Netboot compatibility chart for Thunderbolt adapters and docks – community feedback requested

Since Apple’s laptops have gotten thinner there’s less room for IT-important things like Ethernet ports.  Many of us use a network based imaging process to get machines ready for our respective environments.  The lack of a built-in Ethernet port forces us to use Ethernet adapters whether it be USB2.0, USB3.0, Thunderbolt, or Thunderbolt Docks.  Unfortunately the vendors that make these devices don’t seem to worry about the Netbootability of their adapters or docks.  That functionality is a big unknown.  At $2-300/dock guessing wrong isn’t cheap.  Some work if you hold down the “n” or “Option” key on boot but don’t provide Netboot options when trying to set it via the Startup Disk Preference Pane or using the ‘bless’ command from the command line and vice versa.  In my environment it is important to be able to send a command remotely to have the computer Netboot.  Physically holding a key is as good as not having it at all.

I’m sending a call out to all Mac admins willing and able to report back what has and has not worked for you with the adapters you’ve tried.  I’ve started a publicly accessible spreadsheet at Google Sheets trying to detail all the pertinent information.  I’m sure there are others out there that have tried and tested other adapters and docks with varied success.  All could benefit from this gathered information so please contribute if you can.

To supply feedback on different adapters and docks please do the following.  The Netboot columns require specific tests be run as the method matters:

  1. “Netboot ‘n’ on boot” : Hold the ‘n’ key down when powering on the computer.
    Success = booting to the NBI.
  2. “Netboot Boot Picker (option key) : Hold the ‘option’ key down when powering on the computer.
    Success = if you see NBI(s) to pick from the boot picker interface
  3. “Netboot ‘bless’ command” : With the computer booted to the internal drive issue the command ‘sudo bless --netboot --server bsdp://255.255.255.255‘ and reboot.
    Success = booting to the NBI
  4. “Netboot Startup Disk” : Boot up the computer to the internal disk and log in.  Open the Startup Disk System Preference.
    Success = if you see NBI(s) to pick as the startup disk

The other columns like Vendor ID, Product ID, etc., can be found by running ‘system_profiler SPUSBDataType‘ or ‘system_profiler SPThunderboltDataType‘ depending on what type of adapter you’re using.

Thanks, and go team!

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One thought on “Netboot compatibility chart for Thunderbolt adapters and docks – community feedback requested

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