I'm a big fan of OpenWRT, and for ages my "go to" device has been the Archer C7, which has a single core 720-775Mhz MIPS QCA95xx SOC (slightly different SOCs for different versions). But it is getting long in the tooth, and it seems like newer builds have issues with 2.4Ghz WiFi:
I run a small IT support business in the UK - and most people here can only get a 80Mbps download, 20Mbps upload VDSL2 connection maximum through an Openreach based provider (Openreach runs the old national telecoms infrastructure and FTTP rollout is a complete mess and way behind where it should be). There is Virgin Media for DOCSIS asymmetric 10:1 ratioed cable (100/10, 200/20, 350/35, 500/50) - but their network is unreliable and they are overpriced - and they don't care as they basically have no competition purely on speed and know it. There are a few independent FTTP providers (Hyperoptic, Gigaclear etc.) but they barely have any coverage (mostly newly built flats - Hyperoptic actually use ethernet runs inside blocks of flats run from an ONT on the side of the building I believe).
Anyway, I digress.
I frequently look at the "What's your favourite cheap LEDE/OpenWrt device?" and "What's your favourite enthusiast LEDE/OpenWrt device?" for ideas to replace the venerable Archer C7, and it seems to boil down to these SOCs (with my notes):
- MT7621 - can be found in the Edgerouter-X, Mikrotik Hex (RB750GR3) (no WiFi on these) as well as some cheap imports that also have WiFi. They tick the "cheap" or "cheapish" box at about £50. But... it just looks like they aren't stable at all:
I don't want to use EdgeOS on the ER-X - I tried V1 and didn't like it anywhere near as much as OpenWRT, and I also managed to brick a device through the simple act of flashing a firmware update from the web GUI (it ran out of space as it keeps two firmwares on the device at once, supposedly for a "recovery" boot - in fact I ended up having to take off the cover and restore EdgeOS using a serial USB adapter). And if you look at the Ubiquiti forums, it looks like EdgeOS V2 is a hot mess...
- IPQ40xx - the two main devices that seem to come up are the Fritz!Box 4040 and the Gl.iNet GL-B1300 (Convexa-B). These still seem to be available in the UK (about £80ish). However, there have been issues with VLANs:
Also, the GL-B1300 stock firmware is based on 15.05 Chaos Calmer with backports:
They say they are stuck there due to QSDK. I can't seem to find any verifiable reports on this forum about the WiFi performance of the B1300 on newer vanilla 19.07.x builds.
(There is also the EA6350v3, which for a time was only £30 in the UK. But it is now really hard to get hold of for less than £50, and apparently there is also a v4 that doesn't use the IPQ40xx SOC, so it's not a "dead cert" buy).
Marvell mvebu a53 - these are in the Linksys WRT1200/1900/3200/32X routers, but apparently WiFi is not a hot point. They are also quite expensive and hard to find in the UK. One device that caught my eye is the Gl.iNet Brume, which has a 1Ghz clocked version (no WiFi). But it's £120...
Raspberry Pi 4 - a bit of an outlier... Once you factor in a PSU, case, MicroSD card (or SSD as it now boots via USB) and a USB3 ethernet adapter (unless you do router on a stick, but then you have to have a managed switch too) you are at over £100. I don't like the idea of running an edge device directly off of a MicroSD card either. It all just seems a bit fiddly and not the solution.
X86-64 - I myself run a clown car setup - I have an Asus Chromebox with a Celeron 2955u, 16GB mSATA drive and 4GB RAM. It's massive overkill - I only have 200/20 cable (from Virgin), but I retired my Archer C7, which I was using with SQM on just egress, in favour of the Chromebox (which I used to use as an HTPC with Kodi before I got my Fire Stick 4K). I run the Chromebox as router on a stick - and I use a BT Home Hub 5 flashed with OpenWRT as a managed switch to trunk everything (cable modem, LAN, Unifi AP) on one cable connected to the Chromebox's single Realtek NIC. I really only tried this setup as a test - I expected it to just fall over and not provide a stable connection (so many "wrong" elements - the Realtek NIC, single port, weak old router as the managed switch). But it actually works great - I can easily shape both ingress and egress with cake and piece of cake and it doesn't break a sweat. And it hasn't locked up or crashed or had any issues at all after about 4 months.
However, I still wouldn't be confident to deploy my hacked together setup for clients - too much to go wrong. In terms of other X86 hardware - sure, there are plenty of cheap old SFFs on eBay I could buy and whack a decent Intel NIC in - but this would be large and loud and a hard sell for most residential IT clients. Most of them are used to a tiny plastic box, not a honking great one as big as their main PC!
I found @jeff's excellent post comparing throughput of various SOCs really helpful:
But also a little confusing - it seems like there is little difference between ath79, ipq40xx and mt7621 when it comes to SQM as it seems to be purely single threaded?
For most clients I actually only use a router without WiFi enabled and then either setup multiple Unifi or TP-Link Omada APs if they have a way to run a wired backhaul, or a consumer mesh system like TP-Link Deco, BT Whole Home or Eero if they don't. The router is mainly a way to break away from the terrible free routers most ISPs in the UK give to customers - OpenWRT allows me to set a custom DNS easily, as well as configure SQM with cake and piece of cake - the main reason I deploy OpenWRT is really for SQM to make the most of the limited speed offered by Openreach.
So I guess where I'm at is - I'm still tempted to use an Archer C7 (or other ath79 device), even brand new. Sure, the single core MIPS is weak and old, but the key thing for me is stability (especially for wired only deployments where WiFi is handled by APs or mesh). Sure, mt7621 and ipq40xx SOCs are newer and more powerful, but what's the point of putting them in for clients if the router keeps rebooting or the WiFi is poor (when needed)?
If the Marvell stuff (especially the Brume) drops in price, I guess that could be an option. But a brand new Archer C7 (which will likely be a V5) is only about £50-60 in the UK, will happily shape an 80/20 VDSL2 connection without WiFi enabled, and will run stable.
For a brief moment Eero caught my eye as they implement SQM in their firmware. However, two big issues are:
A) they don't support PPPoE in router mode, which is what Openreach use. That means you either have to use them purely in "AP Mode" (therefore forgoing SQM) or put the main Eero in a DMZ. Neither works for me...
B) Amazon owns them and I'm not confident about the future of the product now.
So, what am I missing? Is there a device or SOC that can actually fulfil my needs other than the old ath79 target? That is stable, can shape 80/20 connections without issues and costs about £50-60 new?