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toh:buyerguide

Buyers' Guide

OpenWrt is a niche Linux distribution, which enables you to deploy a vast variety of software. Your hardware is the only limit. This guide is intended to help you pick the right hardware to meet your particular needs.

OpenWrt does not recommend any hardware or manufacturer!
There is no "best hardware", so stop asking. Purchase something that meets your requirements.
Inform yourself about the current hardware support on the Internet and ask other users/developers for a personal recommendation in the forum.
Avoid overhyped, overpriced products -embedded hardware can be VERY inexpensive! OpenWrt is what does the magic!

Features

Bootloader

  • the bootloader should not only be under a FOSS license, but preferably under the GPL, so that the OEM is forced to release the complete source code
  • some bootloaders make installing OpenWrt unnecessarily complicated or even impossible!
  • some bootloaders allow you to boot from a USB device or Boot over Ethernet but many do not

LAN

  • How many NICs does the System on a chip incorporate? Common are one or two, very seldom more.
    These are implemented as SoC-integrated Ethernet-MAC-blocks, which are each connected over a xMII to a distinct PHY (chip).
    Note: Do not confuse the number of Ports with the number of NICs.
  • Which Ethernet-Layer-1 standard does the NIC/NICs support?
    BASE100-TX (i.e. 100MBit/s, Fast Ethernet) or
    BASE1000-T (i.e. 1000MBit/s, Gigabit Ethernet)?
  • Is there an integrated Ethernet switch?
  • Which Ethernet-Layer-1 standard does the integrated switch support? (BASE-100TX or BASE1000-T)
  • How many RJ45 ports are there? Most common are 5 Ports (4 for LAN and 1 for WAN).
  • Is the switch manageable? Which capabilities does it offer?

Wireless

(Please consult the Wireless Overview)

  • How many WNICs? Common are one or two. These can be :
    • SoC-integrated: this is commonly called WiSoC
    • Onboard: the wifi chip is the same used in MiniPCI/e cards but soldered on the main PCB
    • MiniPCI: the wifi card can be extracted, and replaced by another different MiniPCI model
    • MiniPCIe: the wifi card can be extracted, and replaced by another different MiniPCIe model
  • Which substandards of the IEEE 802.11-family shall the wireless hardware support? Most common ones are 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, 802.11ac and 802.11s
  • Capabilites: 1T1R, 2T2R, 3T3R or 2T3R ..
  • Frequencies (or bands):
    • For the AP to be capable to run in 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz at the same time, the router must support dual band simultan aka DBDC (DualBand-DualConcurrent). This tag shall help you find suitable devices more quickly:
    • At 2,4GHz you only have 3 distinct channels without overlap, in the 5GHz band there are 19 (EU)/ 13 (USA)/ ?? (Japan) channels without overlapping available
    • The 2.4 GHz band is quite crowded with Bluetooth PAN, while 5GHz is usually unused.
  • Is it relevant to you whether the WNICs are SoftMAC or FullMAC devices?
  • Do the current capabilities of the Existing Linux Wireless drivers for your WNICs satisfy your requirements?
  • Are the antennae detachable? If so, you could replace them with ones with a better gain, or with (home-made) directional antennae.
  • FLOSS drivers: this is very important for a correct wifi performance/behavior. For years Broadcom didn't supply enough quality FLOSS drivers (or hardware specifications) and it seems won't ever happen, propietary wl drivers often causes crashes or incorrect behaviors, then avoid Broadcom's wifis. As recommended by many people, Atheros or Ralink wifis are probably the best choice.

Modem

(Please consult the Internet access technologies)

Processors and Memory

  • The most crucial decision is your choice of RAM. If you are going to run asterisk, mumble, Direct Connect, BitTorrent, a web server and other stuff, enough RAM will make them run smoothly. Some of them tolerate SWAP pretty good, others do not. FYI: If you are considering adding more RAM, keep in mind that there are no DDR1-Modules bigger then 64MB. Also, the SoC sometimes only support so much. For example, the Marvell Kirkwood, supports a maximum of 512MB.
  • Occasionally the computing power of the CPU proves to be a bottleneck. To compare you should have a look at the CPU included on with SoC. Do not compare raw MHz, e.g. a MIPS 34KE@300MHz is in most scenarios faster then a MIPS 24K@400MHz.
    • as you can see by referring to the flash layout with a total of 8MiB flash memory, you can use about 5MiB for own packages.

Cryptography

  • TRNG: Most devices use a software random number generator. Only few are equiped with a true hardware random number generator, see TRNG tag
  • Cryptographic Hardware Accelerators: routers equiped with these accelerators may bring you better speed transfers when you plan to use encrypted connections such as OpenVPN.

Ports

  • USB: connect a hub, harddiscs, ssds, usb sticks, UMTS modems, cameras, sound cards, etc. →usb.overview
  • Serial: very useful for developers, limited uses for end users →port.serial
  • JTAG: very useful for developers and also for end users →port.JTAG
  • TAE sockets: a telephone connector used mosly in Germany

Buttons

  • You can boot your device into OpenWrt Failsafe with a reset button, without one, this is only possible through connection over serial! Also, after boot up, you can attach functions to the buttons, like start/stop WLAN, reconnect DSL, start/stop a daemon, mount/unmount partitions, etc.

Examples

Price comparison for currently purchasable hardware

Since Christmas 2011, geizhals offers a filter for devices supported by OpenWrt:

Note_1: You can safely ignore the filters for "3G-Router" and "BitTorrent-Client", since they apply to the OEM firmware only. Once you installed OpenWrt, the full software repository stands to your disposal.
Note_2: Do not expect the filter to be perfectly up-to-date, since it is updated manually conforming to the OpenWrt ToH!

United States

Amazon also lets you search for OpenWrt, but you cannot filter for OpenWrt support:

Note_1: The filter is not 100% perfect, be sure to double check a router before buying

Tags

You could use the tags to quickly find the devices with your desired features. Sadly :-( not many devices have been tagged so far.

toh/buyerguide.txt · Last modified: 2014/10/26 23:37 by pablog