Install pfSense from USB - The Ultimate Guide

With this article, we intend to provide a complete and beginner-friendly guide on how to install pfSense from USB on a physical appliance. This is one of the most difficult things to do when it comes to installing pfSense, so we walk you through the whole process in a step-by-step fashion. Should you need a more complete, video-guided introduction to pfSense, we can highly recommend the Complete pfSense Fundamentals Bootcamp, where we cover all of the steps below and much more.

Without further ado, let's dive right in.

Install pfSense from USB

Table of Contents

👀 This Tutorial has some related Articles!
👉 The Complete pfSense Fundamentals Bootcamp
👉 Install pfSense from USB - The Complete Guide
👉 Install pfSense on VirtualBox
👉 The Complete pfSense OpenVPN Guide
👉 The Complete pfSense DMZ Guide
👉 Generate SSL Certificates for HTTPS with pfSense
👉 The Complete pfSense Squid Proxy Guide (with ClamAV!)
👉 pfSense Site-to-Site VPN Guide
👉 pfSense Domain Overrides Made Easy
👉 pfSense Strict NAT (PS4,PS5,Xbox,PC) Solution
👉 The Best pfSense Hardware
👉 Traffic Shaping VOIP with pfSense
👉 pfSense OpenVPN on Linux - Setup Guide
👉 pfSense Firewall Rule Aliases Explained
👉 Email Notifications with pfSense
👉 pfSense DNS Server Guide

Install pfSense on a Physical Appli...
Install pfSense on a Physical Appliance - Step-by-Step (SERIAL CABLE + USB!)

Requirements

Summary: In this article, you will learn how to install pfSense from USB using a Serial Cable (Null Modem Cable).

Step 1 - Downloading the pfSense Image

We use a Serial Connection to connect to our pfSense Firewall. Be aware that if you have a VGA output on your pfSense firewall and you want to use a monitor to install it, you have to choose VGA on the console dropdown.

For everyone also using a Serial Connection, download the pfSense image with the following options checked here: pfsense.org/download/

Download the pfSense Image

Make sure you select everything according to the image above. Choose a Mirror closest to your location.

After you have downloaded the image, navigate to your Downloads folder, right-click the file and use 7-zip to extract it.

exctracting the pfSense image

Step 2 - Creating a bootable USB drive

To be able to install pfSense from USB, we need to create a bootable USB drive. A 2GB USB Drive is sufficient.

Next, start Win32DiskImager.

Make sure you have your USB Drive selected under Device, then choose the extracted pfSense.img file from your Downloads folder. Finally, hit Write. Be aware that everything on your USB drive will be deleted.

install pfsense 2.4.4 from usb

Step 3 - Setting up the connection to pfSense

We have a built-in serial converter in our appliance, so we can use a USB cable to connect our PC to our pfSense firewall. You most likely will only have a serial cable. Whatever you have, connect pfSense to your PC now with whatever type of serial cable you have.

Also, go ahead and plug the USB drive into the USB slot of your pfSense appliance.

install pfsense from usb

Make sure your pfSense appliance is running now.

Next, hit the Windows Key and type "Device Manager" into the search field. Open the Device Manager.

Because we have this converter built into our firewall, we have to install a driver for it. If you use any kind of USB to Serial cable with a built-in converter, you probably also have to install a driver. Gladly, it's very simple:

Right-click the USB-Serial Controller in your Device Manager and select Update Driver.

Installing the Serial Converter Driver

Select "Search automatically for updated driver software".

Installing the USB Converter Driver

For our converter that worked perfectly. It finds the driver and installs it. Your experience may vary, look up which type of USB to Serial Converter is built into your cable and search for that specific driver on Google and install it manually if Windows Update doesn't find it. We had a good experience using the "Prolific USB-to-Serial" type converters.

You will find the installed device under Ports (COM & LPT) now.

install pfsense 2.4.4 from usb

Now, this is very important. You have to remember the COM Port that your device got assigned. In our case, it's COM3 as you can see in the screenshot above.

If you use any other Serial Connection, make sure that you know which COM port it is using. That is important for the connection with puTTY. If you don't know, simply go through all of your COM ports when trying to connect with puTTY, and one will be working.

Good, now that we got that figured out we can try to connect with puTTY.

⚠️ If you would like to learn more about pfSense, I highly recommend you check out my pfSense Fundamentals Bootcamp over at Udemy. This is the most up-to-date as well as the highest-rated pfSense course on Udemy.

Step 4 - Connecting to pfSense using puTTY

Open PuTTY. Don't get thrown off by how many options there are.

Set the Connection Type to Serial. For Serial Line, enter your COM port. For Speed, choose 115200. The speed might vary depending on your appliance. In case, look up your appliance documentation. The default values for be pfSense can be found here: https://docs.netgate.com/pfsense/en/latest/hardware/connecting-to-the-serial-console.html

Now type "pfSense" underneath of "Saved Sessions" and hit the Save button on the right. This way, you can reconnect to your pfSense firewall without typing everything again each time you want to connect.

Install pfSense from USB

Finally, click on Open. Hit the Enter key once the window opens. You should now see something popping up, which leads us to our next step.

Step 5 - Booting pfSense from USB

First, we need to make sure to be able to boot via USB drive. Because you already placed your USB drive in your firewall, it's possible that you are already in the pfSense installer menu. If that's the case, you can skip the following BIOS step and wait until we get to the installation.

BIOS Setup

Restart your firewall and get into the BIOS. This probably varies from appliance to appliance. We have to press either TAB or DEL when it's booting up. Look up your appliance's documentation in case you can't figure it out. Usually, it's written there which button to press when you start it.

Leave your puTTY window open, restart the appliance either by pressing a button or just pulling the power cable.

install pfsense from usb

Once you are in the BIOS, navigate to Boot. Make sure Boot mode is on LEGACY. Make sure your USB Drive is on #1 as a Boot Option and your Hard Drive is on #2.

install pfsense from usb

Navigate to Save & Exit and select Save Changes and Reset. Your firewall will reboot again.

Step 6 - Install pfSense from USB

Now, if you did everything correctly, your appliance should boot from the USB drive. We will guide you through the whole installation process now.

For Console Type, type xterm and hit enter:

Setting console type

Accept the Copyright and distribution notice.

Select Install pfSense:

Selecting install pfSense

Choose your preferred keymap by scrolling down, selecting the one you want and pressing enter. Select "Continue with YourKeymap" on the top and hit enter. Repeat the same in the next step.

Choosing a keymap

For partitioning, that's up to your personal preference, but we will choose the new Auto (ZFS) Filesystem that was introduced with pfSense 2.4. If you don't know what to choose, I recommend ZFS for you as well.

Choosing pfSense partitioning type

Select Pool Type/Disks and hit Enter. Choose Stripe - No Redundancy. Make sure you select your appliance's hard drive in the next window by pressing Space Bar and hitting Enter.

Selecting the hard drive

Make sure Partition Scheme is set to GPT (BIOS) and leave everything else as default. Finally, select Install on top of the screen and hit enter.

Installing pfSense

Agree and be aware that everything on your Hard Drive will get wiped.

For the question, if you want to do some manual configuration steps, choose no.

Now select Reboot and get ready to enter that BIOS Menu again while the appliance is rebooting. We need to change the boot order back to the correct order. Remove your USB drive from the appliance after it rebooted.

install pfsense 2.4.4 from usb

Navigate to Save & Exit and select Save Changes and Reset.

If all went well, you will now end up in the pfSense Welcome Screen.

install pfsense 2.4.4 from usb

You can see that the interfaces were automatically assigned. Your first Interface got assigned as WAN and your second interface got assigned as LAN.

DHCP is enabled per default and your pfSense firewall has the IP of 192.168.1.1.

Step 7 - Configuring pfSense via Web GUI

Connect a LAN cable to the LAN port on your firewall. Usually, the first port is dedicated to WAN(igb0) and the second port is dedicated to LAN(igb1). Connect your Laptop / PC / Switch to the other end of the LAN port.

The WAN interface is the one where you want to plug your Modem / Internet Connection in. If you don't know which modem to use, I highly recommend the DrayTek Vigor 130. Heres a guide on how to configure a DrayTek Modem for the use with pfSense. We run multiple of those and they served us very well over the years.

Open a Web Browser and enter the IP of your pfSense 192.168.1.1. If you want to get rid of that warning message, we got you covered.

Log in with the default credentials:

  • Username: admin
  • Password: pfsense

Click Next on the first dialogue.

WebGUI Setup 1

Click Next on the Netgate Global Support dialogue.

WebGUI Setup 2

Choose a Hostname and a Domain, if you don't have a Domain leave it as localdomain. Click Next.

General Information Setup

WebGUI Setup 3

Choose your Timezone, leave the Time server hostname as default. Click Next.

WebGUI Setup 4

Now, to configure your WAN Interface it depends on how you connect to the internet. Here in Europe, we mostly use PPPoE and we need to enter the credentials provided by our ISP. If you already have a working internet connection and just want to connect pfSense to that, use DHCP. Look up your Internet Provider's information, or ask in the Netgate forums.

If you choose PPPoE, scroll down until you find PPPoE configuration and enter the details provided by your ISP.

Everything else stays on default, scroll to the bottom and click on Next.

WebGUI Setup 5

You can either change the LAN IP Address or leave it on default. If you don't know what that means, just leave it as it is.

WebGUI Setup 6

Change the default admin password and choose a safe password.

WebGUI Setup 7

Click on Reload.

WebGUI Setup 9

Click Finish.

Step 8 - Wrapping Up

Congratulations! If you made it this far, you successfully installed pfSense via USB / Serial Cable!

As the last step, let's set up the temperature sensor to display the correct values. In the pfSense Web GUI navigate to System / Advanced / Miscellaneous.

Scroll down until you find Cryptographic & Thermal Hardware. For Thermal Sensor, choose either Intel or AMD, depending on which processor type you have.

Scroll down all the way to the bottom and hit Save. Now your Thermal Sensor should display the correct value.

And finally, as promised, to repair your USB Drive after the installation follow this article. Your USB drive will now have multiple partitions, rendering it unusable. We use Rufus to fix that.

Conclusion

It can be a struggle to install something like pfSense via Serial Cable if you do it for the first time, that's why we thought it might be a good idea to go through each and every step in detail. We hope you were able to install pfSense from USB and establish an internet connection. pfSense is a fantastic open source firewall that teaches you a ton of things when you use it in your home network.

If you want to learn more about pfSense and deepen your knowledge, check out the pfSense Fundamentals Bootcamp or continue with some of the related articles below.

👀 This Tutorial has some related Articles!
👉 The Complete pfSense Fundamentals Bootcamp
👉 Install pfSense from USB - The Complete Guide
👉 Install pfSense on VirtualBox
👉 The Complete pfSense OpenVPN Guide
👉 The Complete pfSense DMZ Guide
👉 Generate SSL Certificates for HTTPS with pfSense
👉 The Complete pfSense Squid Proxy Guide (with ClamAV!)
👉 pfSense Site-to-Site VPN Guide
👉 pfSense Domain Overrides Made Easy
👉 pfSense Strict NAT (PS4,PS5,Xbox,PC) Solution
👉 The Best pfSense Hardware
👉 Traffic Shaping VOIP with pfSense
👉 pfSense OpenVPN on Linux - Setup Guide
👉 pfSense Firewall Rule Aliases Explained
👉 Email Notifications with pfSense
👉 pfSense DNS Server Guide

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