up to 86.7 Mbps using 20MHZ bandwidth,200Mbps using 40MHZ bandwidth, and 433.3Mbps using 80MHz bandwidth.
- 🚀[Handheld Sized Mini Computer] Bring Your Office into Home! Best choice for home/office working commercial small computers, small size and lightweight save you space and put into your bag, the functions and uses are more powerful and extensive. Widely Applications: Office/Education/Home/Government/Entertainment/POS/Monitoring System/Projector/Printer...
- 🚀【WHAT YOU GET】Powerful Mini PC G34, GEEK+ provide 12-month satisfaction and LIFETIME technical support service. 【Please Note Before You Place An Order】If you find an abnormal "Gamarue", please don't panic, it is not intrusive and will not run automatically. Please follow the path below: C:Program DataLocal SettingsTemp. This folder is a system temporary folder, and the programs in it will not run automatically. You can manually delete all cache files in this folder.
This nice little package comes with plenty of RAM and hard drive space pre-installed. You just install pfSense and go!
Sixth Choice: AWOW Mini PC
- 【Excellent Hardware and OS】AK34 mini desktop computer designed by Intel Apollo Lake platform motherboard with Intel Celeron quad core CPU J3455 up to 2.3 GHz, 6GB DDR4, built-in M.2 128GB SSD, 2.4Ghz and 5.8Ghz dual band WIFI, dual Gigabytes LAN NIC, dual HDMI for 4K UHD, 5x USB 3.0, Pre-installed licensed Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64bit) and supports Linux. AK34 Mini PC offers excellent performance for HTPC (Home Theater Personal Computer), NAS etc.
- 【Dual LAN ports】This AWOW Micro PC AK34 comes with two Gigabytes LAN ports which provide you much more network usage, such as software router(OpenWRT/ddWRT/Tomato etc.), firewall, NAT and network isolation etc.
- 【Dual HDMI ports】Dual HDMI outputs can show the same or different contents in different monitors at the same time. Both HDMI port support 4k ultra HD streaming to stunning visual and provide you high productivity.
- 【Easy Storage Expansion】built-in M.2 SATA 3 6.0 Gb/s 128GB SSD. Also you can expand the storage with 2.5’’ SATA 3 SSD or HDD (7.5mm, extended 2TB storage capacity) and micro SD SDXC card (one card slot, up to 512GB). The easy expandable storage can satisfy you to install kinds of apps and store your personal files like videos and music.
- 【Advanced Thermal System and Multiple functions】Built-in silent fan design enhance the heat dissipation, Support Wake-on-LAN, Auto power-on and PXE. The AWOW AK34 is an ideal Mini Desktop for home, office, media center, digital signage, digital security and surveillance etc.
Another fully built, and ready-to-go option for pfSense. Its processor is plenty for even power pfSense users. Here are a few different hardware options if you want different specs to suit your needs.
Seventh Choice: TRIGKEY Mini PC
- 🚀【Intel Gemini Lake Refresh J4125 Processor & Dual 4K Screen Display】The Mini Computer Windows 11 Pro equips with Intel J4125 Processor CPU ( Up To 2.7Ghz) 8G DDR4+128G M.2 SATA 2280 SSD. Powerful hardware makes it run faster and more stable. In addition, The Mini Desktop PC also supports Ultra 4K HD Graphics, allowing two displays to connect at the same time, bringing you to experience a better display effect and effectively improve work efficiency.
- 🚀【Dual Gigabit Ethernet Interface & Efficient Heat Dissipation Design】TRIGKEY GREEN G1 Mini PC Windows 11 Pro adopts Dual Gigabit Ethernet interfaces design, which means that this Mini PC can be used as a soft router, install the software (Untangle, OPNsens) to establish 2-7 level firewall rules to resist Various online threats. Cooling fan design. Multiple reasonably positioned ports to meet your daily needs: 1*DC jack, 2*USB 3.0, 2*USB 2.0, 2* HDMI, 2* Gigabit Ethernet, 1* audio jack, 1*Type- C.
- 🚀【Expandable storage】The Mini PC Windows 11 Pro comes with 8GB DDR4 Ram/128 GB M.2 SATA 2080 SSD. You can also use 2.5 in SATA 3 SSD or HDD (7.5mm, expandable 2TB storage capacity (not included)) to expand storage. Get massive storage space and store videos, photos, or other data as you like.
- 🚀【Dual Band WiFi & Bluetooth】The Mini Computer Windows 11 Pro comes with 2.4G+5.8G Dual-Band WiFi and Bluetooth, and the WiFi speed can reach 1300Mbps/s, providing a quick Internet environment. Bluetooth can easily connect your wireless devices to keep your desktop clean.
- 🚀【TRIGKEY Lifetime Service】The Micro PC supports Wake On LAN, Auto Power On, PXE Boot, RTC Wake, and Watchdog, which can be popularly used as a personal computer, industrial computer, business computer, and remote computer, etc. In addition, We provide a one-year warranty service and lifelong technical support with quality assurance. If you have any questions, please contact us without hesitation.
This is an extremely compact mini pc with two gigabit ports and plenty of power to fulfill your pfSense router needs. It comes with the 8GB RAM and a 128 GB hard drive meaning it has everything you need to get going right away. It also has plenty of USB slots, including a USB-C slot, for additional expansion.
Eighth Choice: Vnopn Mini PC
- ✔ Processor & OS---This 4 nic mini pc uses Intel N3700 Processor Quad core 4 threads 2M Cache at 1.6GHz (Burst up to 2.4GHz), supports AES-NI; The performance of CPU and GPU are better than J3160/N2940. It’s pre-installed with Windows 10 Pro (NO Windows license, Just for test) and also supports windows7/8, linux ubuntu and more open-source systems, etc. Support Auto Power On, Wake on LAN, RTC wake and PXE boot ("DEL" key to enter BIOS).
- ✔ 4 Intel Gigabit Ethernet ports---This fanless mini pc all uses Intel i211 chip, supports 4x gigabit ethernet to keep stable and high speed. It has a good compatibility for soft routing, firewall and other network applications. This compact pc has more I/O Interface to meet your more needs: 1*HDMI, 1*VGA, 4*RJ45 LAN, 2*USB3.0, 1*DC IN.
- ✔ High Capacity Storage---This little firewall box comes with 4GB DDR3L RAM and 64GB mSATA SSD. The memory is only 1x sodimm slot, max support to 8GB. The storage is 1x mSATA, can be upgraded to 512GB. Large storage can meet the hardware requirements of different network security firewall software and hypervisor applications.
- ✔ Portable & Silent---This small form factor PC built for hardware firewall and router use, it’s only 5.27 x 5 x 1.43 inch and 0.6kg and has a mounting bracket that allows it to be hung on the back of the monitor or TV to save more space. In addition, this mini computer uses fanless passive cooling design and only has a 6W TDP to maintain low power consumption to save energy and 7x24 hours quiet running.
- ✔ Package List & Service---Vnopn Mini PC*1, 12V/3A power adapter*1, US power plug*1, user manual*1, warranty card*1, WiFi antenna*2, VESA mounting kit*1. We offer 7x24 hours customer service, 1 month free return, 3 year warranty and lifetime tech support. All of our products have obtained FCC, CE, RoHS Certifications.
This mini PC comes with 4 Intel NICs, perfect for those who want to run VLANs. Memory and hard drive are included. Just install pfSense and go. The model below is similar but with fewer network ports but more RAM and a bigger hard drive.
- 【High-efficiency Processor & OS】K3-F14 mini computers equipped with Intel Core i3 5005u 2.0GHz, 2 Core 4 Threads 3M Cache. TDP is only 15W, which saves energy. We installed windows 10 Pro 64-bit (Activated with a windows license), it also supports linux ubuntu, etc. And you can press the "DEL" key to enter BIOS to setup Auto Power On/Wake on LAN/PXE/RTC Wake.
- 【Support Triple HD Display】This micro pc uses Intel HD Graphics 5500 to support 4K web surfing, HD video playback and watching TV, bringing you a first-class visual experience. Dual HDMI (Max resolution: 3840*[email protected]) and VGA (Max resolution: 1920*[email protected]) ports make it easily connect three monitors, which can simplify and greatly improve your work efficiency.
- 【Dual LAN & Wireless Connectivity】This mini desktop computer has 2x RJ45 LAN port, supports dual gigabit ethernet. You can use it for router/firewall network applications. It also has built-in 2.4G+5G dual-band wifi and 4.0 BT to give you a faster and more stable data transmission. Meanwhile, this windows 10 mini pc has rich I/O ports, such as 6*USB, 1*Type-C(Not support video output), 1* MIC & SPK, 1*Reset, 1* Lock slot to meet your different needs.
- 【Tiny Size but Large Storage】This small pc is only 5.27x4.98x1.85inches and 1.45pounds. It can be mounted on the back of a monitor/tv to save more space and give you a neat desk space. It has a silent fan and many vents to increase heat dissipation and keep it running 7x24 hours. Besides, this intel core i3 mini computer comes with 8GB RAM(2x DDR3L slot, up to 16GB), 128GB SSD(1x mSATA slot, up to 512GB). More capacity makes it run more smoothly. Good choice for business, office, home theater.
- 【Packing List & Reliable Service】Vnopn K3-F14 Mini PC*1, VESA Bracket Kit*1, 12V/5A Power Supply*1, User Manual*1, Warranty Card*1. We offer 7x24 hours customer service, 30 days free return, 3 years warranty and lifetime tech support. All of our products have obtained FCC, CE, RoHS Certifications.
Ninth Choice: Teklager
If you don’t want to go through the install yourself you can buy from a 3rd party vendor like Teklager. They allow you to purchase hardware barebones or have pfSense preinstalled.
Tenth Choice: Repurpose an existing desktop
If you have an old desktop lying around, you can probably re-purpose it to being a router. You might need to buy an additional network card for LAN and WAN connections, but chances are the rest of the hardware will work fine. The downside is that this machine will probably use much more electricity than the other options, and it will need to always be on.
Eleventh Choice: Go virtual!
You can also use your old hardware (or new) to make a virtual pfSense router. I decided to go virtual for a while and it worked out well for me. A virtual router can have a lot of advantages, including:
- Snapshots – Easy to roll back if you mess up a configuration
- Scalability – Need a more powerful router? No need to buy new hardware, just allocate more power to your virtual router
- Portability – You can easily move a VM from one machine to another
You can read more about my virtual pfSense install here. You can also find good choices for small-form-factor virtualization servers here.
There are tons of great and affordable pfSense router software options available. It’s hard to go wrong with any of them. Just pick the best one that works for you.
Netgate makes good solid options, but you can save some money by going virtual or building your own hardware. No matter how you go, pfSense is a great choice for a home router. If you think pfSense might not be for you, check out these Wi-Fi router recommendations.
Before you build your pfSense router, check out my article about things you should consider before installing pfSense and decide which pfSense version is right for you. After you get it installed, be sure to check out my pfSense tips and make sure you review my advice on the 6 post-installation configurations you should do immediately. Also, if you are running pfSense and need to upgrade, follow these tips to upgrade pfSense the right way.
One last thing – these hardware options will work for OPNSense as well. OPNSense is another BSD-based router distribution that you should also consider as an alternative to pfSense. Here are the top alternatives to pfSense, and this hardware will work for them too.
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