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.
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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: 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 i210 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
- POWERFUL - Dual core ARM Cortex-A53 1.2 GHz - Delivers near gigabit routlng of common home iPerf3 trafﬁc and in excess of 650 Mbps of ﬁrewall throughput.
- FLEXIBLE - 3x 1 GbE Switched (WAN/LAN/OPT) Ports - Flexibly conﬁgure three separate 1 GbE switched ports for nearly a gigabit of bi-directional trafﬁc.
- EFFICIENT - A compact form factor, low power draw, and silent operation allows it to run unnoticed when placed on a desktop, wall, or rack.
- READY - Pre-loaded with pfSense Plus software to get up and running fast. Simply unbox it and start customizing for your secure networking needs.
- FAST - 1GB DDR4 RAM - DDR4 memory allows more stable, higher transfer rates for memory intensive applications (e.g. IDS/IPS).
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
- 🚀【INTEL APOLLO LAKE PROCESSOR】G34 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 5.0GHz dual band WIFI, dual Gigabytes LAN NIC, dual HDMI for 4K UHD, 5x USB 3.0, Pre-installed licensed Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64bit) and supports Linux. G34 Mini PC offers excellent performance for HTPC (Home Theater Personal Computer), NAS etc.
- 🚀【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 GEEK+ 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. 【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】All important connections are available: 2x LAN, 5x USB 3.0, 2x HDMI, 1x audio output, 1x Micro SD slot (for TF cards with up to 128GB). GEEK+ provide 12-month satisfaction and LIFETIME technical support service. PLEASE NOTE: In case you receive a product remind that the product key has been used, please send an email to our AMAZON message, we will provide you with a new product key to activate, the steps are very simple!
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 (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: Fitlet2
- CPU: Celeron J3455 quad-core
- Dual display HDMI + mini-DP
- Dual Gbit Ethernet (Intel i211)
- Up to 16 GB RAM (DDR3L single SODIMM, not included)
- M.2 2260 SATA SSD (not included)
This is an extremely compact mini pc with two gigabit ports and plenty of power to fulfill your pfSense router needs. If you don’t need VPN and/or other power-hungry pfSense packages you could probably go with the less powerful option below, but I recommend spending the extra bucks for the more powerful fitlet2:
- CPU: Atom x5-E3930 dual-core
- Dual display HDMI + mini-DP
- Dual Gbit Ethernet (Intel i211)
- Up to 16 GB RAM (DDR3L single SODIMM, not included)
- M.2 2260 SATA SSD (not included)
Eighth Choice: Vnopn Mini PC
- 【Intel Processor】Pre-installed with Windows 10 Pro 64 bit and also support windows7/8/linux ubuntu etc. Intel N2940 Processor quad core 4 threads 2M Cache, up to 2.25GHz (NOT Support AES-NI); Processor Graphics: Intel HD Graphics, Graphics Frequency:313-854MHz; 4GB DDR3/64GB mSATA; Support auto power on, wake on lan and PXE boot ("DEL" key to enter BIOS)
- 【Rich I/O Ports】This 4 nic mini pc uses Intel i211 chip, support 4*Gigabit Ethernet, stable and high speed, good compatibility for soft routing, firewall and other network applications. I/O Interface: 1*HDMI, 1*VGA, 2*USB3.0, 4*RJ45 LAN, 1*DC IN
- 【Dual Display】HDMI and VGA port, Support to connect two monitors, simplify and improve work efficiency. Built-in 2.4G WiFi with dual antenna wireless connection.
- 【Portable and Silent】Equipped with a mounting bracket can be easily fixed to the back of the monitor to save space. K6 mini computer uses fanless passive cooling design with 4.5w SDP, low power consumption to save energy and 0 noise. Support 7x24 hours running.
- 【Package List and Service】Vnopn Mini PC*1, 12V/3A Power adapter*1, power cable*1, user manual*1, warranty card*1, antenna*2, VESA mounting kit*1. 1 Year Warranty and 7x24 hours serving.
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. One thing to note: The processor doesn’t support AES-NI. The model below is the same but has more RAM and a larger hard drive.
- ✔ Processor & OS---Pre-installed with Windows 10 Pro 64bit and also support windows7/8/linux ubuntu etc. Intel N2940 Processor quad core 4 threads 2M Cache, up to 2.25GHz (NOT Support AES-NI); Processor Graphics: Intel HD Graphics, Graphics Frequency:313-854MHz; 8GB DDR3/128GB mSATA; Support auto power on, wake on lan and PXE boot ("DEL" key to enter BIOS)
- ✔ 4x Intel NIC---This 4 nic mini pc uses Intel i211 chip, support 4*Gigabit Ethernet, stable and high speed, good compatibility for soft routing, firewall and other network applications. I/O Interface: 1*HDMI, 1*VGA, 2*USB3.0, 4*RJ45 LAN, 1*DC IN
- ✔ Dual Display---HDMI and VGA port, Support to connect two monitors, simplify and improve work efficiency. Built-in 2.4G WiFi with dual antenna wireless connection.
- ✔ Portable and Silent---Equipped with a mounting bracket can be easily fixed to the back of the monitor and space saving. K6 mini computer uses fanless passive cooling design with 4.5w SDP, low power consumption to save energy and 0 noise. Support 7x24 hours running.
- ✔ Package List and Service---Vnopn Mini PC*1, 12V/3A Power adapter*1, power plug*1, user manual*1, warranty card*1, WiFi antenna*2, VESA mounting kit*1. 7x24 hours serving, 1 year warranty and Lifetime tech support.
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.
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.
Before you build your pfSense router, check out my article about things you should consider before installing pfSense. 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.
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