Raspberry Pi computers tend to make for great projects and single-use devices, but the same size that makes them so multipurpose also means they can be a little slow when it comes to network connectivity. That’s a shame, because some of the best uses for Pi, like turning it into a highly customizable streaming box, only get better with a faster connection. That’s why modder and YouTuber Jeff Geerling, who we’ve featured on our weekly Pi Cast show before, set out to add Intel’s lightning-quick 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 to Raspberry Pi.
In a video posted to his YouTube channel yesterday, Geerling walked his audience through how he was able to add Wi-Fi 6 to Raspberry Pi, which let him receive networks pushing out signals up to 10 Gbps. Normally, Raspberry Pi 4, the latest and most powerful Raspberry Pi computer, comes with the slower Wi-Fi 5 installed (as well as port for Ethernet connectivity). You can add an external Wi-Fi card to it through USB, but the nature of the connection will slow down your wireless signal. However, if you instead opt for the Raspberry Pi CM4, your options suddenly become a lot more open.
The Raspberry Pi CM4 is, on paper, not as handy as the Raspberry Pi 4. It’s essentially a system-on-module version of the Pi 4 as opposed to a full computer, which means it’s missing USB ports while still retaining the CPU, ethernet, Wi-Fi 5 and bus. But it also gives you access to the system’s PCIe, meaning you can add desktop and laptop components to your Pi.
This is where Geerling’s project kicks in. By installing a desktop Wi-Fi card to his Pi CM4, he was able to get Wi-Fi 6 speeds up to 1.34 Gbps on his Pi, which is 44% faster than what he got on on the CM4’s ethernet connection and 17 times the speed he got on its built-in Wi-Fi.
His parts list was also pretty small, too, which is good news for anyone looking to replicate his project. It simply amounted to buying a new Wi-Fi 6 router, connecting a new Wi-Fi card to his Pi, and doing some manual and coding labor. But, well, the project still stretched beyond Geerling’s budget and time expectations, with multiple failures along the way.
What was the holdup? On top of a few issues with how well Linux supports certain cards- he had to try a few before settling on the EDUP Intel AX200 (opens in new tab) card- there was also the matter of his home connection. Even if your Pi is able to connect at high speeds, that doesn’t do much good if your home network can’t push out high enough network connectivity to really challenge it. And again, Geerling's goal was to connect the Pi CM4 to a 10 Gbps network.
So after numerous attempts connecting to his existing home network and trying to set up a more budget-friendly Wi-Fi 6 network using just his Dell XPS 13, Geerling eventually had to upgrade his entire home network to 802.11ax wireless speeds.
The good news here is that, if you want to copy Geerling’s project, you can save some time and money by skipping past the components that failed. The bad news is that what ended up working is still pretty expensive, with the aforementioned EDUP card costing $33 and the Wi-Fi 6 router that Geerling ended up using, the ASUS RT-AX86U costing $250.
Still, if the cost doesn’t intimidate you, you stand to gain a lot of speed for such a small device. And there are of course other benefits to stepping up to Wi-Fi 6, if you have compatible devices.
Geerling’s got both a video and blog tutorial for his project that breaks down his process, which will help you navigate through installing Intel’s Wi-Fi drivers onto the Raspberry Pi CM4 using Linux. So if you're looking to spend the holidays catching up on streaming, here's a great way to get started.
So... I believe this article took a few liberties with the information from my video and the associated blog post.
In it, I do mention a 10 GbE network, but I mention that I'm going to be working on it soon, not that I already have a 10 GbE network.
For this project, my main concern was testing 802.11ax (specifically the Intel AX200 chipset) on the Pi CM4, and benchmarking it. Because my network and all my computers were 1 Gbps max—and even after upgrading my Dell laptop with an AX200, it would not get more than 400 Mbps over WiFi—I had trouble getting a solid benchmark.
The ultimate solution was to install the Merlin firmware on my new ASUS router and install iperf3 on it so I could do a direct benchmark over the AX wireless network. This resulted in a 1.34 Gbps benchmark between the Pi and the router.
This article seems to be a little loose with the mentions of 10 GbE—I'm going to be exploring both 2.5 and 10 GbE wired cards in a future video, and you can follow all my progress on this website: https://pipci.jeffgeerling.com