DIY wifi router

My trusty R7800 has bit the dust and I think it's time for me to move on and get a new wifi router. I am partial to building my own device, but I can find very little information on DIY wifi routers. I am familiar with SBC's and have built my own routers and lte devices based on both openWRT and pfsense. Is there a reason I find so little information about diy wifi routers? I would like it to be based on x86, I have a couple PCengines APU4's from my LTE tinkering days that I love, but I would like something more up to date with m.2 slots. One other concern is the lack of ax support in openWRT at the moment. Is this a lack of chipset support or more an issue of development catching up to the release of newer devices and will this limit my use of wifi 6 in my device.

I figure I should put in my use case to help out:

  • I currently have TMobile Home Internet which has a hard time doing 5g and routing so I want a device for that purpose and speed rarely exceed 50 mbps
  • VPN, NAT, or any advanced routing is not required since I cannot use any of it at the moment due to tmobile's network structure and use of a 464 tunnel (don't get me started). I have a decent pfsense build based on a supermicro xeon board with 6 10g ports and a 6 and 4 port 1g card installed sitting useless right now because of them, but my options are extremely limited for isp
  • i prefer x86 hardware
  • withing the next year or 18 months I will be moving to finish school and will have much better options for internet and at that point this device will be a wireless ap from my pfsense box
  • usb 3 ports for a hard drive or two so I dont have to run my pfsense just for that

TLDR - If anyone has recommendations for wifi cards and platforms to use in a DIY wifi router build for openWRT please let me know. Thank you for any help.

The reason for that is actually quite simple. You will have a hard time finding 'small and neat' devices with two+ ethernet ports and 2-3 mini-PCIe slots for wireless cards below µATX form-factor. Even if you do, or go µATX+, decent AP-mode capable wireless cards alone would be significantly more expensive (200 USD (2.4 GHz) + 250 USD (5 GHz) + 250 USD (6 GHz), delivery times are currently also in the range of half a year and upwards) than using a dedicated (off-the-shelves) wireless router (capable of running OpenWrt) - that's before even looking at the costs for pigtails (8-12 at a fiver each…) or antennas (again, 8-12 at more than a tenner each (especially for 5 GHz/ 6 GHz)). Distributing antennas efficiently (enough to pull of Mu-MIMO), behind a big chunk of metal (µATX case) won't exactly be easy either.

So your WAN uplink will be roughly around 50 MBit/s for the time being (without any specialties like VPN at that speed), that's easy to deal with using just around any modern devices (even ath79 and mt7621a can do that without breaking a sweat).

Even more of a reason to get something cheap for now (don't skip the second hand markets), which will tick the boxes you really need now (with some headroom to spare) - and to re-evaluate the market and your requirements in ~two years time.

I would skip this idea, a wireless router isn't a NAS - and trying to shoehorn it into that service as well won't do you much good (neither financially, nor from a performance, flexibility or security point of view).

Depending on where you are located, https://openwrt.org/inbox/toh/askey/rt4230w_rev6 (wifi 5, very similar to your previous r7800) might be a bargain (on the used markets of North America for ~20 USD, at least), Other alternatives would be https://openwrt.org/toh/linksys/e8450 (wifi 6), https://github.com/openwrt/openwrt/pull/4470 (wifi 6) or https://openwrt.org/toh/totolink/x5000r (wifi 6), ranging from 60 to ~100 bucks (new). Each of those should meet your requirements (apart from (not) being x86/ x86_64 and maybe USB3 for some of them), easily for your current ones and in an AP-only functionality for quite some years to come.

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Another option would be to plan ahead and split up routing and wifi. Dedicated access points are designed for one job, and they usually do it better than wifi cards with stubby antennas (IMHO those are primarily designed to be clients, not access points) and even many integrated all-in-one routers.

Like @slh says, routing 50 mbit is not a particularly tall order even for older and/or cheaper routers. You could go with such a lower-tier router and combine it with a good access point, the latter will then also serve you well once you move to a faster line and a better router.

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Ok I understand. I was thinking that I could just throw in a couple cheap intel wifi cards in, but they are not intended for AP service. That makes sense and seeing as I have never run across a dedicated wifi AP card it would seem to reason they are not a common item. I really appriciate the advice you guys I am just going to get a reasonably priced router.

I just checked out the specs for this guy and wow does it have some serious flash and ram. I wonder why they put such a large amount. It has the same chipset as the R7800, but 4 times the flash and twice the ram. I just snagged one for $30 on ebay with a DOCSIS 3.1 modem, I'm assuming they both came from Spectrum, with the plastic still on them. Thanks a bunch for the advice that saved me buying a new one and I have my own cable modem now if I need it.

Now that I think about it I don't know why I wanted to plug my HDD into the router. I can just plug the both into my APU4 as my nas and just run a line to the router. BTW the apu4 is almost exactly what you described at the beginning and it has been one of my favorite purchases over the years

1 GHz quad Jaguar core with AES-NI support
4gb ECC ddr3-1333 ram
Bootable SD slot, 1 sata port +power,
4 gig ports (intel i211)
3 miniPCIE slots, 1 - mSATA and usb, 1 - usb only, 1 - full pcie, first two slots have sim card slots
serial port, 2 USB 3, 2 USB 2 internal, GPIO, I2C
12vDC, 7 to 12 watts
passively cooled
6 inch by 6 inch
PCEngines

They are really neat boards and I highly recommend them to anyone. Thanks again for the advice.

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Qualcomm wifi drivers can use quite a bit of RAM for caching (128-256MB or more depending on device).

Apart from that, it's an availability reason. RAM and flash chips are used by many different devices, not just routers but also TVs, smartphones/tablets, PCs and so on.
As time goes on, older RAM and Flash chips with smaller capacity sell less and less, eventually the production is halted and their prices rise as left over inventory runs out.

So manufacturers can only buy bigger capacity chips even if they don't need that much space, because that's what everyone else is using, and therefore the factories produce and sell in big quantities.

This is a thing also for PC RAM or USB Flash drives, as they use the same RAM and flash chips.
The smallest RAM module for DDR4 (modern RAM) is 2GB I think, and you probably have noticed already how hard it is to even find a USB flash drive or SDcard that is less than 8GB if you look at modern devices.