Protectli Vault + pfSense

One9twO
4 min readJul 21, 2022

Lately I have tested Protectli Vault (with both OPNsense and pfSense). Below are some tips/takeaways.

Protectli Vault

The model I tested was FW6D — 6 Port Intel® i5.

Why Protectli

Due to some physical constraints (of the place where my ISP placed the cable), I need a firewall without a lot of fan noise. I looked around for options and decided to give ‘passive cooling’ a try. Another vendor (Qotom) has made to the shortlist too, but their shipping was too slow (and my other network gears were waiting to be re-organized).

Why FW6D?

Other than the WAN and LAN ports, I need 3 or 4 ports for different networks. For most electronic products, I don’t usually go for the latest and newest. I can live with a slightly lower clock speed for a significant cost reduction.

pfSense

A disclaimer is I have only tested psSense and OPNsense as a beginner. It won’t be fair for me to come up with a fair judgement. For now, the main reason for me to pick pfSense over OPNsense is simply: I checked both Reddit channels (r/pfSense and r/OPNsense) for their membership population. As of today pfSense has a significantly larger Reddit user community. For folks who don’t like reading the entire doc, having a larger user community means there are more convenient resources when you are stuck, because someone else may have the same issue/question like yours.

My Setup

I ordered the firewall without disk. Initially, I added an mSATA SSD (256GB) as the / mount point, and an SSD drive (1TB) as the /var mount-point, to store more logs.

A Problem

After installing and configuring pfSense, I was happily watching over my network. However, at random intervals (once or twice a day), the OS crashes and it wouldn’t respond without a hard reboot.

Why it crashed

After a hard reboot, log in to the pfSense web interface and click on Status -> System Logs. Under the System/General logs, I noticed each crash began with kernel errors complaining it can not find the OS drive. Then after a few retries, it stopped logging and crashed completely.

I searched for ‘msata disconnected’, it seems to be a common problem elsewhere too. Since someone mentioned overheating, I checked the temperature chart under Status ->Monitoring (screencaps below)

Based on the chart, the temperature did not spike significantly before it crashed.

Since the logs clearly indicated the problem of the mSATA drive, I backed up my configurations (under Diagnostics -> Backup & Restore), took the the drive out, reinstalled pfSense on the 1T SSD drive. At this point, I have not gone to the extent to figure out whether the root cause to the problem is the drive, the OS, the ventilation (overheating), or a combo of them. If you have seen a similar problem and delved in further, please share your findings in the comment section.

A trivial problem with HDMI

When the device (Protectli vault) booted without an external display, and if you plug it in after it booted up, the display will not work. i.e. if you need a display, you need to boot the device with a monitor powered ON.

Drop a comment if you know a magical command to ‘refresh’ the HDMI connection after the device is powered on.

Summary

Without the mSATA drive, so far so good. I’ll test more packages (System -> Package Manager) and post an update if I find a problem (or a meaningful update). Overall, I like the sturdy design of the device, the low noise level, and the freedom to build-your-own-tool.

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