Will faster micro SD card make my WLAN Pi M4 boot faster?

No, it will not, unless you make some bad choices. But, faster card will make your life easier and significantly speed up the image flashing process.

Tests performed

  • Flash and verify WLAN Pi 3.1.4 software image to the micro SD card using built-in card reader of MacBook Pro M2 and Balena Etcher app
Software image flashing process
  • Boot WLAN Pi M4 from the micro SD card. Measure how long it takes to boot from plugging the Ethernet cable in (and PoE power provided) to WLAN Pi home screen shown on the display
WLAN Pi M4 powered via PoE

Results

Sandisk High Endurance 32 GB U3 card is the default provided with WLAN Pi M4 by default. The U3 standard reall y makes a huge difference when it comes to writing to the card and that’s why it is our go to option.

Micro SD cards tested

From practical perspective, different size or even slightly slower card won’t really make your Pi boot any faster. If you make some bad choices and reuse an older class 6 card, you will spend extra 11 seconds of your life waiting for the WLAN Pi to boot every single time.

Flash WLAN Pi imageEffective speedBoot WLAN Pi M4
Sandisk HE 32 GB U31 min 59 seconds64 MB/s28 seconds
Sandisk HE 256 GB U31 min 53 seconds68 MB/s28 seconds
Sandisk Ultra 32 GB U13 mins 54 seconds24 MB/s28 seconds
Samsung 8 GB Class 611 mins 29 seconds8 MB/s39 seconds
Compute Module 4 with built-in eMMC storageDidn’t testDidn’t test27 seconds

Recommendation

Invest in a U3 or better card and benefit from fast write speeds. There is very little premium to pay. In future, you can reuse a fast card in other device like a dash cam, Raspberry Pi 5 workstation, or video camera.

Kingston has a great blog post about SD card standards.

Sabrent 5 GbE Multigigabit Ethernet Adapter

Sabrent NT-SS5G is a 5 GbE USB adapter, which allows you to achieve higher throughput than 2.5 GbE adapters, and break the 2.35 Gbps barrier. It works great on Windows. If you are a macOS or Linux user, I recommend you consider other options like this instead.

The adapter itself is larger than 2.5 GbE adapters, it uses AQC111U chip, and ships with short 2 detachable USB-A and USB-C cables. USB-C port on its back connects the adapter to your computer. A metal shell protects it, serves as a heatsink, and also adds to its weight.

Windows 11

Install the driver from Sabrent’s website and you are good to go. In my tests with this Topton M6 Mini PC, I measured 2.93 Gbps down and 3.44 Gbps up with default iperf3 settings.

2.93 Gbps down and 3.44 Gbps up with default iperf3 settings

In adapter options, you can actually configure quite a few things including Jumbo frame support. Note that these are fixed values.

macOS

I can’t recommend this adapter for macOS users. It forces you to disable macOS System Integrity Protection (csrutil), otherwise it won’t work. It might be okay for a proof of concept or lab setup, but I would hesitate from using it in production.

This is how to install the driver if you were interested:

  1. Install the driver using the pkg file provided by Sabrent. It installs a Kernel Extension (kext), which drives this adapter.
  2. Enable the extension by going to System Preferences > Security & Privacy > enable the extension > Reboot.
  3. After reboot, unplug the adapter and plug it back in.
  4. It should work as long as you leave the System Integrity Protection disabled.

From throughput perspective, it saw download speeds of 3.30 Gbps, and upload of 3.45 Gbps. This was with default iperf3 settings, standard 1500-byte MTU and one stream. Great results considering that this adapter’s USB interface maximum theoretical throughput is 5 Gbps.

In my view, you might be better off buying a 2.5 GbE adapter, which can push 2.35 Gbps up and down consistently and with no driver installation needed. I tested one here. Alternatively, a 10GbE Thunderbolt Ethernet adapter is even faster choice, but more costly, and larger form factor. Or, if your other half approves, treat yourself to an M1 Mac Mini with built-in 10 GbE 😉

Linux

I tested this adapter on 64-bit Raspberry Pi OS running on Raspberry Pi 4. Although the default driver distributed in Linux Kernel 5.15 works, it doesn’t even deliver symmetric 1 Gbps.

Sabrent connected to Raspberry Pi 4
Upload speeds well below 1 Gbps
Default aqc111 driver details

Let’s download the latest driver from Sabrent’s website. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be able to compile for 64-bit OS. I tried compiling on 32-bit Raspberry OS, to no avail. If you have any ideas, please do let me know.

So, on Linux, a Realtek RTL8156B based 2.5 GbE adapter might be a better choice for you. Here is the one I tested.

Plugable 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet to USB 3.0 Multigigabit Adapter

Plugable makes this inexpensive 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet USBC-E2500 adapter. It is based on Realtek RTL8156B chip. On Windows and macOS it works out of the box. If you want to use it on a Linux machine like WLAN Pi Pro or Raspberry Pi 4, expect some troubles along the way, but good performance when you get there.

The USB-C to USB-A adapter is allows you to use it with a MacBook (USB-C) or Raspberry Pi 4 (USB-A)
The adapter itself has a plastic shell and is very lightweight

Windows 11

When they say “update the driver using Windows Update first”, they mean it. Windows 11 will recognise the adapter and you can start using it, but the default driver distributed with Windows 11 significantly reduces this adapter’s performance.

727 Mbps down and 2.34 Gbps up with default driver

Now, let’s use Windows Update to download the latest driver.

Don’t forget to update the driver using Windows Update

As you can see, download throughput (from iperf3 server to iperf3 client) has dramatically improved.

1.78 Gbps down and 2.35 Gbps up with updated driver

Although the box suggests Jumbo frame support, Windows driver settings don’t give me any option to edit the MTU size. So, I assume Jumbo frames are not supported.

MacOS Monterey

On macOS, this adapter works out of the box with no additional driver installation required. That’s a very nice surprise. And performance is great.

Symmetric 2.35 Gbps throughput on macOS

Auto-negotiation worked just fine. If you want to configure speed or MTU manually, you can, but Jumbo frames are not supported on macOS either.

Jumbo frames are not supported

Linux

Now the bad news. If you are considering to use this adapter on a Linux machine, the default driver cdc_ncm is a trouble as it only supports 2.5 Gbps Half duplex. Setting Full duplex manually using ethtool command doesn’t work either.

Default driver only supports Half duplex

As you might expect, with the default driver and Half duplex, throughput is very poor.

1.22 Gbps down and 704 Mbps up with the default cdc_ncm driver on WLAN Pi Pro

On WLAN Pi Pro and Raspberry Pi 4 running 5.15 Linux Kernel I managed to fix the duplex issue by the steps listed below. But I hit new auto-negotiation issue between the Plugable adapter and Cisco Catalyst WS-C3560CX-8XPD switch. It took the adapter to eventually negotiate 2.5 Gbps Full duplex around 15 minutes of constantly flapping the interface. Forcing speed and duplex on the Plugable adapter by ethtool did not work. Certainly not ideal, and definitely worth testing before you commit to the Plugable adapter. With other multigigabit adapters, the Plugable had no negotiation issues.

1.7 Gbps down and 2.09 Gbps up with r8156 driver on WLAN Pi Pro
1.91 Gbps down and 2.06 Gbps up on Raspberry Pi 4 using the correct r8156 driver
Raspberry Pi 4 also known as WLAN Pi Community Edition

How to force Linux to use the right driver

To enable Full duplex capability, we need to tell Linux to use Realtek r8156 driver instead of the default cdc-ncm.

  1. Download the latest driver from Realtek’s website
  2. Unzip it and copy the 50-usb-realtek-net.rules file to your Linux machine
  3. On the Linux machine copy this file here sudo cp 50-usb-realtek-net.rules /etc/udev/rules.d/
  4. Reboot by sudo reboot
  5. Verify that the adapter negotiated 2.5 Gbps Full duplex and is using the Realtek r8156 driver.

Use SSH key stored on GitHub instead of an SSH password to access your WLAN Pi

By default WLAN Pi, and Linux in general, uses a username and password-based SSH authentication. It involves quite some typing, some brain capacity to remember the password, and it is not the most secure method either.

You can create a public and private key pair. Your SSH client automatically logs in using the private key. The SSH server uses the public key to confirm that you possess the right private key. No password needed, and it also is more secure. The private key is never sent over the network, and this method protects you against man-in-the-middle attacks.

The beauty of this GitHub method is that GitHub stores your SSH public key centrally, which you can easily update, and you can install it to the machine you want to SSH to, by a single command ssh-import-id-gh. You can even add this to a startup script so that it automatically updates your trusted keys.

Let’s do this

ssh-keygen is the program that generates a public/private key pair on your local system. The private key is stored in ~/.ssh/id_rsa, and the public key is stored in ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub.

The security of this method depends on keeping the private key safe and secure. Make sure not to leave the private key behind.

ssh-keygen -t rsa -C "your@email.com"
Generating public/private rsa key pair.
Enter file in which to save the key (/Users/jiri/.ssh/id_rsa): 
Enter passphrase (empty for no passphrase): 
Enter same passphrase again: 
Your identification has been saved in /Users/jiri/.ssh/id_rsa
Your public key has been saved in /Users/jiri/.ssh/id_rsa.pub
The key fingerprint is:
SHA256:.....
The key's randomart image is:
+---[RSA 3072]----+
.....
+----[SHA256]-----+

Display the public key, which is a text file at the end of the day, and copy its content to clipboard:

cat ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub
ssh-rsa
.....

Save this public key to your GitHub account. Browse to github.com, log in, and open Settings:

Click New SSH key, name the key, paste your public key from the clipboard and save it:

To verify that your key has been added you can browse to https://api.github.com/users/jiribrejcha/keys, where jiribrejcha is your GitHub username:

The last step is to SSH into your WLAN Pi or Linux machine and tell it to use this public key from my GitHub, where jiribrejcha is my GitHub username:

ssh-import-id-gh jiribrejcha

If the command isn’t installed, you can fix that by:

sudo apt install ssh-import-id

Passwordless SSH access

When you authenticate to a server using public key authentication, the SSH client offers a copy of the public key to the server and the server then compares it against the keys listed in your ~/.ssh/authorized_keys file. This key was added automatically by the ssh-import-id-gh command. If the key matches, the server indicates that it is able to proceed with the authentication. The private key is then used to sign a message that includes data specific to the SSH session. The server can then use its copy of the public key to verify the signature.

We have just SSH’d to the Pi without a password prompt.

Special thanks

To Colin Vallance for sharing this tip.