Recommended Wireless Hardware¶
A variety of wireless cards are supported in FreeBSD 11.3-STABLE@r357046, and pfSense® includes support for every card supported by FreeBSD. Some have better support than others. Most pfSense developers work with Atheros hardware, so it tends to be the most recommended hardware. Many have success with other cards as well, and Ralink is another popular choice. Other cards may be supported, but do not support all available features. In particular, some Intel cards can be used in infrastructure mode as clients but cannot run in access point mode due to limitations of the hardware itself.
Wireless cards from big name vendors¶
Linksys, D-Link, Netgear and other major manufacturers commonly change the chipset used in their wireless cards without changing the model number. There is no way to ensure a specific model card from these vendors will be compatible because there is no reliable way of knowing which “minor” card revision and chip a package contains. While one revision of a particular model may be compatible and work well, another card of the same model may be incompatible. For this reason, we recommend avoiding cards from the major manufacturers. If a card is already on hand, it is worth trying to see if it is compatible. Be wary when purchasing because even if the “same” model worked for someone else, a new purchase may result in a completely different piece of hardware that is incompatible.
Status of 802.11n Support¶
pfSense 2.4.5-RELEASE is based on FreeBSD 11.3-STABLE@r357046 which has support for 802.11n on certain hardware such as those based on the Atheros AR9280 and AR9220 chipsets. We have tested cards using those chipsets and they work well. Some other non-Atheros cards are documented by FreeBSD to work on 802.11n, specifically, mwl(4) and iwn(4). These may work using the 802.11n standard but experiences with 802.11n speeds may vary.
The FreeBSD Wiki Article for 802.11n Support contains the most up-to-date information about supported chipsets and drivers that work with 802.11n.
Status of 802.11ac Support¶
Currently, there is no support for 802.11ac in FreeBSD nor in pfSense.
Radio Frequencies and Dual Band Support¶
Some cards have support for 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, such as the Atheros AR9280, but only one band may be used at a time. Currently there are no cards supported and working in FreeBSD that will operate in both bands concurrently. Using two separate cards in one unit is not desirable as their radios may interfere. In cases that require dual or multiple band support, we strongly recommend an external AP.
Wireless drivers included in pfSense¶
This section lists the wireless drivers included in pfSense and the chipsets that are supported by those drivers. This information was derived from the FreeBSD man pages for the drivers in question. Drivers in FreeBSD are referred to by their driver name, followed by (4), such as ath(4). The (4) refers to the kernel interfaces section of the man page collection, in this case specifying a network driver. The drivers are listed in order of frequency of use with pfSense, based on reports from users.
Cards Supporting Access Point (hostap) Mode¶
The cards in this section support acting as an access point to accept connections from other wireless clients. This is referred to as hostap mode.
The ath(4) driver supports cards based on the Atheros AR5210, AR5211, AR5212, AR5416, and AR92xx APIs which are used by many other Atheros chips of varying model numbers. Most Atheros cards support four virtual access points (VAPs) or stations or a combination to create a wireless repeater.
Though not explicitly listed in the man page, the FreeBSD Wiki Article for 802.11n Support also states that the driver has support for AR9130, AR9160, AR9280, AR9285, AR9287, and potentially other related chipsets.
ral(4) / ural(4) / rum(4) / run(4)¶
There are several related Ralink Technology IEEE 802.11 wireless network drivers, each for a different set and type of card.
ral(4) supports cards based on the Ralink Technology RT2500, RT2501 and RT2600, RT2700, RT2900, and RT3090 chipsets.
ural(4) supports RT2500USB.
run(4) supports RT2700U, RT2800U, RT3000U, RT3900E, and similar.
rum(4) supports RT2501USB and RT2601USB and similar.
Of these, only certain chips supported by run(4) can support VAPs.
The RT3090 ral(4) chip is the only model listed as capable of 802.11n on FreeBSD. The RT2700 and RT2800 ral(4) and the RT3900E run(4) hardware are capable of 802.11n, but the drivers on FreeBSD do not currently support their 802.11n features.
The Marvell IEEE 802.11 wireless network driver, mwl(4), supports cards based on the 88W8363 chipset and fully supports 802.11n. This card supports multiple VAPs and stations, up to eight of each.
Cards Only Supporting Client (station) Mode¶
The cards in this section are not capable of acting as access points, but may be used as clients in station mode, for example as a wireless WAN.
Atheros USB 2.0 wireless devices using AR5005UG and AR5005UX chipsets are supported by the uath(4) driver.
ipw(4) / iwi(4) / iwn(4) / wpi(4)¶
Intel wireless network drivers cover various models with different drivers.
ipw(4) supports Intel PRO/Wireless 2100 MiniPCI adapters.
iwi(4) supports Intel PRO/Wireless 2200BG/2915ABG MiniPCI and 2225BG PCI adapters.
iwn(4) supports Intel Wireless WiFi Link 4965, 1000, 5000 and 6000 series PCI-Express adapters.
wpi(4) supports Intel 3945ABG adapters.
Cards supported by the iwn(4) driver are documented by FreeBSD as supporting 802.11n in client mode.
Several Intel adapters have a license restriction with a warning that appears in the boot log. The ipw(4), iwi(4), and wpi(4) drivers have license files that must be read and agreed to. These license are located on the firewall in /usr/share/doc/legal/intel_ipw/LICENSE, /usr/share/doc/legal/intel_iwi/LICENSE, and /usr/share/doc/legal/intel_wpi/LICENSE respectively. To agree to the license, edit /boot/loader.conf.local and add a line to indicate the license acknowledgment, such as:
Given the limited use of these adapters as clients only, a GUI-based solution to acknowledge these licenses has not yet been created.
bwi(4) / bwn(4)¶
The Broadcom BCM43xx IEEE 802.11b/g wireless driver is split in two depending on the specific models in use.
bwi(4) supports BCM4301, BCM4303, BCM4306, BCM4309, BCM4311, BCM4318, BCM4319 using an older v3 version of the Broadom firmware.
bwn(4) supports BCM4309, BCM4311, BCM4312, BCM4318, BCM4319 using a newer v4 version of the Broadcom firmware.
Support offered by the drivers does overlap for some cards. The bwn(4) driver is preferred for the cards it supports while the bwi(4) driver must be used on the older cards not covered by bwn(4)
Marvell Libertas IEEE 802.11b/g wireless driver, malo(4), supports cards using the 88W8335 chipset.
The Conexant/Intersil PrismGT SoftMAC USB IEEE 802.11b/g wireless driver, upgt(4), supports cards using the GW3887 chipset.
urtw(4) / urtwn(4) / rsu(4)¶
The trio of related Realtek wireless drivers cover several different models:
urtw(4) supports RTL8187B/L USB IEEE 802.11b/g models with a RTL8225 radio
urtwn(4) supports RTL8188CU/RTL8188EU/RTL8192CU 802.11b/g/n
rsu(4) supports RTL8188SU/RTL8192SU 802.11b/g/n
As in other similar cases, though the chips supported by urtwn(4) and rsu(4) are capable of 802.11n, FreeBSD does not support their 802.11n features.
The ZyDAS ZD1211/ZD1211B USB IEEE 802.11b/g wireless network device driver, zyd(4), supports adapters using the ZD1211 and ZD1211B USB chips.
Hardware Support Specifics¶
We have a spreadsheet online with more complete details of hardware support, including more chipsets and example device models that are supported by certain drivers. Currently this information is held on a public Google Docs spreadsheet linked from the documentation wiki article on wireless support. As noted earlier in this chapter, often manufacturers will change device chipsets but not model numbers, so it’s a rough guide at best, but it can still give some useful guidance.