MT7601 China-noname Wifi USB dongle hands-on

See this a hands-on experience report, if you have ever wondered, if a MT7601 (2.4 Wifi n 1.1) USB dongle is worth buying in 2023 for OpenWRT:

I had ordered one for 4,50€ (including shipping), as I was hoping for more WiFi client range on my Raspberry Pi compared to the built-in Broadcom Wifi of Raspberry Pis, due to the external antenna of the USB dongle.

Ordered to Germany via eBay:

  • when ordering from China to Germany, no sales tax or tax handling fees apply, as long as product + shipping cost totals stay below 5,20€.
  • shipping took 14 days
  • Don't accidently pick wrong dongles, several eBay vendors mix non-MT7601 items into their offers. You need to pay attention on the correct subselection of the order.
  • brandnew, just wrapped in a tiny plastic bag in a small lined envelope, dropped unattended into my mailbox.
  • odering item name was "MT7601" (without "u", but my guess is, that is the same as 7601"u")

OpenWRT:

  • OpenWRT 23.05 needed USB drivers + kmod-mt7601. Did not need a reboot.
  • supports client-mode only (though Luci does not know about that and offers the option to configure it as AP).

USB Wifi dongle:

  • No USB powering issues so far, the dongle does not seem to draw much power.
  • a single blue LED turns on, once connected and flickers, while traffic happens.
  • has a lot bit more range than the internal Raspberry Broadcom WiFi PCB antenna, but not a lot. I have seen modern (yet more expensive) 2.4 GHz WiFi IoT clients with way more range through walls and concrete.
  • no product label. Just a tiny plastic see-through bag with "ATMA20F88" label and a serial ID.
  • mine has a 8cm antenna, but the usual shops seem to have other MT7601 dongle offers with longer and shorter antennas (unknown, if those have noticably more or less range)

Summary:

  • very cheap, but chip tech from the early 2000
  • 2.4 Ghz
  • rather limited use cases: not for reasonable throughput or much higher range or as access point.
  • helpful addition on IoT devices like Raspberry Pi, where the internal Wifi cannot be used as client and AP at the same time.
  • not as much range as I was hoping for
  • hugly higher Wifi range compared to Raspi Pi built-in (see next post)
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I was initially uphappy about the disappointing Wifi range and did a quick countertest on a Windows laptop to roam around easier while testing the Wifi range of the dongle:
It turned out: Wifi Range was suddenly hugely larger and now even concrete seemed to have gotten invisible when doing speedtests.

So I went back to the unchanged Raspberry Pi, same location as before and all of a sudden the higher Wifi range was now also there under OpenWRT. Either I did something completely wrong on the first test run (maybe missing a reboot?) or the Windows drivers did do some really shady modifications to some secret flash chip or something. But those were the off-the-shelf Mediatek Windows drivers, so I don't really get it, what had changed in the second attempt.

Anyway: The Mt7601 dongle with its dedicated antenna now has the impressive range that I was originally expecting (compared to the on-board antenna of the Pi).
No matter if I hid in the darkest corner of my basement (2 stories down from router, 2x concrete ceiling + walls) or right next to the router, no lost packages and throughput was flatout 52-55 MBit/sec in all cases both in up and down tests.