Cheap, good ethernet cards?

Martin Siegert siegert at
Wed Apr 25 15:06:53 PDT 2001

On Wed, Apr 25, 2001 at 05:15:30PM -0400, Robert G. Brown wrote:
> I'm working at squeezing a 16 node beowulf into a $15K budget (including
> disk, some server glitz, and 1.3 GHz Tbirds) and am working with a
> vendor that currently carries a $19 no-name RealTek-chip based card that
> I've used in the past but that has remarkably poor performance, a $20
> NetGear FA311 (note, NOT the FA310 that I've used with decent results so
> many times in the past -- the FA311 has had the reputation of not
> working with linux as of only a few months ago) and a $50 3C905 that is
> a great card I'm sure, but great at a pretty hefty price premium. $30 x
> 15 is $450, which is actually "a lot" -- a bigger/better switch, for
> example.
> Does anyone have a recommendation for a "good" (measured/benchmarked
> good, as in maybe 90+ mbps netperf or tcp pipe performance for large
> packets, not totally horrible latency in small packet streams) ethernet
> card in the $20 price range?  Is there now a reliable driver for the
> FA311?  There are so many cards out there I cannot believe there aren't
> good ones available for cheap, but since the demise of the true tulip
> I've had a hard time sorting out the wheat from the chaff...
You find my benchmarks of various NICs at

They were done with a 2.2.16 kernel (yes, when I find the time I'll
redo some of the benchmarks with a 2.4.x kernel), but my impression is
that the results actually don't depend that much on the kernel/driver
version - the big differences are due to hardware.

In short:
- RTL8139's are horrible
- Tulip cards are ok
- 3c905's are good.

I'd rather downgrade the processor speed soemwhat and use 905s than
save the the few bucks on the NIC. With respect to NICs it seems that you
get what you pay for ...


Martin Siegert
Academic Computing Services                        phone: (604) 291-4691
Simon Fraser University                            fax:   (604) 291-4242
Burnaby, British Columbia                          email: siegert at
Canada  V5A 1S6

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