pfSense fanless MiniPC review
I bought a cheap fanless Topton MiniPC from Aliexpress to set up a spare pfSense firewall, in case my pfSense VM is not running. The price was around 85€ including free shipping. The thing finally arrived after 6 weeks, but packaging was still ok and nothing damaged.
The MiniPC I ordered did not come with SSD or RAM. You can configure it to include RAM and/or SSD, but you don’t know what they put into it until you received the package. I equipped the PC with 4GB of DDR3L 1600MHz SO-Dimm RAM. 2GB or even 1GB will be enough for most private use cases with pfSense, but since these memory modules are cheap… The 4GB RAM module I bought was around 18€.
For storage I decided to use a Transcend MSata SSD 16GB ultradurable MLC NAND Flash. 16GB is plenty of space for pfSense, 8GB would also be fine. But the stuff is cheap, 21€. You can also use a SATA-DOM, there’s an onboard SATA and power connector.
Installation of pfSense is simple. Just flash the downloaded image on a USB stick and boot it. The installation process is guided and you can find enough tutorials about installing pfSense on the internet.
The CPU supports AES-NI, which provides hardware-based encryption and a significant performance boost. VPN connections such as IP-Sec, OpenVPN or similar, are significantly accelerated by AES-NI. There are many other MiniPCs offered on eBay or Aliexpress, which have Intel Atom or Celeron J1900 CPUs, which do not support AES-NI and are significantly weaker than the Celeron N3150. So check the Intel ARK pages of the CPU before buying a similar MiniPC.
The routing performance of the firewall was measured with iperf3 at about 900Mbit. But this requires additional Realtek ethernet drivers to be installed. Otherwise you will get fluctuating throughput. See my how-to post of the installation of additional Realtek drivers for pfSense here.
The Mini-PC runs very efficient and absolutely silent, no fans. On average I measured 7-8 watts.
Alternatives to this MiniPC could be Supermicro´s IoT/Embedded Systems, although they cost more than double. But they have Intel NICs and you know that you will definitely have a high quality lasting product.
Mini-PC tech specs:
- CPU: Intel Celeron N3150 1.6GHz Max 2.08GHz Quad Core including AES-NI
- RAM: 1x DDR3L 1600MHz SO-Dimm
- Network: 2x Onboard RTL8111DL PCI-E Gigabit Ethernet NICs
- Graphics: Intel HD-Graphics integrated in CPU
- 4x USB3
- 2x USB2
- 2x HDMI
- Audio in + out
- 1x Sata3
- 1x MSata3
- 1x Mini PCI Express for Wifi or additional Dual Gbit Ethernet NICs
- Mini-PC with pre-installed pfSense router/firewall Software
- Power supplay 100-240V
- HDMI cabel
- Sata + Sata power cable
- Bracket for case + screws