Raspberry Pi 4B - OpenWrt is the optimal use

After several months of experimenting with OpenWrt on the Raspberry Pi 4B, I've come to the conclusion that OpenWrt is the last remaining useful application for this now outdated and slow device. It can very easily be set up as a wireless router, a wired router, a travel router and all of these can be easily configured to optionally use OpenVPN clients.

I've messed with this device for over a year and I've yet to get it to reliably run as a useful desktop computer under Raspian or several other Linux variations claiming to operate on the Pi. It's too slow for that. I can't even get the thing to display the GUI on my TV or Dell monitor properly. All the tweaks to fix this don't work anymore. The OS without the GUI is pretty solid and I can create a home VPN server that is super reliable running PiVPN. Aside from that, only OpenWrt is a practical use of this small device.

I'd have to say you probably don't want to use it as your main router but you could very easily. I think the absolute best use of it is to place the device between your modem and your main router with Ethernet and with OpenVPN configured. In this way, your regular router will operate normally, but the Pi is always going through the VPN providing Internet to your main router. If you don't want to use a VPN, you can also easily configure AdBlock so your main router works normally, but the ads are blocked by the Pi. Variations on this are easy to imagine. You just need one Ethernet dongle since the Pi has just one wired connection. VPNs are slower than the speed penalty the use of the Pi might cause.

Making a wireless router is even easier when internet is connected to the single ethernet port and the built-in wireless provides wifi. Just a little hassle re-configuring the one Ethernet port as the wan, but it's simple. You can add OpenVPN to that too if you want. Plug it in to your router and just connect to the Pi's wireless and you're behind the VPN with no software running or needed to be configured on your computer.

The travel router is a little more difficult, because you need to get a second radio via a wireless dongle - and these dongles don't work reliably a lot of the time and the built in wifi is slower than it should be. However, it's not like free wireless is providing high speed internet anyway. Adding the OpenVPN layer here is likewise simple.

A wireless bridge is easy too where you have a device that needs an Ethernet connection and has no wireless capability, the built in radio can get the wifi and the Ethernet port is already configured to provide a lan connection.

This is the magic of OpenWrt - it's configurability and utility for multiple applications for so many setups. And the Raspberry Pi 4 which is now a legacy bit of hardware still operates very well on OpenWrt.

I'd be interested in any comments about your novel use of a Raspberry Pi 4 different from these because the are so many creative people out there in this forum who solve problems. Tell me about the problems you solved and how you've applied OpenWrt. There is a learning curve for OpenWrt, but the maze can be navigated with the help available on the forum.

you got high expectations, I'm still using the original RPi.
not as router though :wink:

1 Like

I use it as my main router. It's rock solid for FTTP throttled to 500Mbit, with SCM.


This might be true if yours is just 1GB or 2GB model, for 4GB or above there can be more useful applications by running various containers.

1 Like

Tell me about some of those. I have an 8GB model. As I mentioned, I can’t even get it to display the GUI more than one startup with all the mods to config.txt. With every reboot, all the setup I try is ineffective. It’s just too slow to use as an actual computer even on those occasions I’ve had some time when it actually operates. I bought a Raspberry Pi 5 and I’ll be working on that next. I’ve settled on using the RP4 with OpenWrt.

1 Like

It is far from underpowered and you have a 1.5v board, so it runs 1.8 by default.
It was dropping ~10-15% of the frames in a 1080p YT video but since they switched to Bullseye if has gotten down to the low twenties total

I've walked a few people through it step by step and we always got it working.

If there is a most common mistake it is trying to plug in different devices into a previously used, and thus addressed, USB port: OpenWRT does not like it.
Its like the previously device and USB addressing will not give up the space.
Not unlike when Windows uninstalls a program but leaves the registry's phantom configuration.

I just got two new Pi Zero 2 Ws and I'm going to write up a detailed step by step on how to make it an even beefier Travel Router than the Pi Zero Maye even have SAMBA working.
I've done it (without SAMBA) but did not keep Great notes on the order things have to fall into place.
e.g. you can add all the drivers for dongles and such in the build but first it needs to run a first boot with nothing attached but a monitor and a keyboard, shut down, and one more can be added; If you have more, add them one reboot at a time.

But back to your topic: you have contributed a lot of very useful information and insights I have used and it is will be missed.

1 Like

In OpenWRT using a browser?

You were posting as I was, so I'm glad to now understand you will still be helping around.

I mean, you can use it as server as well, many people running dockers with PiHole, Grafana, Wireguard server, etc.....

I have one with PiHole + transmission torrent + UPS monitoring.

1 Like

This is false. Klipper (a 3D printer controller) is another useful application, and it works great. :slight_smile: The motion planning and calculations actually happens on the Raspberry Pi, so it's integral to 3D printer performance and not just a web front-end interface.

I do agree with this. IMHO Raspberry Pis (or really any SBC for that matter) works best when configured like "appliances" rather than general purpose desktop computers.

You can get them in Compute Module format, which gives you a PCIe 2.0 lane (instead of USB 3.0) to play with. I have one with a second NIC connected to that lane, and it works great with OpenWrt.

Also a great device for running Home Assistant in a docker container

Thanks for letting me know what else the RP4 can still be used for. I’ll clarify that I need a qualifier such as “for me.” For me, I don’t have a better application for it than OpenWrt. I’ve spent my time with a collection of 10 4GB micro-sd cards and customized them to variations of OpenWrt, PiVPN, and a no gui Raspian OS. I’m on to the RP5 and working on that.