Pine64 and other singleboards vs wifi routers what's the catch?

I found the price for wifi routers compared to single board PCs are sometimes twice or more different.

Pine64 with 2GB ram and 4 cores costs 50$
Cheapest I found NETGEAR AC1600 R6260 has 128M ram and 2 cores also 50$

So what is the catch? What I miss if I purchase singleboard instead?
I don't need fast connection, nobody is watching movies at home.
I want to have adblock filter so I guess I need at least 2 cores more is better.
Also 2 SSIDs because of my suspicion for vacuum cleaner. )
Later connect small server for simple webpage or geminy or i2p serx.

I would prefer dedicated device for certain tasks but prices seem too high and routers often offer options I don't need like fast connection mesh network and other.

Also old models with openwrt is not easy to find but Pine64-lts has support until 2005.
It has large community so probably there are support for openwrt images.

Also if you could recommend some simple router available in shops in England with good openwrt support and easy installation without paying for additional options I would be grateful.

C2600, the Belkin RT3200 / Linksys E8450 would be another option.

Mini computers like the Pine are great, but getting wifi to work is a PITA, most add on radios won't support AP mode, making the Pine a wired only device.

Another option would be to use the Pine as router, then some other device, like the Archer or the Belkin, to provide wireless, acting as an AP.


A traditional plastic router is pretty much always the cheaper option, as you get two good quality wireless cards and a 4+1 port 1000BASE-T managed switch 'for free' as part of the deal.

Where these traditional routers (even the high-end ones) fail, is towards the higher end of the spectrum, if you need to cope with 500 MBit/s WAN speeds or more, but in those cases don't ignore x86_64 either - and for all practical intents and purposes you'll need one (or more-) of the aforementioned plastic routers in addition to take care of the wireless side (half-decent mini-PCIe/ M.2 WLAN cards are expensive, barely any 'small' boards take two of them (three for wifi 6e), even trying will be more expensive than a high-end plastic router; don't even think about USB for wireless), …and a dedicated managed switch.
On top of this, not all SBCs with (computationally) fast ARM cores are fast in terms of I/O throughput (best counter example would be the RPi3 and earlier, which are hampered by their anemic USB2 system bus needed for the ethernet ports), they're not a safe bet by themselves, you'd need explicit confirmation about the I/O performance.


Also be honest to yourself about the total purchasing cost. The naked board itself might be reasonably cheap, but in practice you'll need to buy more than just that:

  • case
    • cooling?
  • storage (eMMC, sdhc)
  • second ethernet card (USB3)/ dfrobot baseboard for the RPi CM4
    • USB3 hub?
  • shipping costs (eventually multiple sellers)

These easily double the costs if the SBC itself, before even thinking about wireless or switches.

Those currently don't have ready openwrt and it is waste of power for a wifi router at least for me.
Pine64 lts is 32$, 128mb boot flash is included, WiFi bluetooth module connects by pins 10$ and charger 10$ = ~50$
Pine H64 has already built-in wifi bluetooth module and costs 35$

The proper variant is PINE A64+ 1GB for 20$ but it is currently out of stock.

Reasonable arguments.
Also they offer wifi bluetooth module for 10$ it connects by pins.

Another perspective is the difference in processing power.
The Netgear R6260 is mips based:

The arm64 architecture in the Pine64 is more powerful.

If you just need your router to transfer packets, you will not see much difference unless you have data transfer rates many times over what most ISP's provide.

If you additionally want to task the router with examining, filtering and encrypting your data, then the processing power will make a difference.

1 Like

Which those ?

Do you know for a fact those wifi modules support AP mode ?

I was talking about pine64 models that are not listed in supported devices.

Do you know for a fact those wifi modules support AP mode ?


You are mixing up a lot of different things here…

No, those SDIO based WLAN chipsets are not good, slow, tiny (bad) antennas, 1x1, old standards, very restricted interface combinations - and only one-channel only (and no means to add a second one, not that you'd want to). In the best case, those ubiquituous Ampak Broadcom (brcmfmac) SDIO modules, in the worst case the totally unsupported and crap Allwinner xr819 SDIO module, …pass.

Neither of your examples even offers two ethernet ports, let alone being able to service anything close to 1 GBit/s.

That said, the Allwinner A64 SOC isn't exactly a recommendation for fast I/O, its networking side is rather slow and low-end, tacked-on via unsuited buses (SDIO for wifi…).

So you're prepared to pay ~50 USD, you can get pretty decent mt7621a based concurrent dual-band routers for less than that (starting around 30 USD), brandnew, delivered.


Linksys WRT1900AC 1 with warranty for 63$.

Linksys EA6350v3 for 60$

Do you think Linksys EA6350 with 4 cores is better?

1 Like

The wifi on these is basically terrible, driver is orphaned... stay away.


You can replace the PCIe on the mamba with whatever, but too much dough for that unit.

Pretty much anything that isn't a "commercial" product is going to perform poorly because lack of testing and proper design as far as wifi goes. This is pretty much where your money goes including a "proper" case and PSU.

The Allwinner platform isn't bad but it's not very suitable for a high performance network device especially since the SoC only supports one NIC (which may only be fast ethernet in some cases) and USB3 isn't usually a part of the features. I have a H5 board that does some lightweight Internet related tasks and it does really work great in that regard running FreeBSD however one NIC does really limit it in that regard. My H6 board runs LibreELEC fine so support in somewhat recent versions of the Linux mainline kernel should be fine too.

I'm running quite a few RockPro64's boards as routers running FreeBSD (with a dual Intel NIC) and have both mt76 and ipq4 devices running OpenWRT as pure APs which works great and leaves headroom for more tasks than just "pure" firewalling.

1 Like

I'm running a A64+ with 1GB RAM. I'm happy with it. Have a rt5572 wifi adapter and a rtl8153 lan adapter on usb 2.0.
Throughput client -> lan adapter -> wan is ~270-300 Mbit/s what is not bad for usb 2.0 in my opinion.

To use the upper usb port (otg) you have to compile your own image from master because of missing MUSB driver (editing a conf file is also required), RTL8723BS is also supported in master. Don't know if that did go to 21.02 yet, but I guess not.

Overall it was ~65€. I have not regretted.

When it comes to the RockPro, a powerfull router with ssd booting and decent ac wifi and Gbit switch over pci, maybe with integrated NAS :slight_smile: , would be a nice project. Don't know if that is doable, at least for me. But you can do a lot with that little sbc's, no doubt.

Yes, the SBC solutions come out more exprensive in the end, mainly because of performant dual-band MIMO radios routers have built-in. It's actually the other way around: modern routers are perfectly capable Linux nodes that can replace SBCs in lots of cases, require less maintenance and configuration and all that for half the price. Thank you, OpenWrt. A good radio is only a cherry on top then so such a node can provide reliable wireless operation even around cell edge. Or is even incorporated in the network's infrastructure as an AP or mesh node.

There is a potential breakthrough for SBCs I see in the near future and that is the PCIe bus. Raspberry Pi 4 and the Compute Module have x1 for example and there have been developments around it. Laptop Wi-Fi cards can be used together with such SBCs, providing a solution for capable and relatively inexpensive radio interfaces.

Except that most 11ac or better PCIe modules uses non standard form factors, requires more than 1x slot and may actually be tied to a SoC/controller. Apart from that most will not operate reliably in AP mode as they're not designed to be used that way.

I would highly recommend a separate AP but you can in theory shoehorn everything if you really wanted to. I like that fact that you can get away with selfhosting even though it may not be ideal.

The way I see it, the point of SBCs as Openwrt routers at home is to repurpose existing Openwrt APs as dumb APs, while doing all the actual work on the SBC. This way the SBC provides high performance routing (compared to, say, single core MIPS hardware as found in the Archer C7) while the AP can now dedicate 100% of its paltry CPU power by 2020 standards to pure AP duty.

You can either use the AP's included managed switch thanks to openWRT, or add your own managed switch. You can do a router on a stick on single port boards like the Pi4, or add USB3 -> gigabit LAN dongles if needed, or both. You can get a dual NIC board like the NanoPi R4S, and you're pretty much done in that regard.

Considering the starting point, end result is pretty impressive while power consumption remains low. Gigabit speeds are now possible on a wired connection, and you get to max out your current APs while only incurring in the cost of the SBC (if using the AP's own swtich), or the SBC + dongle if needed, etc. Even less cost if you already have unused hardware around, or power supplies, or heatsinks/fans, etc. As cobbled together as it sounds, it just works, and it's wonderful.

Of course, if existing APs are not enough for AP duty and you have to buy APs, switches, etc then things get expensive really quickly (apart from the ongoing shortage...) Then there's the point where a SBC is not enough, and then you have to go x86 for more power or flexibility as required. Again, repurpose what is already in use, then cost goes down pretty quickly.

Whatever the case, we can't rely on single all in one plastic devices like we did before with connection speeds as they are now, no other way but to invest in multiple devices to get what we need. SBCs + Openwrt offer possibilites that were out of reach not too long ago.

1 Like