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Is the Asus PCE-AC88 the best option for DIY access point?

I’m really enjoying everything about the x86 based pfSense router I put together. I’d love to have that kind of flexibility with my AP as well. At first I thought something like a few Intel AX210s would be great for a 6GHz compatible AP, but all the information I’ve seen online seems to indicate that Intel disables AP mode for anything other than 2.4GHz on their cards for “reasons”. If that’s the case, that really blows.

The Asus PCE-AC88 seems to be based on the BCM4366. It’s only 802.11ac, not AX, but it’s not Intel and seems to support AP mode. Are there any other good options?

You could buy an access point. e.g. I use a pair of Ubiquiti U6-LR. You could buy a router like e.g. the Belkin RT3200 or similar and use OpenWRT with it if you’re into diy?

I already have an access point and you can bet it has an open firmware on it. As I stated, the idea is to have something more flexible. Nothing is as flexible as an x86 PC.

At the end of the day, you’d run the same Linux stack you would on a non-x86 accesspoint, driver that loads the firmware + combination of iw and hostapd for control. I don’t know of anyone successfully using FreeBSD drivers (on modern cards).

Cards (worth using) would usually come in m.2 form factor and you’d typically end up using a slot adapter, because of thickness and cooling and noise/interference and you’d get the biggest gain u.fl antennas you could find. sells ath11k 802.11ax modules that work with 5GHz for about 200, once you add shipping, adapter, antennas from your favorite Chinese hardware warehouse, it goes to about 250 if you’re careful, 300 if you buy from Amazon and are less careful about cost, … and then you need 2.4GHz (cheap but needs a separate adapter) and another 350 if you want 6GHz (different adapter+antennas).

It’s definitely doable, people who hack on drivers and wifi software have setups like these as their daily driver wifi at home.

I’m not sure it gets you any more flexibility compared to running OpenWRT which is the same stack (Linux kernel+hostapd+iw) on a quad core arm router/accesspoint - and those tend to be quite a bit cheaper

The Intel card you mentioned, the firmware for it wasn’t built with AP mode in mind, they usually have some AP support because end users want to be able to e.g. transfer data from one laptop to another. Because staffing an organization that can develop and test firmware and drivers costs $10-$50 MM/year. (30-150 people, depending on what size company and what common corporate infra they can rely on). So, they develop / maintain / test / ship / support as few firmwares if possible.

So, you end with ax200/ax201/ac210 that can send beacons going “hi I’m an AP” but you can’t try using certain crypto features and as soon as tickle them card either crashes, or returns an error that confuses the driver and software.

Apparently you can run ax200 in AP mode using wpa_supplicant instead of hostapd (even though they’re built from the same tree/ e.g. on OpenWRT to save space they’re the same multicall binary), because of different startup process that doesn’t mess with the features that are disabled in the wifi chipset firmware.

I found some posts on Intel’s forum from employees saying that AP mode in 5GHz is disabled on purpose for “regulatory” reasons.

I guess you can’t include links, but from Intel’s community site:

After checking this further, we would like to inform you that the engineering team confirmed that Intel® wireless products follow regulatory compliance and it is expected that AP mode cannot be enabled in non-2.4 GHz channels. We hope this clarifies your concerns.

Best regards,

Andrew G.

Intel Customer Support Technician

Which sounds like utter BS to me. My interpretation is that maybe in some jurisdictions there’d be extra work involved in ensuring a 5GHz access point is within regulations, and their products were not intended for this use, so they simply took the easy route and disabled it.

Specifically in the US, as a manufacturer, you need to be able to state that your product will comply with FCC regulation for 5GHz DFS channels regardless of software (as provided to user or in case user modifies it) in order to be able to sell your product.

Outside of the US, the operating system and driver are allowed to set the regulatory domain to be whatever country the user specifies, and then the os/driver/firmware/card implement whatever regulation is required.

So, as a perversion of the rules, there’s typically a US version of a product, and rest of the world version for most access points and cards – and sometimes the firmware differs too. And sometimes, if you don’t set a region at all or you set a wrong one, the card will work if rest of settings are compatible with US rules, but will silently and without error fail otherwise.

See for ax200 cards, in case you already happen to have one.

From Intel’s website:

Do Intel® Wireless Adapters Support Master or AP Mode?

All current Intel® Wireless Adapters are client-only devices and don’t support the master or AP mode.
The Intel Wireless Adapters can support the Wi-Fi Direct (peer-to-peer) or the hotspot features.

What is the difference between these modes and how is a “hotspot” different from an access point?

I also read that Windows 10 is deprecating “Soft AP” and replacing it with this WiFi Direct “hotspot”. Is there a particular reason both companies seem to want to drop support for AP mode in favor of WiFi Direct?

You could look into Broadcom offerings to see if they offer more. You’d have to install a proprietary driver but it might have more options.

Usually, if it’s good for Hackintosh, it might be supported with proprietary drivers in Ubuntu.