X86 NICs and in-stock alternatives to PC-Engines APU2?

PCengines APU2s are currently out of stock until some time in 2022, unless I want to buy for more than 2x the price from other suppliers.

Q1: Do you have any recommendations for "similar" devices? Use case:

  • At least 3 gigabit RJ45 ports, 4 is plenty.
  • We have dual WAN links, both far less than 100MBit (but things will get faster in future years, hopefully)
  • SQM QoS
  • Wireguard
  • Better than standard uptime/reliability (ie preferably not plastic SOHO routers or anything super-new)
  • x86 not strictly needed
  • No wifi desired (we're using separate APs, running OpenWRT of course :P)
  • I'm in Sydney, Australia

One option I'm currently looking at using SFF computers with a few extra PCIE gigabit cards.

Q2: Does the brand of Gigabit PCIE card for x86 routers matter?

I hear lots of anecdotes from friends about "get the Intel cards, the realtek ones are bad" and I'm lead to believe this used to be the case, but is it really much of a problem any more? Many routers use realtek chipsets and I see them everywhere. I do however notice that PC-engines themselves moved from using realtek chipsets to Intel chipsets for their APU NICs.

The APU1?

It routes some 80MB/s...
unless you need usb3.

You can get one for $20 on US eBay, if import is an option.


Available in Australia
2,4,6 Intel ports
Sff and fanless
Optional wifi


Hmm, I can't seem to see any. Are they labelled as "APU1" on ebay.com or under a different/generic name?

Ooh thankyou. These look like they could fit the bill.

Sadly looks like they're out of stock and cost $600 AUD + shipping for a minimum spec 4-port unit. They say they'll restock soon, but for that price I may as well go 2nd hand SFF x86 computer and buy a few PCIE gigabit NICs.

For reference: the last APU2 I bought was $200 AUD including shipping. I expect the prices to have gone up quite a bit due to shortages, but x3 seems a bit strong.

qotom and friends on aliexpress, amazon, ebay, etc?

Try SW301DA instead.

I bought a couple, and currently have two extra units, let me know if you can't find a shipper willing to send to AU, I should be able to send you one, for < $80 AUD.

RockPro64 + Intel based dual/quad port NIC, done :slight_smile:

Search for SimpleWAN or SW301DA or SW302DA. The SW301 is the APU1 the SW302 is the APU2. I managed to get an SW302DA for $50 a month ago.

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Thankyou, these look interesting. Some are very close in price to the APU2s. "Mini PC ethernet" seems to be a good set of search terms on Alix.

Ahah, now I can see them. That's super-useful, thankyou.

Ooh they actually have those in stock. Last time I looked at pine64 everything seemed to be OOS.

Any comments about quad-NIC brands? I presume I can't just buy anything 2nd hand and expect it to work. New ones seem to be most of 200AUD sadly.

Thankyou for the offer, really appreciate that. Alas shipping from US to AUS is a bit of a pain at the moment, I don't want to drag you into that. Auspost (government-run postage service) has an official US->AUS dropshipping service that I have been meaning to try out, I'd rather let them bite any difficulties.

I'd go for a used server brand NIC - DELL, HP/HPE, Sun, or the chip makers, like Broadcom, Intel, etc.

I'm actually not in US, but in EU, if there's a difference, from an AU post point of view :wink:

Woah 15USD. I need to stop using Australian eBay when searching for 2nd hand equipment.

EDIT: there's a joke in here somewhere about even one gigabit port being futuristic tech in Aus xD

It's probably the shipping and AU customs & VAT (if applicable) that's going to be expensive,
not the hardware itself :wink:

Buy three, sell the two spares in AU, for a little extra, and the one you're keeping will cost you $0.

I think pretty much anything that uses at least somewhat recent Intel controllers should be fine but I know for sure that Fujitsu designed NICs works =)
Do note that most (I think all tbh) listed non working PCIe cards is down to hardware compatibility and/or limitations not the OS/PCIe driver.

In the 21st century it's more of a problem just for BSD-based firewalls like pfSense or OPNSense, and also a problem of "cards/dongles with realtek are lower quality and may fail/overheat/whatever" more than a real realtek brand issue.

Realtek did some crummy ethernet controller hardware in the past, and even now it's not amazing but since they have not made a whole lot of new gigabit ethernet controller designs in a while, they did hardware revisions to fix stuff and software drivers matured a lot and worked around most/all issues.

As a general rule, if you can get your hands on an used server-grade Gbit (multiport) ethernet card it's going to be better, and you can get them for real cheap.

Dell/HP/Fujitsu/IBM will use either Intel or Broadcomm controllers and both will work ootb and fine on OpenWrt.

You can probably get buckets of those if you allow chinese sellers on ebay or even if you hit aliexpress. Boy they got a lot of used server stuff to sell you. I've been farming 10Gbit cards and SAS cards (for storage drives) like that for a while, and so far everything worked fine.

It's a different thing. Realtek ethernet controllers are not the same thing as Realtek ethernet switches (like 80% of unmanaged switches and a good qunatity of managed) or realtek sound chipsets, or anything else made by Realtek.

qotom and friends on aliexpress, amazon, ebay, etc?

The Qotom boxes are great. I've had a Q350G4 based on an Intel i5-4200U running OpenWRT for a couple of years now. No issues at all.

It has bags of headroom performance-wise, and I'm sure I could run OpenWRT virtualized and have a load of other stuff running on it if I could be bothered.

As other suggested Aliexpress has mini PCs.
Eglobal is the generic brand of Protectli.
If you need a full open source solution you can try flashing coreboot yourself, at your risk.

Since the Wan side is only 100Mbits, you could use a managed switch for the 2 wan connections, and connect it to a single port in the router. You needs to create to 2 Vlans in the same interface. In theory you could have 3 Vlans in the same interface.

It depends on your threshold on how reliable you need hardware to be. Realtek NICs "works" however targetting bottom of the barrel for pricing you do get what you pay for. There are a lot of silicon fixes/workarouds in Realtek's drivers, vendor isn't all that great (compared to lets say Intel, Chelsio etc) but it's cheap and pushes packets. You can more or less compare it to anything else in a similar position, cheap breaking pads vs more expensive/premium etc. Pricing doesn't necessarily always reflect on quality but in many cases (to some extent) there's a reason which may or may not be of importance for your scenario.

And in practice? Less or more?

Never heard of a limit for VLANs (beside the maximum of 4096, which is based on the 12 bits for the VLAN-ID).

Some cheaper managed switches have a limit at 16 or something.

Mikrotik switches running SwitchOS have a limit at 250 I think.

When you are doing VLAN in hardware (like managed switches do) yeah you can have all kinds of weird limits you want due to what the hardware can actually do.

There are also limitations if you want to offload the VLAN on the network controllers.

Only more expensive hardware (and software VLAN i.e. done on the CPU) supports the full 4096 range

Thanks for your reply.

I think @Leonardo is talking about OpenWrt router devices, not any other equipment like switches etc.

Are there any limits set up by OpenWRT (beside the 4096 limit)?