vExpert NUC 2022

As mentioned in my previous blog I received (as many other vExperts) a ‘NUC’ (sponsered by Cohesity) to be used for a home lab. We were asked to blog about how we are going to use it in our homelab. So this is part 1 of …. (I have no clue ) blogging about my adventures with this NUC

What are you ?

To drop the b… it is not a nuc.
a nuc is a small form factor PC manufactured by Intel. This devices is manufactured by Maxtang. It is a small form factor PC, a NUC look-a-like.
And it has its own page at their site, titled ‘Intel Elkhart Lake J6412 Processor based compact fanless mini pc’.

The specs

CPU: Intel Elkhart Lake Celeron J6412 (4 cores)
Memory: SO-DIMM DDR4 max 32 GB
Ethernet: 2x nic – Realtek RTL8111H – 10/100/1000 Mbps
Storage: 1x M.2 for 2242/2280 SSD (SATA)
I/O: 2x USB 2.0, 2x USB 3.2, 1x USB-C
Display: 2x HDMI 2.0

Full specs can be found here

Usage

My ‘nuc’ is going to be used for a pfsense router. At the moment I use pfSense in a VM for my firewaling and routing at home. A VM is great, but in my homelab server (a supermicro) memory is scares. And having the router virtualised, demands to much memory. At first my pfSense VM was only used for my homelab, but it became more and more my main firewall and router for my home network. Which introduced some challenges. Namely losing internet when updating ESXi.
So moving it a dedicated hardware, results in no internet loss in my home for my family when I update my homelab.

Challenges

Installing pfSense, easy. And it looked like it was running fine. But once in a while, my WIFI was gone. And my LAN networks weren’t available.
Scrolling through the logs I first found the UUID error.
Also googling for the realtek NICs and pfsense, I found out that the realtek drivers aren’t updated in the freeBSD image.

UUID error

For the UUID error I had to search in the source code of pfSense (which is available in github) for the error message. And looked on the community forum of pfsense (here) And I found out that pfSense checks the UUID against a blacklist of UUIDs. And guess what….
My UUID was blacklisted….
The solution was to change the UUID. For this I needed to boot into the EFI shell and run DMI edit for AMI. After a long search I found the needed software here.
I downloaded dmi-edit-efi-ami.zip, unpacked it to a USB flash drive, read the documentation and changed some DMI settings.
And this solved my issue. But it didn’t solve the network issue.

Realtek NIC

I knew already that the realtek nics aren’t supported for ESXi. But I hoped pfSense (or freeBSD for that matter) would.
But no. pfSense would work for a week. Ben then my network dropped. Especially my VLANs.
After some search I found that you could update the Realtek drivers for freeBSD. (here)

To install them I followed the following steps on the shell of pfSense.

adding the package

pkg add https://pkg.freebsd.org/FreeBSD:12:amd64/latest/All/realtek-re-kmod-197.00.pkg

Letting pfSense know it should load the realtek drivers on boot by creating/ editing the file loader.conf.local in /boot/

if_re_load="YES"
if_re_name="/boot/modules/if_re.ko"

Then a cold reboot of pfSense and checking the OS boot log that the re1/re0 interfaces show the correct version (version 1.97.00)

This solved the issue. I haven’t seen the issue since.
So now I have my firewall/router running on dedicated hardware, making it independent from my ESXi homelab server. And leaving me with more available resource in my homelab to experiment with BOSH and CloudFoundry.

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