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

Orange Pi Development Boards

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.

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

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

  2. Can you add ESP32 to the comparison chart?

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

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

  4. @cnxsoft
    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.

  5. @Harley
    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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