X86_64: WiFi card options and limitations

My current setup is based on Linksys E8450 as the main router upstairs and Netgear WAX202 as a WDS repeater downstairs. A desktop PC is also connected to the WAX202 via Ethernet. However, this setup is already showing its age (e.g., it does not allow the use of a WireGuard VPN at the full speed), so I am planning an upgrade. Yes, I am aware of the mismatch of WiFi capabilities which limits this pair to a 2x2 80 MHz link, and I also intend to fix this.

One option would be to use ASUS TUF-AX6000 as the main router and demote the E8450 to the role of the repeater downstairs. However, as there is no confirmation that the packet corruption issue is properly fixed, I hereby discard this option.

This leaves a fanless x86_64 box (e.g., from Qotom or Topton) as the main option still on the table for the main router. However, it means that I must choose a good WiFi adapter to install. So, I have some questions.

  1. Does anyone have success with MT7915 or MT7922 cards (ideally from AsiaRF) in combination with multiple SSIDs, one of which is WDS-enabled? Are there any limitations that I need to be aware of and that don't apply to traditional WiFi routers?

  2. Can anyone confirm that WiFi speed >= 500 Mbps, as measured by iperf3, is achievable across floors (or through a wall), with x86_64 as an AP? If so, please also provide the TX power and the received signal strength in dBm, as measured on both ends, and TX/RX rates as shown in OpenWrt Network > Wireless view. For me, it is 24 dBm TX and -68 dBm RX on both ends of the current link, and 648.5 Mbit/s, 80 MHz, HE-MCS 6, HE-NSS 2 in both directions, and the real throughput is 450 Mbps down / 400 Mbps up.

  3. Does it make sense to buy a 4x4 WiFi card in order to achieve a faster link between the floors, assuming that the client is a Linksys E8450 (which is a 80 MHz 4x4 OR 160 MHz 2x2 device)? Or is it better to use it as a 160 MHz 2x2 device? I don't care about 2.4 GHz on the main router.

  4. If it does make sense to use a 4x4 WiFi card, is there any fanless mini-PC with 4 holes for WiFi antennas? or is it just an easy matter of asking somebody who has the tools to drill the extra holes?

EDIT: I realize that the decision to go with x86_64 might be an overreaction. Links to traditional plastic 4x4 WiFi routers that are at least 2x faster than Linksys E8450 in terms of WireGuard throughput and are not affected by the same packet corruption bug as ASUS TUF-AX6000 are also appreciated.

I am a fan of x86_64 as wired-only router, it has the performance to serve even high-speed WAN connections (up to 2.5 GBit/s easily, 10, 20, 40, 100 GBit/s possible), isn't that expensive in comparison and just works.

But I recommend against making x86_64 an AP.
Yes, you can do it

  • if you say bye to the the small form-factor (pretty much anything <µATX does not have enough PCIe slots for 2, 3 WLAN cards)
    • these cards tend to be off-spec, needing 10+ watts on 3.3 volts (not all mainboards can deliver that and/ or will burn out while trying)
    • these cards are running hot, make sure to sort out the cooling (passively and actively)
  • if you accept that the PCIe/ M.2 cards cost more than a good plastic wifi router
  • if you accept that the pigtails (4-8 needed) and antennas (4-8 needed) cost quite some money and may be of questionable quality
  • if you accept that adding many (4-8) antennas to a big µATX sized chunk of metal is not quite the best idea from an rf point of view
  • if you manage to spatially distribute them on the case in a way not to break Mu-MIMO too much

If you want to do driver/ kernel development or wifi research, that is the way to go (the price is sadly accordingly, primarily because you need multiple of all components and may have to find the best solution/ buy multiple times), if you 'just' want modern wifi at home, a cheap dedicated plastic AP (running OpenWrt) is a more sensible and likely even 'better' choice.

What AP to choose depends on your requirements and budget, there are good options ranging from the ax3000t, over the dl-wrx36, up to the gl-mt6000 - and there are quite a few options beyond those.

A good alderlake-n/ n100 system with 4* 2.5GBASE-T costs around 100-250 EUR delivered.
A decent to good AP ranges between 27-160 EUR; in typical households, two cheaper APs (with a wired backhaul) beat one high-end AP easily.
Obviously the sky is the limit for either of those.

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Well, on paper, Dynalink DL-WRX36 and GL.iNet GL-MT6000 (assuming that it is not affected by the same packet corruption bug as TUF-AX6000) look like valid alternatives. No need for x86_64 then. Thanks!

P.S. I don't understand where the "multiple WLAN cards" or "more than 4 antennas" requirement comes from. I only needed a single 5 GHz band on the main router with the original plan.

TUF-AX6000 and GL-MT6000 come with the same wireless chipsets, unless the vendors messed up with the PCB (rf) design or the wifi calibration, I would expect both to behave similarly.

The dl-wrx36 is obviously very different, using qcn5025+qcn5054, so if you are concerned about about m76 and MT7986AV, going QCA/ ipq807x might be the easiest alternative.

A typical AP needs to serve at least 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz concurrently, this traditionally meant two WLAN cards - only recently we're starting to see DBDC compliant cards (splitting one 4x4 card virtually into two 2x2 cards). But still, if you want a high-end wifi router, you probably want 4x4 wireless capabilities, which means two dedicated 4x4 cards (one for 2.4 GHz, one for 5 GHz) - and if you want 6 GHz, that adds a third card. Each physical 4x4 AP mode capable card needs 4 pigtails and 4 antennas.

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The packet corruption bug on TUF-AX6000 applies to one of the Ethernet links (could not debug whether it is WAN or LAN). Do TUF-AX6000 and GL-MT6000 use the same Ethernet hardware?

Yes'ish....

ASUS TUF-AX6000:

  • MediaTek MT7986AV mac
  • MaxLinear GPY211C phy
  • MediaTek MT7531AE switch

GL.iNet GL-MT6000:

  • MediaTek MT7986AV mac
  • Realtek RTL8221B phy
  • MediaTek MT7531AE switch

I'm not following exactly what causes the issues.


Dynalink DL-WRX36:

  • QCA8075 (4*1 GBit/s)
  • QCA8081 (2.5 GBit/s)

Well, this doesn't really apply here. The only device that needs 2.4 GHz is an old Samsung Galaxy A02 phone (not my main phone) that I need to wipe and replace ASAP anyway because it is out of security support. Besides, the 2.4 GHz band can be supported solely by the repeater. And the 6 GHz band is not permitted to use in the Philippines at all. But I do understand that a future-proofing concern exists.

2.4 GHz actually serves two orthogonal purposes:

  • serving old devices not supporting 5 GHz (printers, game consoles, IoT, smarthome devices, etc.)
  • range (wall penetration, spill-over into the garden, etc.)

If you don't need 2.4 GHz at all, great - but few are in that position.

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Consider powerline ethernet as backhaul if signal cannot pass walls.
Also add trigonometry, wall at angle gets much thicker.

Get MoCA, forget about the powerline.

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Anything not involving drilling will work

Well, no. My rent contract prohibits me from laying any new cables. So, powerline connections are allowed (although I know nothing about the performance level to expect), but MoCA is not allowed.

But in fact, after careful repositioning of the repeater and switching to channel 132, even WiFi works "just well enough" (500 Mbps down / 450 Mbps up) between the existing units. The whole question was whether anyone could achieve the same or better speed using x86_64, a good WiFi card as an AP, and a plastic router as a client, and so far, there have been no positive answers.

So far, I am almost convinced to try 2x Dynalink DL-WRX36. I have also received a private message that a 160 MHz link between two Linksys E8450 units does not work well.

You may need to diagnose wiring in house, if power and null is mismatched and switches (likely) and fuses/breakers (unlikely) are on null. Switch oFf fuse breakers and measure phase to ground, it should be under 5% of voltage, obviously if it is 100% you have unsafe installation that leaks power paid by you to humid walls all the time. And isolates powerline ethernet...
Trivial 10$ beeper will show the difference, or you can measure with proper tester and stretching real ground wire.
I dont think you will get 2.5gbpsX2 mesh interconnect over power, at least not within hobby budget, but still gigabit better than zero.
160MHz is DFS everywhere, more so with 2 overpowered antennas in different places trying to catch it...