Some of you may recall my post from last year (and if you don't, I just linked to it, like all the cool kids are doing) where I talked about replacing my small business router with an old PC running pfSense. Well, I shut it down the other day – not because of pfSense, which was still running great, and was very reliable and stable – but because of the hardware.
In my previous post, I mentioned that I had to replace the fan. Well, I couldn't find one with just the right connecter, so I cut the wires and spliced them together. So about half the time it comes up when booting, it says that it can't find the fan, hit F1 to continue (there's no option in the BIOS to bypass this either). That's all well and good if I'm standing right there. But lately, something has been happing with my Internet connection – something where it goes off-line for a moment, which is just enough to set off pfSense, and it brings down the network interface. I found a great script to automatically restart the interface – and if restarting the interface doesn't fix the issue, it restarts the system. More often than not, the problem has required restarting the system – and if it happens during the day, while I'm at work, everything stays off-line until I get home.
So I scavenged around in my basement and dug out a different old PC. But form some reason, it won't install pfSense. It just reboots partway through the install. So as I was complaining to my co-work about this, he said "are you still wasting all that electricity running an ancient PC as a router?" I hadn't really thought about that part of the equation, but he has a good point.
So what to do? I didn't want to buy a new, more efficient PC, just to be a router. And I haven't been thrilled with most of the home/small business routers due to their limits (again, see the previous post).
Then I finally realized that I have a router sitting right here not 3 feet away – my AirPort Extreme base station. I bought it just to use as an access point. But the current firmware lets me do almost everything I was doing with pfSense (pfSense has a lot more features, but I wasn't using them). About the only thing it doesn't do is have it's own VPN – but that's OK, because I use the one on my server anyway, even with pfSense. So I brought up the pfSense config, configured the Airport Extreme the same in terms of NAT and port forwarding, and now I use that as my router. It's certainly a lot quieter, uses a lot less power, and so far, after just over a week, hasn't had a problem staying up with Comcast. I still have the old router ready to put back in if need be, but for now the AE is doing the job. I recommend buying a refurb from the Apple store and saving $50 or so if you need one. It's not like there's a bunch of options you're missing out on.