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An Alternative to ESP8266? Realtek RTL8710 ARM Cortex-M3 WiFi IoT Modules Sell for $2 and Up

ESP8266 WiFi modules initially stormed the maker market for IoT applications thanks to their low price, and later it became the dominant WiFi IoT platform for hobbyists thanks to its large community of developers. But technology progresses over time, and it’s always fun to look out for new solutions, and Realtek RTL8710 could prove to be an interesting alternative with its ARM Cortex-M3 processor @ 166 MHz, a little more user memory (48KB), audio support, faster WiFi performance, while still keeping a low price, as modules can be purchased for $3.90 on ICS station, a little more on eBay, and as low as $1.95 per unit on Aliexpress including shipping if you purchase 100 pieces or more.

Realtek_RTL8710_ModulesA Chinese website as a side-by-side comparison between Realtek RTL8710 and Espressif ESP8266, which I also found translated into English.

Realtek RTL8710 Espresif ESP8266
Package QFN-48 (6×6 mm) QFN-32 (5×5 mm)
CPU ARM Cortex M3 @ 166 MHz Tensilica LX106 @ 80 / 160 MHz
RAM 48KB available to user 36KB available to user
Flash 1MB Built-in 1, 2, 4, 8 or 16 MB
WiFi 802.11n up to 150 Mbps, 802.11g up to 54 Mbps 802.11n up to 65 Mbps, 802.11g up to 54 Mbps
GPIO Up to 21 Up to 17
I2C Up to 3 Up to 1
PCM Up to 2 None
PWM Up to 4
UART 2x high-speed UART, 1x low-speed UART Up to 2x UART
Power Voltage: 3.0 to 3.6V; Current: 80 mA
Temperature range -40 to 125 °C
Standard certifications FCC/CE/TELEC/SRRC/ WiFi Alliance FCC/CE/TELEC/SRRC

The processor is said to run FreeRTOS operating systems, which happens to be the one also used in Espressif ESP8266 and ESP32 SDKs. Boantong also provides a development board integrating their RTL-00 module with PCB antenna for $14 + shipping.

RTL8710 Development Kit

RTL8710 Development Kit

Debugging and programming can be done through the micro USB port using CMSIS DAP or JLINK.  I’ve not been able to find RTL8710 SDK yet, but there does seem to be a dedicated support forum (in Chinese only).

So at this stage RTL8710 is clearly not for everyone yet, but if you are interested in using or evaluating RTL8710 modules in commercial projects, you may want to check out “Boantong IoT Business Department“.

Via Bird on SMEoT Facebook Group.

  1. huem
    July 28th, 2016 at 12:20 | #1

    if your are looking for english official support forum, i think it’s here http://www.amebaiot.com . it is RTL8195though. but i think it’s totally compaatible.

  2. kubik256
    July 28th, 2016 at 13:02 | #2

    Looking good for applications where you prefer power instead of battery life 🙂

  3. Rogan Dawes
    July 28th, 2016 at 15:19 | #3

    I’d love to know if these modules have USB device capability as part of their ARM core. Opens up such possibilities!

  4. Ali
    July 28th, 2016 at 16:27 | #4

    Now only if this gets integrated into the Arduino UI . . .

  5. Freire
    July 28th, 2016 at 18:16 | #5

    There are also the AI6060H, who claim to be better than the ESP8266.
    Development Board, with module and USB/Serial costs U$4.02:

  6. Harley
    July 28th, 2016 at 19:28 | #6

    Can you add ESP32 to the comparison chart?

    Even if ESP32 is not available yet it would still be interesting to compare the spec.

  7. July 28th, 2016 at 19:37 | #7

    I have this comparison table between ESP32 and ESP8266 -> http://www.cnx-software.com/2016/03/25/esp8266-and-esp32-differences-in-one-single-table/, but some rows are missing to add ESP32 to the table above, and some are not comparable (e.g. RAM available to user vs total RAM).

  8. July 28th, 2016 at 19:44 | #8

    Link to some documentation @ http://bbs.smartarduino.com/showthread.php?tid=2045
    Some code @ https://github.com/greatlevi/AI6060H
    It’s unclear how it’s better than ESP8266 though.

  9. Martin
    July 29th, 2016 at 00:12 | #9

    Well, better specs do not mean better Product, so many Slow Arduino s out there because they just work so easyly

  10. Deets
    July 29th, 2016 at 02:47 | #10

    @Rogan Dawes
    Yes there are more parts in this device family that have USB.

  11. July 29th, 2016 at 21:04 | #11

    FYR. IRC channel #rtl8710 has been created.

  12. Daan
    July 30th, 2016 at 04:42 | #12

    There is a real English forum online http://www.rtl8710forum.com. I hope this will become a nice community with lot’s of information about the chip.

  13. July 30th, 2016 at 14:25 | #14

    That’s the ameba SDK, is it for RTL8710 or RTL8185?

    I have a different SDK @ http://pan.baidu.com/share/link?shareid=3336444182&uk=1429200511 password: brwp
    and possibly another one @ https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B7hSaaRNzvZnaWRmcG9FeEZfWUU/view?usp=drive_web

  14. rizzir
    July 30th, 2016 at 22:59 | #15

    The baidu link only points to a “software bundle” including (a most certainly pirated version of) IAR and some other (also pirated?) tools (JLink server?, serial console?). There is not a single .c source file in the .zip file. Unfortunately this is completely useless.

    The first google drive link points to the “official” ameba sdk for their dev board (RTL8195A) and I think it won’t do anything with a RTL8710 although there are a few “#if defined CONFIG_PLATFORM_8711B” here and there but the big part, that I would expect in “/component/soc/realtek/8710”, is (unfortunately) missing.

  15. August 1st, 2016 at 09:27 | #16

    I finally got access to the second Google Drive link, and that’s basically the same as the Baidu link.

  16. August 1st, 2016 at 15:38 | #17

    Hi, daan. thanks for you work. This comment is from official. I will forward your forum to other Ameba (rtl8195AM, rtl8711AM, rtl8711AF and rtl8710AF) users.

  17. August 1st, 2016 at 16:03 | #18

    Hi, you can get the newest SDK on our official page that all Ameba serial (rtl8195, rtl8711 and rtl8710) compatible: http://www.amebaiot.com.en

  18. August 3rd, 2016 at 15:09 | #19

    New conflicting information: https://rtl8710forum.com/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=5&p=16#p14
    RTL8710 appears to be limited to 83MHz, and lacks PCM interface.

  19. WIMPy
    August 11th, 2016 at 10:41 | #20

    Which network?

  20. Bob H
    August 11th, 2016 at 15:23 | #21

    A better comparison would be the ESP8285 which is the successor to the ESP8266, the ESP32 is a bigger and more expensive chip for a different class of product.

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