Good NICs for retro rigs?

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Good NICs for retro rigs?

Postby m1919 » 2012-7-10 @ 21:43

Hey all, I've been thinking getting NICs for a couple of my rigs so I can pull game images off an NAS. What's a good card that I could get for these older machines that'll have reasonably fast transfer speeds and work with older operating systems like Windows 2000 Pro?
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Re: Good NICs for retro rigs?

Postby Old Thrashbarg » 2012-7-10 @ 22:26

For PCI, a 3Com 3C905 series or a generic Realtek 8139 would be the best bet. They're cheap, plentiful and will work with everything from DOS up to Win7.

On ISA, a 3Com 3C509, Intel EtherExpress, or Realtek 8019 would be my choices, in that order.
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Re: Good NICs for retro rigs?

Postby swaaye » 2012-7-10 @ 22:31

I actually use a Intel Pro 1000 GT most of the time now. It has support back to DOS and I use it in 98SE. I install games off network shares and this card rocks for that.

Otherwise, anything with Win9x drivers is good for retro rigs. I used to have Tulip cards (ie LNE100TX), RTL 8139 cards, and a few versions of 3C905 but I'm down to the Pro 1000 and a few Pro 100M cards now.
Last edited by swaaye on 2012-7-10 @ 22:39, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Good NICs for retro rigs?

Postby Stull » 2012-7-10 @ 22:38

Ditto to all this. Intel has Pro 1000 GT drivers for every OS under the sun (clicky). I also used to use 3c905 cards, and way back when loved my 3c509 for having BNC and RJ45 connectors, and also the ability to hard-set its IRQ.
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Re: Good NICs for retro rigs?

Postby leileilol » 2012-7-11 @ 00:52

I second the intel pro adapter!

I used to like 3c905 also but that apparently had a lot of cpu usage making 486 use a bit struggling.
by the way, DOSBox is not for running Windows 9x
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Re: Good NICs for retro rigs?

Postby NJRoadfan » 2012-7-11 @ 03:27

I always stuck with the 3Com 3c509 ISA cards. They supported everything, including old versions of Windows NT and the QNX 1.44MB demo disk! In the early Linux days (1.2.x and 2.0.x kernels), the 3Com cards also had the best support. For PCI machines I stuck with Realtek 8139 cards.... they even had drivers available for MacOS 8/9/X!
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Re: Good NICs for retro rigs?

Postby Anonymous Coward » 2012-7-11 @ 04:22

The cards with AMD chips are supposed to be pretty good too. I'm an intel guy myself.
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Re: Good NICs for retro rigs?

Postby feipoa » 2012-7-11 @ 05:19

Some interesting comments, which sparked these questions:

1) Has anyone done a CPU utilisation comparison between the Intel Pro cards and the same class 3com cards on a 486? What was the outcome?

2) I beleive some of the 3com cards I have are PCI 2.0 compliant, while some are PCI 2.1 compliant. What PCI specs do most of the Intel cards adhere to and is this something we should be cognizant of when selecting an Intel card? Will a PCI 2.2 spec card work, for example? Both the PCI 2.0 and 2.1 compliant 3com cards worked in my UMC 486.

3) Does anyone have any positive accounts of Intel network cards working more reliably at 40 MHz compared to 3com cards? I beleive all PCI 2.2 spec cards must operate up to 66 MHz, but I could be wrong. This goes back to 2), will a PCI 2.2 spec card work in a socket 3-class motherboard?

4) It was noted that the 3com cards utilise more CPU than their Intel counterparts. Could you test your throughput with a stop watch using your Intel card? This is what I get for a PCI 3Com 3c905C-TX-M 10/100Base-TX card:


ï‚· Sending a 30 MB file from a PIII to the 486, whereby the PIII initiated the transfer: 1.54 MB/s

ï‚· Sending a 30 MB file from a PIII to the 486, whereby the 486 initiated the transfer: 2.37 MB/s

ï‚· Sending a 30 MB file from the 486 to the PIII, whereby the PIII initiated the transfer: 3.20 MB/s

ï‚· Sending a 30 MB file from the 486 to the PIII, whereby the 486 initiated the transfer: 1.37 MB/s
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Re: Good NICs for retro rigs?

Postby ratfink » 2012-7-11 @ 07:49

I used to use rtl8139 and 3com509 but nowadays i usually use 3com905's mostly. They do have a lot of variants though and 98 can be annoying to set up - i prefer it when drivers are built into the os installation pack). Also been using a D-Link lately and that seems ok too. I think my current favourite is a 3c905b, purely from the point of view of speedy install. Then again if you want to fiddle with wake on lan, maybe look at a c or TX model.[/img]
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Re: Good NICs for retro rigs?

Postby swaaye » 2012-7-11 @ 17:06

feipoa,

I'm sure a 486 gets overloaded and that's why you don't get near 100mbps. 3c905b/c have TCP checksum offload which might help but Win9x doesn't support that AFAIK.

Similarly, gigabit saturation requires around a 1.6ghz CPU, along with buses and storage devices that can handle it. But even a Athlon 700 can get a nice boost compared to a 100mbps NIC.
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Re: Good NICs for retro rigs?

Postby feipoa » 2012-7-11 @ 17:19

swaaye wrote:I'm sure a 486 gets overloaded and that's why you don't get near 100mbps. 3c905b/c have TCP checksum offload which might help but Win9x doesn't support that AFAIK.

Yes, the CPU utilisation will be at 100%, but not for all the 4 cases presented above. I forget which, but with one case the CPU sits at 75%. I have brought this up because one poster mentioned that the 3 coms consume more CPU load on a 486, so I'm trying to track down how much compared to an Intel 10/100 card.

With the TCP checksum offload [and onto the PCI card] you mentioned, will the offload occur for NT4?

This question is of particular interest to me because I have HTTP and FTP servers running an a 486 in NT4.0. If I can gain even 10% throughput by swapping the 3Com 3c905c out for an Intel Pro 100, I'll do it.
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Re: Good NICs for retro rigs?

Postby swaaye » 2012-7-11 @ 18:10

I did some searching and it sounds like you need Win2K or perhaps WinMe to get checksum offload support. WinMe has some Win2K network features.

http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library ... 63469.aspx
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network_Dr ... cification
http://kbserver.netgear.com/kb_web_files/N100572.asp

Linux could also be an option.

Unfortunately I don't have any 486 hardware or 3Com NICs to play with...
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Re: Good NICs for retro rigs?

Postby sliderider » 2012-7-11 @ 18:19

It's hard to go wrong with an Intel brand NIC. Drivers are available everywhere and compatibility is very good with every motherboard that I have ever seen.
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Re: Good NICs for retro rigs?

Postby feipoa » 2012-7-11 @ 20:54

@swaaye
Thank you for this information. I wonder if there are other duties which can be offloaded to the NIC card aside from the checksum issue? While I haven't looked into this yet, perhaps there are a whole lot of other processing tasks which an Intel card, for example, might compute on card compared to a 3Com card.

Being more of an experimentalist, I'll probably get to running these tests at some point myself. I do have one Intel Pro 100S card kicking around. I half vaiguely remember running such a test in the past but did not remember seeing an improvement, however this might have been on a socket 7 box. Even if both cards consume the same CPU usage on a 486 and can transfer at the same speeds, the Intel might still have the advantage of being more 40 MHz tolerate.

I have always used 3Com PCI cards for my 486's in the past and have never had any issues at 33 MHz. I've never had an issue with the drivers.
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Re: Good NICs for retro rigs?

Postby swaaye » 2012-7-11 @ 21:12

AFAIK the two major NIC processing tasks are checksum offload and segmentation offload. 10/100 cards intended for desktops rarely had these features it seemed. Gigabit NICs seem to always have them. To be honest I have no idea if these have much value outside of heavy network traffic like that on a server, but perhaps on a 486 where CPU power is minimal...

BTW, it occurred to me that your speeds above are also influenced by the HDD and HDD controller. On newer machines that isn't the case for a 10/100 NIC.
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Re: Good NICs for retro rigs?

Postby feipoa » 2012-7-11 @ 23:14

swaaye wrote:AFAIK the two major NIC processing tasks are checksum offload and segmentation offload. 10/100 cards intended for desktops rarely had these features it seemed. Gigabit NICs seem to always have them. To be honest I have no idea if these have much value outside of heavy network traffic like that on a server, but perhaps on a 486 where CPU power is minimal...

These are good points. Has anyone tried an Intel gigabit PCI card in a 486? What was the outcome?

swaaye wrote:BTW, it occurred to me that your speeds above are also influenced by the HDD and HDD controller. On newer machines that isn't the case for a 10/100 NIC.

Right. Those speeds are largely CPU- and HDD-dependent. It was done in NT4.0 with an Ultra2-LVD SCSI card/disk though, not to mention a Cyrix 5x86-133. The only outstanding questions is if a different NIC, be it realtek, smc, Intel 100, Intel 1000, etc. will add 10%+ to the speeds noted with a 3Com.
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Re: Good NICs for retro rigs?

Postby swaaye » 2012-7-12 @ 01:38

FYI, I decided to try WinMe on my Athlon 700 which has the Pro 1000 GT in it right now. With the newest NIC drivers, I didn't see checksum offload in the NIC settings so I don't think the OS supports it.
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Re: Good NICs for retro rigs?

Postby feipoa » 2012-7-12 @ 06:54

swaaye wrote:FYI, I decided to try WinMe on my Athlon 700 which has the Pro 1000 GT in it right now. With the newest NIC drivers, I didn't see checksum offload in the NIC settings so I don't think the OS supports it.

Unless it is enabled by default and cannot be changed?
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Re: Good NICs for retro rigs?

Postby swaaye » 2012-7-12 @ 16:56

In newer OSs like XP these features are configurable in the NIC configuration in case they cause problems. I also saw no improvement to throughput compared to 98SE, with about 30MB/s and 100% CPU on a RAM to network transfer from the Athlon 700.

I could try XP sometime...
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Re: Good NICs for retro rigs?

Postby swaaye » 2012-7-12 @ 22:50

I installed Win2K on the ASUS K7M + Athlon 700. As I expected, the Pro 1000 GT driver allows TCP offload to be configured (the default is enabled). I ran the same network test as before and got only slightly higher speed but lower CPU utilization of around 70%. I'm not sure why the RAM -> network transfer appears to max out at ~31MB/s, but it could very well be a VIA 686A PCI limitation showing itself.

In order to find out the max throughput the Pro 1000 GT is capable of, I put it in my Core 2 3GHz box with the Intel 865G chipset. This is running WinXP. The speed test results show ~48MB/s peak throughput with about 25% CPU usage on one CPU core.

By the way, I've attached the small network benchmark app that I've been using. It works on Windows versions back to at least 98SE. It performs a read/write test to a remote folder to/from RAM. The remote device needs to not be a bottleneck of course. I have a Synology gigabit NAS. I use a 200MB test file size.
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