Best MiniPCIe Wireless Cards for Custom AP

Hi Folks,

I've been gifted some Intel NUC devices that were left over from an IOT marketing campaign. They are single-NIC so not ideal for making routers out of, but I'm interested to try making a custom AP and see if it can out-perform my expensive SOHO router.

They have miniPCIe slots just waiting for the right card to be slotted in.

What is the current 'best' chipset for AP use? I've read anecdotally the atheros9k chipsets are preferred.

Obviously, ideally looking for a well maintained (ideally opensource) chipset/driver combo that works seamlessly with hostapd and supports as many modern features as possible (MU-MIMO for example).

Thanks in advance for your recommendations :slight_smile:

Short answer but also the slowest. ath9k (AR938x or newer)

More "adventurous" although might not be as stable and much faster: MT76 (MT7612/MT7613) or some kind of ath10k card and make sure to get Wave2 (these are usually oversized which will not fit your NUC at all)

This thread might be of interest: Good WiFi Card for Mini PC

If it's the older versions with Thunderbolt the Apple TB NIC dongles works great.

Thanks for the info.

I've ordered a

Pretty sure it will fit in the NUC, it's one of the larger cased NUCs and while it's officially only a half-length slot, there isn't, as far as I can see, anything that will obstruct it. I'll have to find another way to secure it obviously.

Already I can see a fun challenge with this! The Compex card requires 5V for the power amplifier, which they have hi-jacked the 'Reserved' pins 45, 47, 49, 51 on the PCIE interface. Their own proprietary dev-boards have a jumper to supply this 5V supply to these pins however, obviously, my Intel NUC motherboard does not.

I think I should be able to take a 5V supply from a spare USB header on the board and, luckily, those pins are on the top-side of the PCIE connector so it should be fairly trivial to solder a jumper cable on....

I'd go with this if I had 3-antenna on my setup:

What would you guys use on a 2-antenna setup? Any concrete example?

On my Turris Omnia, I am using Mikrotik R11e-5HacT for 5ghz and R11e-2HPnD for 2.4ghz.

These are high end cards and very expensive. But they work fairly well. The 5ghz one is unfortunately susceptible to firmware bugs like all the other QCA9880 units. Hope this helps.

@neheb I've got an RBM33G Mikrotik Routerboard and was planning on placing an R11e-5HacT wirelss card in it. Your statement about it possibly being susceptible to firmware bugs like all QCA9880 chipsets gives me pause now. When you say this, is it just because they are so new? I'm assuming you've experienced this because you're using one. Can you elaborate? Many cheers to your feedback.

Currently I'm using the QCA9880-ct-htt firmware that is part of latest mainline. 8 days and no firmware crashes to speak of. Regular -ct firmware gives me ~7 firmware crashes per day. Regular firmware gives me a crash from anywhere to 2 days to 20. It's fairly random.

The ath10k-ct driver (which is default in latest mainline) has a feature where it will restart the firmware when it crashes. The regular does not. So when the firmware crashes, the driver goes down with it.

Sounds like good news? I'm planning on using this in a production environment, so stability is just as important as performance for me. The RBM33G board will be routing a 25/25 symmetrical fiber internet circuit as well as running the 5HacT wireless card. Curious on the impacts of the firmware crashes on the unit as a whole. From what you've disclosed I'm not feeling the 5HacT is the best card to go with considering my requirements. Head scratching again, any other (stable) wireless card recommendations for production use using an RBM33G and OpenWRT? I think I'm still going to order 5HacT for lab, as firmware releases should improve over time. Your test case disclosures are invaluable, many thanks for sharing!

Just make sure to use the ath10k-ct driver. The ability to restart the firmware if it crashes is worth it by itself.

As for not being the best card, QCA currently dominates the market. Mediatek is no real competition currently.

Having said that, the QCA99xx series seem to have a greater amount of stability. They make a fair amount of noise in dmesg but otherwise perform well. The best router that I've used is a Netgear R7800 and that uses QCA9984.

Following your thread on github now, I see someone has checked ct-htt into OpenWRT master branch. Ironically the new Mikrotik rb4011igs+5hacq2hnd-IN has the QCA9984 chipset. Is Baltic is not getting them until Dec. spoke with them today. Chomping at the bit for OpenWRT support on this one. Thanks again for your input @neheb

@neheb I've just ordered one R11e-5HacT and one R11e-5HacD Mikrotik miniPCIe cards for lab testing. The 5HacD uses the QAC9882 vs the HacT QAC9880 chipset. Now I'm questioning pigtails and antennas, there are so many to choose from. What I'm questioning specifically are Dbi ratings. Does it really matter which rated antennas you use vs the Wifi card you get? I understand the higher Dbi you have supposedly the better range you get, but do the cards have any dependencies?

Also, reading up your github bug thread regarding the QAC9880 chipset there is mention of commands sent meant for Mikrotik MIPs, is this issue specific to only your setup with your Turria Omnia? Just curious. Trying to wrap my head around all of this.

That command points to some weird caching issue on some MIPS devices. mtdblock6 is usually where the calibration data is stored on embedded routers. Yeah that command actually makes no sense.

As for dbi, no clue. I get fairly good range on mine. Then again I have 9 dbi antennas...

Once again thank you for your input. I’m wrestling with getting an r11e-LTE-US card and SIM to register with Verizon at moment. Think I’ll give it another go once pigtail and attenna show up.

This is a bit off topic, but I just thought I'd mention some research I've been doing regarding db gain on omni directional antennas. The higher the dbi yes the farther range, however it comes at a speed costs especially for those nearest the WAP. Lower dbi antennas typically have a rounder doughnut and improve speeds for those closer to the WAP.

Well, do note that the wifi card has configurable tx power.

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Yes, the "donut" tends to get narrower in the vertical plane as the gain of an "omni" goes up. However, this typically doesn't impact the ability of close-in stations to connect as the signal levels are much higher at closer ranges than they are at longer ranges. Unless you've got a very high gain "directional" antenna (such as a dish, reflector, or long-boom unit), you're not going to see any meaningful change in achievable modulation rates and bit-error rates for close-in units.

Beware of pigtails and feedlines. Anything you get from auction/import sites likely has significant loss, with pigtails alone able to negate the actual, if not claimed gain of a "rubber duckie" antenna. There are two common cable sizes for the uFL-style connectors, the smaller one is very lossy at 2.4 GHz, and even worse at 5 GHz. The 1.32 mm coax is notably better. Use of quality connectors is also important. Ordering quality pigtails from a reputable manufacturer through a recognized professional distributor is highly recommended.

Checking my orders, I have used with data at in the past. Note that these quality 100 mm pigtails show 1 dB of loss. What you get from an auction/import site is unlikely to come close to that. (These may not be the right "gender" for your antennas as there is M, F, and reverse for both of those.)

Feed lines of any length, between the connectors and the cable losses themselves are very significant. Use of any cable that isn't of the quality of LMR240 or better is likely a net loss. Any of the typical "RG" series found on auction/import sites is pretty much guaranteed to be a net loss for you at 2.4 GHz, and even worse at 5 GHz.

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duly noted, thank you.

Thank you @jeff very informative! ...loving the OpenWRT community and its forum, everyone is has been so helpful! Its nothing compared to the sound of Krikets on MikroTik's forum.

PS Anyone know which forum platform OpenWRT is running on? Custom or available out there somewhere?

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