Best USB Wifi AC/AX (client mode) supported by OpenWrt

I have searched and searched for recommended USB adapters supported in OpenWRT.

Almost all threads refer to folks searching for devices that work in AP mode which I am NOT trying to do.

I am looking for the cheapest decent USB adapter that supports WiFi 5 or 6 that can allow OpenWRT to connect to OTHER WiFi networks as a CLIENT. No AP mode is needed as I have a dedicated AP already.

I've got a handful of Realtek 8812BU's but... realtek drivers is as realtek drivers does... and they only work if I attach them to windows, connect them there, and pass the connection through to a virtual machine which presents its own problems and leaves me running Windows... I am hoping to find a decent adapter that will direct connect and be controlled entirely by OpenWRT. Speed is not important since they will be connected to slow marina WiFi and LTE hotspots.

For those curious to know, I have WiFi set up on my boat which connects to marina WiFi when on the boat, and to hotspots when on the water, OpenWRT provides a ethernet connection to our boat's AP that our devices can connect to the internet through no matter where the internet is coming from. I've got a x86 miniPC with an AMD 3550H running OpenWRT and am struggling to find a few cheap WiFi cards that can be detected directly by OpenWRT without having to virtualize the whole thing and add a layer of complexity to the whole setup.

Thank you in advance for sharing your experience!

That answer is easy and results in an empty list.

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:smirk: what do I have to give up to find success? Is there a good expensive option? Or an N card?

…everything.

As of this moment, regardless of linux support, I'm not aware of any USB WLAN card capable of 802.11ax on the market.

This is only partially surprising, once you look deeper into the intricacies of USB wireless cards and the requirements of 802.11ax. USB wireless cards are usually only an afterthought, take an existing PCIe/ SDIO device, combine it with a deeply embedded SOC providing a faux PCIe port to this PCIe (or SSB, BCMA, AHB, …) based wireless chipset and dealing to interface via USB to a host computer (which usually entails pushing large parts of the driver into the firmware running on this SOC). 802.11ax (actually already 802.11ac to a lesser extent) is now based quite aggressively on (Mu-)MIMO to gain a performance advantage, which in turn depends on multiple antennas and a certain minimum distance between them (otherwise MIMO can't work), given the typically size constraints for USB devices (smaller is better) this poses a rather fundamental problem. Another problem is power consumption and the resulting heat dissipation, the former of which is an actual problem for USB (needs a much more complicated power design, making use of the alternative voltage options of USB >=3.0) - the later an even bigger issue for the desired form-factor of these devices (quite a few 802.11ax routers need active cooling, on top of already shipping in quite spacious cases and with bulky aluminium/ copper coolers on the wireless chipset). While I don't doubt that some vendor will start selling USB wireless cards in the future, ignoring the problems above (considering 802.11ax merely as part of the buzzword bingo, "what, you want actual wifi6 performance as well?!") - I haven't seen any so far. One reason for this notable absence of early USB WLAN cards (which actually already started with 802.11ac) is probably that there is only little necessity to retrofit devices with wireless (some sort of it), as mentioned above actually improving throughput (stability, reliability) over the already included wireless support via USB is hard (be it because the device in question wouldn't really profit from the newer wireless standard (host SOC too slow), external addon card too bulky, power requirements, …).

The only semi-supported 802.11ac wireless chipset with USB options seems to be Mediatek with their mt7601u (and later) chipset, but I don't have personal experiences with these devices (size/ antenna/ heat issues are generic to this product class, independent of the chipset). Technically there would also be ath10k_usb, but the comments inside its kernel module don't really instill much hope (and device availability is more than scarce). Obviously there is a plethora of realtek/ realsil USB wireless cards, with the known driver issues you've mentioned yourself.

While one could look as far back as 802.11n (and 802.11g) for the golden age of USB wireless chipsets, I wouldn't subscribe to that point of view either. Even the ideal combination (FOSS driver and FOSS firmware) of ar9170 (carl9170) or ar9271/ ar7010 (ath9k_htc) wasn't as reliable as one would hope and came with their own set of problems (among the inherent ones of size/ antenna/ heat also very limited on-device ressources, RAM, which results in quite unfortunate limitations).

IMHO, if PCIe isn't an option (and even there you won't find anything for 802.ax[0] either), outsourcing the functionality to an external AP (ideally with a future chance of OpenWrt support) should be considered, which will perform better and is usually even cheaper.

--
[0] yes, qca9075 and qca6390 technically exist, but devices are expensive (>200 USD) and hard to purchase (lead times in excess of 6 months), mt7915e/ mt7921e cards are even harder to get hold of - unless you can get by with STA operations exclusively, which can be done by an abundance of rather cheap Intel ax200/ ax210 M.2 cards (PCIe adapters exist).

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You are the best! This response has so much thought put in to it my hat is off to you sir you are MUCH appreciated.

In your footnotes you mention getting by with STA operations exclusively and the ability to use ax210 m.2 cards. I do, in fact, only require STA abilities.

My mini pc does have an ax200 built in directly, so I will try passing it through as hardware to my OpenWRT vm directly to test if it can address it as needed.

If this is successful, is there a way to add more of these m.2 cards in? (Looking for 3-4 wireless cards total for a hotspot-based bonding router solution)

I'm familiar with usb m.2 adapters for ssd, not sure if that would work here or if there's another way to add slots via breakout board or m.2 splitter

Thank you again!

ax200 isn't quite without problems either (the firmware is very picky). I've seen M.2 <--> mini-PCIe on ebay/ aliexpress/ alibaba, etc. already, while those physically won't fit into notebooks, they might meet your needs; desktop PCIe <--> M.2 are also readily available.

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It's baffling to me that M.2 (A+E key) to USB adapters seem to be non existent.

When using Mini PCIe to USB adapters in conjunction with Mini PCIe to M.2 adapters you're only left with 2 interfaces, USB 2.0 and PCIe (Thunderbolt).

Obviously most low end or embedded systems don't have PCIe thus no Thunderbolt which only leaves USB 2.0 yet this is a pretty huge bottleneck since you're subjected to 480Mbps speeds.

Also can we talk about how there are like NO mediatek chipset adapters available? Everyone writes it off to the chipset shortage, albeit reasonable, what the heck are we supposed to do?

Those exist, but they won't do anything about the PCIe part of the M.2 interface. So they are usually only useful for Bluetooth or WWAN cards.

https://a.aliexpress.com/_mLAnQXU

Note that most Wi-Fi cards won't support anything other than Bluetooth over USB. The Wi-Fi part is really usually PCIe only.

Not sure what exactly you are looking for but I bought several such on Ali lately, no problem.

Those exist, but they won't do anything about the PCIe part of the M.2 interface. So they are usually only useful for Bluetooth or WWAN cards.

That's a B keyed slot

Note that most Wi-Fi cards won't support anything other than Bluetooth over USB. The Wi-Fi part is really usually PCIe only.

Obviously, this has no correlation to the message I wrote above so I suggest you read it again.

Not sure what exactly you are looking for but I bought several such on Ali lately, no problem.

MT7915, MT7916, MT7922...

Yeah, sorry. I missed that part. And you already mentioned the only viable detour via mini-PCIe. I apologize.

I do think it is relevant resp. what I meant is that anyway any M.2 A or E card usually does not support Wi-Fi via USB. So the limitation of the USB part being 2.0 speed only is kinda irrelevant as for Bluetooth it is still plenty, not?

While the former two MT7915, MT7916 are rather embedded chipsets and not really meant for M.2 or mini-PCIe cards, there is at least the AsiaRF AW7915-NP1 card available as mentioned somewhere in this forum before. Wow, that card currently seems discounted half price only USD 39.90 right now (okay another USD 35 shipping):

As for the MT7922 the only card I can find mentioned besides them two MediaTek MT7922A12L and MT7922A22M reference designs is the one that comes with the ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14 (2022) laptop. Just buy that one and tear it out. Hahaha.

However, if you do not need the 160 MHz capability you might be okay with the MT7921K available plentiful and in my testing working real well both in X86_64 as well as Arm64 systems (but I only tested client functionality so far):

https://www.aliexpress.com/item/1005003993137662.html

Yeah, sorry. I missed that part. And you already mentioned the only viable detour via mini-PCIe. I apologize.

Truthfully, you shouldn't apologize I'm just frustrated because I've been looking for such an adapter for so long and I can't seem to find it :joy:.

I do think it is relevant resp. what I meant is that anyway any M.2 A or E card usually does not support Wi-Fi via USB. So the limitation of the USB part being 2.0 speed only is kinda irrelevant as for Bluetooth it is still plenty, not?

You're right, but they're two different protocols we have to remember that. Generally with Bluetooth you're transferring low amounts of data, a song whatever it might be, you don't really need high throughput. However with WiFi as we all know it's really nice to have a fast connection, faster throughput is of more importance.

It doesn't really matter, 480Mbps throughput is still very usable but what is the point of using a WiFi 6e card if we can't take full advantage of the higher data rates? If 480Mbps suffices we might as well use WiFi 5.

While the former two MT7915, MT7916 are rather embedded chipsets and not really meant for M.2 or mini-PCIe cards, there is at least the AsiaRF AW7915-NP1 card available as mentioned somewhere in this forum before. Wow, that card currently seems discounted half price only USD 39.90 right now (okay another USD 35 shipping):

It's not an option for me since I don't live in the East unfortunately. Thus I get subjected to long shipping times and import tax among others.

As for the MT7922 the only card I can find mentioned besides them two MediaTek MT7922A12L and MT7922A22M reference designs is the one that comes with the ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14 (2022) laptop. Just buy that one and tear it out. Hahaha.

I actually contemplated asking people with this laptop to buy the adapter from them separately. However as you can imagine given that this is a very new device I was unable to find anything on second hand markets. :joy:

However, if you do not need the 160 MHz capability you might be okay with the MT7921K available plentiful and in my testing working real well both in X86_64 as well as Arm64 systems (but I only tested client functionality so far):

The PHY rate is significantly lower (half) than it's counterparts (Intel AX series, MT7922) which makes me hesitant to buy it.

I actually found one listed on eBay. It's called AW-XB530NF:

I was not aware that its PHY rate would be lower. At least techinfodepot does not really mention that:

A CPE would be best for that. They have integrated PA/LNA feeding a directional antenna system which usually works better than something pieced together.

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You are right, I now also found that mentioned at some places!

I actually found one listed on eBay. It's called AW-XB530NF:
eBay

MT7922A22M - WIFI6E AX+BT5.2(2 2)M.2 2230 | eBay

We stand behind our quality products. MON - FRI 9 AM - 6 PM EST. Product Substitution.

I've seen it before but it ships from the US and is severely overpriced, thanks but no thanks.

Anything outside of Europe is basically a no go for me, again:

Thus I get subjected to long shipping times and import tax among others.

Sure there are one offs and one dude is selling this module on Ebay but it's not available in a sense that you can buy it at your local MicroCenter.

I was not aware that its PHY rate would be lower. At least techinfodepot does not really mention that:

I'm sure you're aware already but if you're not try check out wiki-devi they usually list all these details and more.

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Yeah, I know. Luckily, I am over there ever so often or have chaps going back and forth so I likely will have some soon. Should I have some spare I will let you know. Currently, I would only have two more QCA6391-based M.2 2230 key E cards if you are interested but they also cost like USD 40 a pop.