OpenBSD on the Soekris 6501

Moving house gave me the excuse to trash my ISP’s modem/router and replace it with my own modem and router. For the router, I splashed out on one of these:


A Soekris 6501 with dual LAN cards. I wanted to run OpenBSD on it but the Soekris Wiki only gives help installing from PXE boot.  So, I’ve written this blog to remind myself how to install OpenBSD on a Soekris 6501 using a USB stick and Windows.

STEP 1: Install an OpenBSD image on to a USB stick.  See my blog entry.

STEP 2: Download, install and configure PuTTY.  Of course you’ll need a null-modem/crossover serial cable but you already knew that, right?  You can pick one up on eBay for less than £5.  As I use a MacBook Air, which doesn’t have any serial ports, I also have a Serial-to-USB converter which, again, costs less than £5 on eBay. To configure PuTTY to talk to the Soekris board, you’ll need to know the COM port of your cable.  You can find this in Device Manager:

New Picture

Having identified the COM port, it’s then easy to set up PuTTY.  You need to make sure the “Connection type” is set to “Serial” and the “Speed” (ie. Baud rate) is set to 19200.  You can see this in the below graphic (as I’ve been using PuTTY to communicate with the Soekris board a lot, I’ve saved the settings).

New Picture

STEP 3: Plug the USB stick containing your OpenBSD image, into the USB port on the board – not the USB port at the back of the board (next to the Serial port) but the USB port next to what look like IDE drive pin headers.  You can’t miss it – it’s the one that looks like it’ll accept a USB stick. Having plugged it in, plug in your Serial cable, and click on “Open” in PuTTY.  You should now see a blank screen, like this:


Not very exciting. Now plug the power cord into the Soekris and switch on the power and you’ll see the Soekris board begin to boot.  After a very short period of time you’ll be given 5 seconds to optionally break out of the default boot process so make sure you press <Ctrl>+P.  You can then review the boot output and, scrolling up, you should see something like this:


Note that I’ve highlighted (in red) the fact that it has detected my USB stick.  Make sure it has detected yours.  If it hasn’t it may be down to a bad connection.  Take the USB stick out and plug it back in again and reboot.  I found my mileage varied depending upon the USB stick I was using.  I had no problem whatsoever with my 8GB SanDisk CruzerFit but with my 1GB Kingston DataTraveller I had to play around about 5 times before it was recognised. I’ve also highlighted (in green) the SATA drive that I have attached.  This is where I’m going to install OpenBSD to, ie. from the USB stick to the SATA drive, so that I can boot from the SATA drive in future. Having broken out of the boot sequence to check the USB stick was recognised, we then need to instruct the board to boot from it.  In the above picture you’ll see the address of the USB stick is “81”.  Therefore, we just type the command:

boot 81

This will then begin the boot process from the USB stick.  However, before the OpenBSD bootloader attempts to load the kernel, we need to instruct it to output to COM1.  If we don’t do this, we won’t capture the output in PuTTY.  Make sure you enter these commands:

stty com0 19200

set tty com0

Here is a picture of what you should see:


Now instruct the OpenBSD bootloader to load the bsd kernel:


and you should now see the familiar OpenBSD boot process start:


This will take you to the familiar install options.  Congratulations, you can now go ahead and install OpenBSD.


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