BSD Breathes New Life Into Obsolete Equipment

An old laptop or desktop computer that’s seen better days might still have a little bit of use left in it for a dedicated task. Grabbing a lightweight flavor of Linux and running a web server, firewall, or Super Nintendo emulator might get a few more years out of it. You can also get pretty creative repurposing obsolete single purpose  machines, as [Kristjan] did with some old Cisco server equipment.

The computer in question isn’t something commonly found, either. It’s an intrusion detection system meant to mount in a server rack and protect the server itself from malicious activity. While [Kristjan] mentions that Cisco equipment seems to be the definition of planned obsolescence, we think that this Intel Celeron machine with an IDE hard drive may have gone around the bend quite some time ago. Regardless, it’s modern enough to put back to work in some other capacity.

To that end, a general purpose operating system was installed, and rather than use Linux he reached for BSD to get the system up and running. There’s one other catch, though, besides some cooling issues. Since the machine was meant to be used in a server, there’s no ACPI which means no software shutdown capability. Despite all the quirks, you can still use it to re-implement a network security system if you wanted to bring it full-circle.

26 thoughts on “BSD Breathes New Life Into Obsolete Equipment

  1. Judging from the headline I was expecting to see an article on putting NetBSD on a MicroVAX. Although I’ve taken old Barracuda Anti-Spam firewalls and put FreeBSD on them for a nice little home server. I guess it’s just a question of how obsolete you want to get.

    1. > Pentium III 1.4ghz and 512mb of RAM, with 4x 10/100 ports on it. Works great

      According to the spec:
      – Power Consumption U.S. 60 Watts
      – Rest of World: 860 Cal/min or 205 BTU/hr

      Mmh that’s a lot. If it was a gigabits at least. Well, for a frontend firewall it is enough powerhouse but not that efficient.

      > (but LOUD!)

      Why don’t you trying to hack this part?

      Nice red indeed :)

  2. I authored a short 2 piece article (The Phoenix Project) for 2600 magazine a while back.
    Typical celeron 1 U rack server, used as an “Intranet” server in a previous life.
    For the sum of $50.00 it came with a licensed copy of MS Server 2003, so that had to go.
    Linux to the rescue..
    Booted up fine, and resumed a useful life in my back room.
    Typical trolls had much to say about converting the tiny rack into a full fledged AWS server, clearly not understanding exactly what a “Intranet” device was.
    This too shall pass..
    Happy new year from Hollyweird Ca.

  3. I know this is a hackaday but still – isn’t a $35 raspberry pi or similar fruit board faster, quieter and use fraction of power of those old machines so it will pay itself just by saving on electricity bill? I’m all for using old stuff for nostalgy or educational reasons or because it is simply fun but not because keeping old pc running linux would save money.

      1. The RAM limitation is less of a problem for a headless machine (no GUI) as most of the really useful stuff runs from the command line anyway. Plus, the expansion problem, isn’t really a problem with powered USB hubs etc.

      1. My reply was related to this part “An old laptop or desktop computer that’s seen better days might still have a little bit of use left in it for a dedicated task. Grabbing a lightweight flavor of Linux and running a web server, firewall, or Super Nintendo emulator might get a few more years out of it. “. While cost saving is not directly mentioned I understood it is the reason behind it – to not to waste something. My point was that by keeping it alive you may actually produce more waste and more costs.

        1. Fanoush is right.
          This device has not even enough capability/powerefficient to be a FW or NAS. The lack of power management feature is also a no go. Yes you could hack around with an arduino and build a kind of advanced watchdog but for such device, it is not interesting.

          We must accept that some appliances are just garbage out of their scope.

        2. The Super Nintendo bit is actually topical. I built one from an old Pentium 4 machine that I already had on hand. It powers on for approx. an hour every couple days. At this rate, it’s going to take a couple decades to save enough energy to cover the cost of a new Raspberry Pi – not including the cost of power for the Pi itself.

          All computers use the same power when turned off :)

    1. The AC PSU in these 4200 series IDS machines was 300 watts, so roughly two and a half amp at 120v?
      (There was a DC 48v PSU as well that is a bit better on power usage. Doesn’t look to apply here though)

      A rPi certainly draws less power, but if your goal is a networking device, the Pi can barely run its single 100mbit port at full speed, let alone four 100mbit ports.

      Using 2.5A to accomplish your goal is still far better in every way than using 0.5A to not accomplish it at all.
      If being power efficient is the only point, I’d argue you can not accomplish your goal for Zero amps by simply doing nothing, which would be a better option than the Pi in that case.

  4. I wonder if it might be possible to patch the ACPI table. The sleep modes and sleep registers necessary for shutdown should be documented, and I know they patch ACPI tables on hackintoshes, though I don’t think there is anything quite like adding the amount of stuff needed to add the shutdown capability.
    Another option might be to hack the BIOS.

    But all this seems like a lot of work just to add a layer of polish to some repurposed obsolete hardware.

      1. I’m quite new to the concept of ACPI, but could he not implement something along the lines of win95/98 “this computer is safe to turn off” mode? Maybe even set up something plugged into the systems security io interface that it can trigger to kill its own power?

        I probably don’t understand what is required but that seems like the way to handle the lack of ACPI.

        1. I believe HaD posted an article on how to get your wifi router to reset itself not too long ago. I can’t see why an io pin couldn’t be tied to a big power switch. Or even a set of gates used to look for a single memory address. So you map the memory address in external hardware. Just pick one you will probobly never use and remember not to use it for anything else.

        2. On FreeBSD just “shutdown -h now” then when the system tells you it has finished (or you just wait several minutes) turn it off manually or unplug it from the mains. The lack of ACPI is not really such a big deal unless you want to power down remotely.

      2. Not that long ago, APM allowed software access to trigger suspend-to-RAM, suspend-to-disk, and power-off. I hope support for it hasn’t been completely ripped out from modern kernels…

  5. Ok so he put in a quad gig card… but it’s only PCI. That thing is going to choke as soon as some proper gigabit traffic is flowing through it (unless he’s sticking to a dedicated gig switch for that).
    No ACPI… no AES-NI… no x64… high power consumption for what it can do… I fail to see the point. It’s cool yeah I guess but still…
    I love pfSense and have used it for years, but it really doesn’t cost much to setup something that’s way more modern and capable.

    1. The PCI bandwidth limits probably won’t be an issue for a typical home internet connection unless you have something particularly fast and given it’s a passively cooled celeron then hopefully it’s fairly miserly on power. I agree with the general premise that it is getting a bit long in the tooth though. Especially for filtering and caching.

      At home I use a HP T620 Plus thin client (needs to be the plus model to have a half height PCIE slot). It’s compact, has AES-NI, quad core AMD64, AMD-V (though sadly no BIOS support for the IOMMU. Not that I actually needed it) and sips the juice. They are cheap second hand. I paid about US$70 but they can be had for less . Add an Intel PCIE quad NIC and away you go. It draws <30W (system total) flat out.

      They usually come with RAM a small SSD so other than the NIC there's not a lot of added expense and you get a lot more network bandwidth than a RPi. Theres lots of similar hardware around that's up to the task and cheap to run.

      Free and cheap tools are good but only if you don't have to waste too much time and money working around their limitations. I'm all for avoiding e-waste though.

  6. BSD? BSD?!!

    Any BSD is two to three times bigger than ‘antiX-17.3-core’ (about 560 MB download).
    What’s wrong with you guys?
    If that’s too much a decrease for you to handle, how about a pre-emptive, monolithic-core OS which is written entirely in Assembly Language, boots in 3 seconds, requires a full 8 MB of RAM (that’s eight MEGA BYTES of RAM, folks) and 10 MB (that’s 10 M…never mind) of disk space.and fits on a 1.44 MB floppy disk?

    Try ‘kolibriOS’: https colon slash slash kolibrios dot org/en/

    For a couple of reviews, see

    https colon slash slash www dot dedoimedo dot com/computers/kolibrios dot html
    https colon slash slash distrowatch dot com/weekly.php?issue=20090831#feature .

    You guys really do need to keep up with the very latest

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