Move To Fast Ethernet - In The NIC Of Time

Move To Fast Ethernet - In The NIC Of Time

The Fast Ethernet highway is blazing worldwide, so insert a 10/100 card and cruise

By J.B. Miles

Special to GCN

Dollar for dollar and pound for pound, dual-speed, 10/100-Mbps Ethernet adapters probably represent the best networking investment you'll ever make.

Standard 10-Mbps Ethernet is clearly the most popular network architecture in the world, with more than 100 million installed nodes around the globe. But most organizations are anxious to move up to Fast Ethernet as they add new users and high-bandwidth graphical and Internet applications to their daily workloads.

How do you make the move painlessly? Insert a small 10/100-Mbps Ethernet network interface card into your PC's backplane or slide one into the PC Card slot of your notebook computer.

The benefits of Fast Ethernet technology are hardly up for debate anymore. Fast Ethernet is built on existing Ethernet standards and operates within the same architectural model as most legacy Ethernet LANs and WANs. The cabling and other network gear already in place can be used.

Fast Ethernet also uses the same unshielded twisted-pair wiring as standard Ethernet and the same inexpensive RJ-45 connectors. And because Fast Ethernet uses the same Media Access Control layer interface as Ethernet, packet lengths, error control and other Ethernet techniques for handling network management information remain unchanged.

Meanwhile, adding a 10/100 Ethernet card will boost the overall speed of your network tenfold, from 10 Mbps to 100 Mbps. That's a lot of payoff for a high-speed adapter that often costs less than $50 per unit.

Get on the bus

All NICs work by providing physical connections between the desktop PC or the server's internal bus and the network itself. PCI is by far the most commonly used bus in today's computers, so the vast majority of 10/100 NICs listed in this buying guide use a PCI bus connection. But Apple Macintosh users can also find 10/100 NICs for NuBus from companies such as Asante Technologies Inc., Sonic Systems Inc. and Farallon Communications Inc.

Antares Microsystems Inc., along with Sun Microsystems Inc., makes 10/100 adapters designed around Sun's Sparc SBus architecture. And if you're still working with legacy workstations with ISA or EISA buses, you're not out in the cold. 3Com Corp., Intel Corp. and a handful of others still support these older bus designs along with PCI.

The wide variance in prices'from less than $20 to $699' for the 10/100 NICs listed in the accompanying chart reflect big differences in the capabilities of the cards.

The most basic and therefore least expensive cards are capable of providing either 10-Mbps or 100-Mbps throughput, but not necessarily without user intervention. More advanced NICs with auto-negotiation capabilities can detect if the other network devices are working at 10 Mbps or 100 Mbps, and they automatically set themselves to run at either speed. No user intervention is required. This is an important feature for most buyers, so read the fine print on auto-negotiation capability before you buy.

Most of the 10/100 NICs listed are single-port units, meaning they contain one RJ-45 slot for connecting to the network. Adaptec Inc. makes dual- and quad-port units, and D-Link Systems Inc. and Sun make four-port units. Osicom Technologies Inc. makes a two-port unit to supplement its single-port offerings, as do Intel Corp., SMC Networks and Sun.

Fast Ethernet NICs let you give your users better throughput for graphic-heavy files























































































































































































Vendor

Product

Bus type

Connectors

Media support

Ports

Price

OvisLink Technologies Corp.
City of Industry, Calif.
626-854-1805
www.ovislink.com
LFE-8139ATX
Wake-on-Lan
Adapter
PCIRJ-45UTP

1

$30

Racore Technology Corp.
Salt Lake City
801-973-9779
www.racore.com
Model 8169CardBusRJ-45UTP

1

$295

Model M8165PCIRJ-45UTP

1

$179

Model M8148
Multiple Personality
Adapter
PCIRJ-45, MII,
SC
UTP, STP,
fiber optic

1

$89

Sonic Systems Inc.
Sunnyvale, Calif.
408-844-9900
www.sonicsys.com
EtherFE 10/100
NuBus
NuBusRJ-45UTP

1

$245

EtherFE 10/100
PCI
PCIRJ-45UTP

1

$45

SMC Networks
Irvine, Calif.
949-707-2400
www.sms.com
EtherPower II
10/100
PCIRJ-45, SC,
ST
UTP, STP,
fiber optic

1

$79

EZ CardBus 10/100CardBusRJ-45UTP

1

$132

Fast Ethernet PCI
Server Card
PCIRJ-45UTP

2

$315

Sun Microsystems Inc.
Mountain View, Calif.
650-960-1300
www.sun.com
SunSwift PCI
Adapter with SCSI
Interface Card
PCIRJ-45, SCSIUTP

1

$995

QuadFast Ethernet
4-port SBus Card
SBusRJ-45UTP

4

$1,990

QuadFast Ethernet
4-port PCI Card
PCIRJ-45UTP

4

$1,795

TDK Systems
Nevada City, Calif
916-478-8421
www.tdksystems.com
Network Flyer 100PC Card
RJ-45

UTP

1


$165


3Com Corp.

Santa Clara, Calif.

408-764-5000

www.3com.com

Fast EtherLink

XL PCI TX

PCI, ISA,

EISA

RJ-45

UTP

1


$103


Fast EtherLink

XL PCI Combo

PCI, ISA,

EISA

RJ-45

UTP

1


$170


Fast EtherLink

Server NIC

PCI, ISA,

EISA

RJ-45

UTP

1


$135


OfficeConnect

Fast Ethernet NIC

PCI

RJ-45

UTP

1


$75


Trendware International Inc.

Torrance, Calif.

310-328-7795

www.trendware.com

TE100-PCI

PCI

RJ-45

UTP

1


$59


TE100-PCIWplus

PCI

RJ-45

UTP/STP

1


$29


TE100-PCIE

PCI

RJ-45

UTP

1


$32


Unicom Electric Inc.

City of Industry, Calif.

626-964-7873

www.unicomlin.com

10/100 Mbps PCI

Adapter Card

PCI

RJ-45

UTP

1


$22


Xircom Inc.

Thousand Oaks, Calif.

805-376-9300

www.xircom.com

CardBus Ethernet

10/100+ Modem 56

CardBus

RJ-45, RJ-11

UTP

1


$289


CardBus Ethernet II

10/100

CardBus

RJ-45

UTP

1


$165


CreditCard Ethernet

10/100

PC Card

RJ-45

UTP

1


$165


ZNYX Corp.

Fremont, Calif.

510-249-0800

www.znyx.com

NetBlaster ZX345

PCI

RJ-45

UTP

1


$699




You'll pay a premium for the convenience of multiple ports within a single NIC, but in some cases the extra dollars will be well spent. Manufacturers such as Adaptec, Intel and Sun have well-defined networking strategies in which multiple-port NICs can play a key part.

All PCI NICs offer full 32-bit data transfer capacity with bus mastering architecture that increases overall system performance by passing all network requests directly to the NIC instead of the host CPU.

Plug-and-play support in your 10/100 NIC won't cost you extra.

Most PCI units also come with a good range of drivers for the most popular workstation and network operating systems, with Microsoft Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows NT and Novell NetWare topping the list.

Virtually every 10/100 NIC listed comes with basic software management capability, usually through compatibility with Simple Network Management Protocol standards that enable communications with other network devices via an Internet browser, a Windows console or some other SNMP agent.

In some cases, vendor-specific network management software is also used.

The price is right

But the price for this should be considered a hidden cost: Ten 10/100 NICs at $100 each equals $1,000. Add on $750 for network management software and the total is boosted to $1,750.

Wake-on-LAN is another good management feature found in an increasing number of 10/100 NICs.

Finally, while most 10/100 NICs are compatible with basic UTP Category 3, 4 and 5 twisted-pair wiring and are therefore cost-effective to use with legacy Ethernet wiring schemes, a few are available that connect with shielded twisted-pair wires.

Hold on

As fiber-optic, Fast Ethernet networks continue to take hold, look for more 10/100 NICs that allow connections between UTP and fiber-optic cable.








To gain speed, be a smart buyer


  • Keep in mind the manufacturer's reputation as a network provider.

  • Remember that volume buying results in better prices.

  • Look for auto-negotiation and Wake-on-LAN capabilities.

  • Keep in mind that single-port cards are cheapest and work just fine for most users.

  • Know that CardBus PC Cards offer true 32-bit throughput at faster speeds.






''J.B. Miles writes about communications and computers from Pahoa, Hawaii.

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