Why are 3Com NICs regarded in such high regard?

Discussion about old PC hardware.

Re: Why are 3Com NICs regarded in such high regard?

Postby precaud » 2019-9-07 @ 04:08

PTherapist wrote:I'm using a 3C509 of some variety in 6 of my retro builds, including 1 16-bit 3C509B in an 8-bit slot on my 8088 XT build with it's boot ROM enabled for XTIDE Universal BIOS. Relatively straightforward to configure the 3C509 for this purpose and so the card not only allows me to transfer files back and forth over the LAN...


I want to make sure this is correct: you're using a 16-bit 3C509B in an 8-bit XT slot, and it works fine? Does it auto-sense this, or is it done via a config program?

I have a couple 3C509B's (one -C, one -TP), and if they can be used in an XT 8-bit slot, that would be very cool...
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Re: Why are 3Com NICs regarded in such high regard?

Postby Grzyb » 2019-9-07 @ 04:58

3C509B is well-known to work on XT, just make sure you have the appropriate packet driver:
http://www.vcfed.org/forum/showthread.p ... post224266

I don't recall any option to select 8-bit bus, just make sure to select some IRQ that's available on 8-bit ISA - the default setting for many 8-bit NICs is IRQ 3.
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Re: Why are 3Com NICs regarded in such high regard?

Postby dr.ido » 2019-9-07 @ 11:56

Like so many others I stuck with 3com (and Intel) NICs purely because at the time they were everywhere - and they just worked out of the box without having to find drivers - I've never done any actual performance comparisons between them and lesser cards. For the same reason I have a stack of Xircom PCMCIA and CardBus cards for old laptops - they just work and drivers are already included on the Windows ISO from Win95 onwards.
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Re: Why are 3Com NICs regarded in such high regard?

Postby precaud » 2019-9-07 @ 12:23

Grzyb wrote:3C509B is well-known to work on XT, just make sure you have the appropriate packet driver:
http://www.vcfed.org/forum/showthread.p ... post224266

I don't recall any option to select 8-bit bus, just make sure to select some IRQ that's available on 8-bit ISA - the default setting for many 8-bit NICs is IRQ 3.


Now that is some very clever work! Thx for the link. Is there an option for no IRQ, if all we want to use the card for is map a EPROM into the boot rom space?
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Re: Why are 3Com NICs regarded in such high regard?

Postby Deksor » 2019-9-07 @ 13:04

I don't think so, but then you can probably set an irq outside of the 8bit ISA range and that'll be enough
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Re: Why are 3Com NICs regarded in such high regard?

Postby Grzyb » 2019-9-07 @ 13:59

Also, a NIC only generates IRQ signal when it receives a packet from the network, so if you don't connect the net, there won't be any IRQs.
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Re: Why are 3Com NICs regarded in such high regard?

Postby Intel486dx33 » 2019-9-07 @ 16:06

They where just popular on the PC platform. ( ISA, EISA, MCA, PCI ).
They had good reliability, driver support and easy to install and setup.
3com drivers where included in Novell server, client, WIn3.11, Win-NT 3x 4x , Win 95, Win98, Win2000.
But Intel NIC’s are just as good if NOT better.
So are DIgital
And AMD Nics.
Realtek and all the rest are just as good in PCI form.
Most are plug and play with Win95 and up.
Novell NE2000 compatible Nic’s Where inexpensive and gave 3com a price war.

Today, I prefer Intel and Cisco and Linksys and Apple for all my home network needs.
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Re: Why are 3Com NICs regarded in such high regard?

Postby Errius » 2019-9-07 @ 19:58

Just looking at all the (Fast) Etherlink XL subvariants. I've found these:

  • 3C900-C / 3C900-COMBO
  • 3C900-TPO
  • 3C900B-C / 3C900B-COMBO
  • 3C900B-CMB
  • 3C900B-FL(ST) [this is a fiber channel card]
  • 3C900B-TPC
  • 3C900B-TPO
  • 3C905-T4
  • 3C905-TX
  • 3C905B-C / 3C905B-COMBO
  • 3C905B-FX(SC) [fiber channel]
  • 3C905B-T4
  • 3C905B-TX
  • 3C905B-TX-M
  • 3C905B-TXMBA / 3C905B-TX-MBA
  • 3C905B-TXNM / 3C905B-TX-NM
  • 3C905B-TXPXE
  • 3C905C-TXM / 3C905C-TX-M
  • 3C905C-TXM(B)
  • 3C905CX-TXM / 3C905CX-TX-M
  • 3C905CX-TX-NM
  • 3C905CX-MLP
Are there any others? Which is best?
Last edited by Errius on 2019-9-10 @ 23:49, edited 12 times in total.
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Re: Why are 3Com NICs regarded in such high regard?

Postby precaud » 2019-9-07 @ 20:05

The two I have are: 3C905B-TP and 3C905B-C. The "C" board is fully populated, while the TP apprars to only support the RJ45. It is missing the BNC coax connector and the cluster of components on the pcb behind the DB15.
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Re: Why are 3Com NICs regarded in such high regard?

Postby rmay635703 » 2019-9-07 @ 23:40

I used an 8 bit 3com card to get on the college network

I got it free and it was all I had back in a time when any network card was $30+

It worked great under Windows 95 even though it was ancient
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Re: Why are 3Com NICs regarded in such high regard?

Postby Grzyb » 2019-9-08 @ 00:20

Errius wrote:3C905CX-MLP

A NIC for My Little Pony fans? :D

Anyway, I like the 3C905B-COMBO - probably the only 100 Mbps card with BNC and AUI connectors.
Back in the era, it was useful for those who had coaxial cabling, but planning to replace it with twisted-pair for 100 Mbps.
Nowadays, it's useful for bridging between a modern LAN, and a coaxial segment with older machines.
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Re: Why are 3Com NICs regarded in such high regard?

Postby gdjacobs » 2019-9-08 @ 00:53

Intel486dx33 wrote:They where just popular on the PC platform. ( ISA, EISA, MCA, PCI ).
They had good reliability, driver support and easy to install and setup.
3com drivers where included in Novell server, client, WIn3.11, Win-NT 3x 4x , Win 95, Win98, Win2000.
But Intel NIC’s are just as good if NOT better.
So are DIgital
And AMD Nics.
Realtek and all the rest are just as good in PCI form.
Most are plug and play with Win95 and up.
Novell NE2000 compatible Nic’s Where inexpensive and gave 3com a price war.

Today, I prefer Intel and Cisco and Linksys and Apple for all my home network needs.

Until 1000baseT became a thing, 3com were unrivaled in performance. Intel and DEC made good chipsets, but they still used more CPU for the same throughput. I love Realtek nics for being cheap, ubiquitous, and having dead simple packet drivers, but high performance they were not.
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Re: Why are 3Com NICs regarded in such high regard?

Postby feipoa » 2019-9-08 @ 01:32

I cannot find my post where I benchmarked the transmission rates of various network cards on a 486, but sort of recall the 3com’s and Intels yielding similar performance. I an NIC in every system. It makes file transfer easy for that new benchmark or game you just discovered, or for making your old system suffer trying to load a webpage.

For ISA NIC cards, you are restricted by the bus if using 10/100 cards, but for the less patient, I recommend the 100mbit ISA cards as they transfer 2-4x faster than a 10 mbit card. The 3com 10/100 ISA card is harder to find and over priced, but the IBM-branded Intel 100 PRO cards can be had for reasonable sums. For ease of setup and Windows-included drivers, the 3COM Etherexpress III is a good 10 mbit card.
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Re: Why are 3Com NICs regarded in such high regard?

Postby Warlord » 2019-9-08 @ 03:01

intel had better drivers and intel drivers are supported better across multiple platforms. That being said there was a time when 3com was the best it just happened before later revisions of intel pro 100 nics which was about the time 3com sold out to broadcom who had already been fabing for them for some time.
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Re: Why are 3Com NICs regarded in such high regard?

Postby Caluser2000 » 2019-9-08 @ 06:56

There's a guy who tested quite a lot of mid '90s nics. The one that came on top was SMC nics were a bit snappier than even 3Com. I just use what works and usually the first out of the box.I've had good success with KYE/Genius DE 200 series nics. Using four at present in various systems. In fact Ive had good servise from a lot of KYE/Genius hardware. The nics had drivers for every major OS-NT, OS/2, Win9x, Novell Netware, as well as Dos packet drivers.
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Re: Why are 3Com NICs regarded in such high regard?

Postby gdjacobs » 2019-9-08 @ 07:28

I worked compute clusters in Uni. Trust me, at least in the Linux world 3com was the performance king.
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Re: Why are 3Com NICs regarded in such high regard?

Postby dionb » 2019-9-08 @ 11:07

gdjacobs wrote:I worked compute clusters in Uni. Trust me, at least in the Linux world 3com was the performance king.

Which timeframe are we talking about?

The ISA 3Coms such as the 3C509 use programmed I/O, which tended to be slower than shared memory or DMA designs used by contemporary SMC or AMD designs respectively. I recall SMC ISA cards being considered the fastest out there. The later 100MbE PCI cards were pretty sweet for their time though, with hardware checksumming implemented on the 3C905C.
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Re: Why are 3Com NICs regarded in such high regard?

Postby gdjacobs » 2019-9-08 @ 17:53

PCI era. The 3c503 used shared mem, so performance was roughly equivalent with the WD8013/SMC Ultra line. We had a lot of SMC ISA cards in legacy gear elsewhere in the department, and I definitely liked those. In the PCI era, the 3c905 was the bees knees.
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Re: Why are 3Com NICs regarded in such high regard?

Postby BinaryDemon » 2019-9-08 @ 17:56

Intel486dx33 wrote:3com drivers where included in Novell server, client, WIn3.11, Win-NT 3x 4x , Win 95, Win98, Win2000.


This was the selling point for me.
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Re: Why are 3Com NICs regarded in such high regard?

Postby oeuvre » 2019-9-09 @ 12:56

3C905 was <3
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