NomadBSD - A Quick Review


Jun 10, 2015
I just picked up a Dell Latitude e5570 with good specs (i7 6820HQ, 16GB RAM, 512GB ssd, 1080 screen, Radeon discreet graphics), and thought I'd give NomadBSD a try. NomadBSD is a spin of FreeBSD, essentially being the base OS with pre-installed applications and configurations. The "twist" so to speak of NomadBSD is that it is designed as a portable OS and can be run on different hardware from a USB drive. This serves a great purpose for someone who wants to try FreeBSD and wants to see if their hardware will work with minimal fuss. I imagine there is some hardware that won't work out of the box with NomadBSD that could be made to work, but it gives a good start. Once you have it loaded on the USB drive (basically just image the drive, then go through some simple configurations), you can go ahead and install it to the hard drive of the computer, and it comes with a simple, easy to use installer script.

One thing I like about NomadBSD is that, unlike some distributions (such as the old PC-BSD/TrueOS), it does not change any of the base FreeBSD utilities or setup. Everything that NomadBSD does could be done and configured with a base FreeBSD installation. Utilities and configurations from FreeBSD will work without issue in NomadBSD (such as updating the system and packages).

NomadBSD comes pre-configured using Openbox and Plank, with compton as the compositor. It includes helpful (really necessary) utilities for desktop and laptop usage, such as a Wi-Fi configuration manager, battery monitor, printing utilities. Again, all of these could be added in a base FreeBSD installation, but NomadBSD has done all the work for you.

So how does NomadBSD work on my Dell Latitude E5570? Very well. Everything I have tested with three exceptions has worked out of the box with no additional configuration needed. Here is what I have tested:

Wi-Fi (Intel 8260)
Intel accelerated video
Suspend and Resume
Webcam and built-in microphone
Auto mounting of USB drives, FAT32 and NTFS
2-finger scroll on the touchpad
Multi-monitor support
Printing (I have two networked HP laser printers)

I have not tested.
Fingerprint reader
SD card reader
SC card slot (don't have anything to test that with, never had use for it on any computers that have it).

The two things that are not working out of the box:
1. The system does not suspend or sleep automatically when I close the lid
2. It has not recognized the AMD R7 M370 graphics
3. Multimedia keys
The first may be a simple configuration fix. The second doesn't concern me much, as I won't be doing much on this laptop that would require the AMD graphics, but I will try later to configure, just because. I don't really use multimedia keys either, but may fiddle with those a bit as well.

When it comes to the basic usage, I'm not 100% sold on the selection of applications, or on Openbox and Plank. I personally tend to use XFCE or KDE, so it may just be familiarity. I'm not enthusiastic about the default terminal emulator either. The nice thing is that installing something I prefer is no more difficult than it would be on base FreeBSD. If you are curious about FreeBSD, but are unsure if you want to go through the typical setup and configuration process (it's a great learning process, but depending on your configuration, could take some extra time, and will certainly take some careful following of the documentation the first few times), NomadBSD is a great way to try it out.



Jun 10, 2015
So just a quick update: I've had some time today to play around. Following this tutorial, I easily got the suspend to work when I close the lid. I tried simply loading the AMD graphics driver, and it loaded without issue, so if I want to use the discrete graphics, it should be trivial. Right now I am uncertain of any way to switch live (mainly X driver), so a reboot would be needed.

During some of my searchings, I was able to determine that my card reader is a Realtek RTS525A. Unfortunately, FreeBSD does not have a driver for this, but work is being done to port a driver from OpenBSD. Much progress has been made, so I'll try this out later when I'm back home and have an SD card to test with.