Bad NICs (was Collision Lights go Crazy)

Stephen L Arnold arnold.steve at
Tue May 11 20:23:21 GMT 1999

When the world was young, Cris Wade <quade at> carved some 
runes like this:  

> I think I have tracked down the problem though.  even though it may not
> look like it, I think that the 3com NIC is bad.  I put a 10 baseT only
> Realtek card in a cliant, and it works fine.. Is there any known problems
> with 3COM 905b's running at 10 Mbits and SAMBA.  anyway, I think I will
> buy Intel NICs from now on.. I have had good luck with them in the past.
> Dont know what got into me to get the 3Com stuff, but anyway.

My experience has been just the opposite (my old 3COM 509 combo-
everything ISA card works great with linux and windoze, but RealTek 
based cards suck).  Also, the Intel cards have a few known bugs 
(see the linux ethernet HOWTO) in the hardware/firmware that cause 
problems under DOS/windoze and linux.  I just spent a number of 
hours testing and troubleshooting a few ne2000 PCI cards (with the 
RealTek 8029 chip and the WinBond chip).  The upshot?  They all 
suck, don't waste your money or time on them.  The sad part is that 
most vendors seem to have latched onto these brain-dead chips as 
their chip-of-choice for the low-end (cheap) PCI NICs.  They're 
only a little bit cheaper than the good chips (the DEC tulip 
2104x/2114x and the AMD "lance" successor), but hardly anyone seems 
to use the good ones anymore.  One of the only PCI cards I could 
find in a combo model that still uses the 2114x chip is the SMC 
EtherPower PCI combo card.

If you're buying PCI network cards, and you're on a budget, you 
should be safe with most cards using the DEC or AMD chips, such as 
those from NetGear, DEC, Mylex, SMC, etc (caveat: DON'T buy the 
Boca cards).  Stay away from anything with the RealTek 8029 or the 
WinBond 89C940 chip, including the Compex ReadyLink-2000 cards.  
Most vendors don't include the chipset in their published technical 
specs on the web (Huh? I have no idea why they don't) so you'll 
have to ask specifically or look at the manual or card itself.

If you check the linux Ethernet HOWTO (about 1-2 years out of date 
for the most part) you'll find numerous cards listed as using 
either the DEC or AMD chips, but if you try and buy one, you'll 
find that, whether the model number has changed or not, the current 
versions of these cards almost all use one of the above crap chips.

What I mean by crap is, even if the card appears to work correctly, 
the performance is unacceptable.  Linux uses the same ne2k driver 
for all these shitty cards, so of course the bad performance was 
the same across multiple chips/card vendors.  The windoze drivers 
are different for different chipsets, so the poor performance was 
more variable (but still unacceptable).  Just how bad is the 
performance?  Let's see:

Test configuration: linux server is a p-133, 40 megs RAM, Buslogic 
SCSI with WD drive, EN2000 ISA card (some sort of old ne2000 
clone), 2 test clients running both linux and win95, one a 486-100 
with 16 megs and a cheap ISA ne2000 clone, and the other my new K6-
350 with 64 megs and Buslogic SCSI (ultra-wide) with various PCI 
and ISA NICs.  All running on a linear bus ethernet (10 mbs/sec).

Here's the results for my wife's machine (normal performance):
               486 client <-> server

SMB & ftp:  750-950 k/sec both ways (RealTek ISA card)

Here's the results for my new machine (using various PCI ne2000 
clones from LinkSys, D-Link, DFI, Kingston, and Magitronic):
               K6 client <-> server

(SMB & ftp)    600 k/sec one way
              <100 k/sec other way (both chips)

(SMB & ftp)    600 k/sec one way
              <100 k/sec other way (WinBond chip)
               300 k/sec other way (RealTek chip)

(SMB & ftp)    850-950 k/sec both ways (3COM 3c509 ISA card)

I guess I just don't have a head for business; why anyone would 
want to buy or sell a deficient piece of hardware just because it 
costs a few percent less, as opposed to a product that ACTUALLY 
WORKS for just a few bucks more, is beyond my meager comprehension. 
 Apparently there are so many windoze weenies out there who have no 
idea whether their network is performing up to par or not, that 
these bogus vendors can actually sell these brain-dead pieces of 

If anyone would like the non-sugarcoated version of my opinion, 
just let me know 8-)

Wow, I feel much better now that I've finally gotten that one off 
my chest; now I'll have to publish it on my web page.


Stephen L Arnold            
#include <std_disclaimer.h>

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