A few years ago (two to be exact) Shanghai-based Espressif launched their low-cost ESP8266 Wi-Fi chip, which gave just about any microcontroller access to a wireless network. It gave makers the ability to design any number of IoT projects that required an internet connection and the fact that it was also cheap (costing around $5 on average) made it that much more attractive.
The reign of the ESP8266 as the go-to Wi-Fi module may be coming to an end, however, as a new module from Realtek has been spotted in the wild and it’s not only more powerful but cheaper as well (AliExpress lists it for $3.52).
The RTL8710 may be tiny, but it packs an ARM Cortex-M3 processor (running at 166MHz), 48Kb of RAM and 1Mb of Flash. In contrast, the ESP8266 sports a Tensilica LX106 processor (running at 80/160MHz), 36Kb of RAM and 1–60Mb of Flash depending on the module version. Clearly, the RTL8710 wins the performance crown, although it is 1mm larger than the ESP8266 at 6×6mm and 5×5mm respectively.
According to AliExpress, the RTL8710 uses FreeRTOS as the go-to operating system and can be debugged and programmed using RealTek’s RTL8710 SDK over a micro USB connection. As for the modules other features, it packs up to 21 GPIO, up to 3 I2C, up to 2 PCM, 4 PWM and two high-speed UART and one low-speed. For Wi-Fi, it has a speed of up to 150 Mbps over an 802.11n connection and a top speed of 54 Mbps over 802.11g. For those interested in getting their hands on the new module, both the RTL8710 module and the SDK are available now.