Ethernet Card and Driver Test

The following combinations of ethernet cards and drivers were tested under Linux (RedHat 6.2; kernel 2.2.16): All tests were done using cross-over cables.

First test: two identically configured PIII/600MHz
Netperf benchmark:
tcp test: ./netperf -H p600 -i 10,2 -I 99,5 -l 60
udp test: ./netperf -H p600 -i 10,2 -I 99,5 -l 60 -t UDP_STREAM -- -m 8192 -s 32768 -S 32768
(for the udp test the throughput at the receiving end is reported)

All numbers in Mbit/s.

      RTL8139 LNE100Tx 3c59x  3c90x  EEPro100 DFE570Tx 3xRTL8139 3x3c59x DFE570Tx(3) DFE570Tx(4) 2xEEPro100+
tcp | 85.67   93.72    94.09  94.10  93.38    94.07    228.37    279.55  279.27      238.18      183.26
udp | 87.93   95.75    95.82  83.85  95.75    95.79    127.47    266.15  265.92       61.75      177.49
Second test: Pentium 166MHz and dual PII/400MHz
Netperf benchmark:
tcp test: ./netperf -H p166 -i 10,2 -I 99,5 -l 60
udp test: ./netperf -H p166 -i 10,2 -I 99,5 -l 60 -t UDP_STREAM -- -m 8192 -s 32768 -S 32768
tcp test: ./netperf -H p400 -i 10,2 -I 99,5 -l 60
                         RTL8139   LNE100Tx   3c59x   3c90x   EEPro100
2xPII/400 -> P166, tcp | 62.08     65.24      84.62   54.73   61.23
P166 -> 2xPII/400, tcp | 66.36     68.19      92.91   63.76   85.35
P166 -> 2xPII/400, udp | 88.76     85.33      95.40   58.95   95.76
Some of the configurations also were benchmarked with Netpipe.
NPtcp results for the Realtek, EtherExpressPro, 3C905B, and DFE570Tx cards:
 latency [µs]bandwidth [Mb/s]
DFE570Tx (1 port)4289.7
The full results can be viewed here.

Netpipe results for the channel bonded cases:

 latency [µs]
bandwidth [Mb/s]
latency [µs]
bandwidth [Mb/s]
latency [µs]
bandwidth [Mb/s]
3×3C905B45268 92214 97264
DFE570Tx (3 ports)4325094199 113241
DFE570Tx (4 ports)4321593173 117211
EEPro100+ (2 ports)51179102154 117179


  1. For channel bonding use the modules bonding.c from the 2.2.17 kernel even if your are using a 2.2.16 kernel. Otherwise bad things (kernel oops) happen. I found out about this the hard way: "/etc/rc.d/init.d/network restart" will crash your machine so badly that it won't even reboot (it hangs on unmounting /proc with "device busy"). Only power cycling the box will get it back to life. The problem is with bonding module: "ifconfig bond0 down; rmmod bonding" will yield the same result (oops). The 2.2.17 module seems to fix this.

  2. The 3c59x.c from the 2.2.17 kernel produced basically the same results as the high-performance variant used in the tests above. The 3c59x.c from kernels < 2.2.17 have bugs and should not be used.

  3. The 3Com 3c90x.c driver has given me nothing but problems, particularly in connection with NFS. Under heavy NFS load the interface would simply lock up and only "/etc/rc.d/init.d/network restart" would solve the problem. As the tests above show the performance of the 3c90x driver is much worse than that of the 3c59x driver.

  4. Channel bonding with the 3C905B cards/3c59x driver and the DFE570Tx card/tulip driver works without any problems: just follow the instructions in "/usr/src/linux/Documentation/networking/bonding.txt", i.e., create /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts/ifcfg-bond0 and setup the /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts/ifcfg-eth1, etc. files. That's all what is required. With the RealTek cards/driver this fails, because the MAC addresses are not copied correctly. The only way out is to actually change the real MAC addresses of the ethernet cards by making them all equal. These instructions that were published on the Beowulf mailing list tell you how this can be achieved. Also with the RealTek cards the connection would occasionally die and I had to run "/etc/rc.d/init.d/network restart". This did not happen with the 3C905B/3c59x cards/driver. The 3c90x driver cannot be used for channel bonding at all. I only had two tulip and Intel cards, so I could not test channel bonding with those cards.


  1. The RealTek cards were far the worst in this test. Heavy udp load freezes the machine. The channel bonded 3 Realtek cards sometimes locked up the machine so severely that only a hard reboot (on/off switch) would bring it back. They are cheap, but it seems that you get what you paid for.

  2. The results for the tulip, 3Com, Intel cards for PIII/600 -> PIII/600 do not differ significantly. However they differ in the tests from the P166 to the dual PII/400. The significance of this test is the following: the P166 does not have the cpu power to handle 100Mbit/s. Hence, the transfer rates in this case are not limited by the highest throughput a particular card/driver combination can handle, but by the cpu. However, some of the cards are "smarter" than others as they can off load some of the cpu tasks. Therefore, a higher throughput in this test indicates a "smarter" card. This should be particularly important when you channel bond the cards. If the cpu is 100% busy with maintaining a high throughput, it is impossible to do computation and communication in parallel. In this area the 3C905B/3c59x outperforms all the other card/driver combinations.

  3. Channel bonding three 3C905B using the 3c59x driver works very well: the bandwidth is basically three times the throughput of a single card. Channel bonding the RealTek cards is out of the question with the RealTek cards: they show a horrendous packet loss under udp. This would bring NFS to a grinding halt. Also the reliability is poor: You do not want to be forced to reboot the Beowulf cluster because the NIC hangs up.

    Channel bonding three or four ports on the DFE570Tx actually does not work as well as with 3 3C905B cards. Performance for 4 ports channel bonded is worse than the performance for 3 ports. This is almost certainly due to the load on the CPU: the interrupt processing, etc., required for 4 channel bonded ports becomes so high that the CPU cannot keep up. This becomes particularly clear with UDP traffic (the sender pushes out packets as fast as it can, the receiver has to do interrupt processing): the sending CPU pushes out 354.96Mb/s (i.e., basically 4 times the bandwidth of a single card), however, at the receiving end only 61.75Mb/s are received. The remaining packets are dropped (you don't want to use NFS in such a configuration).
    Unfortunately, even in a configuration with just 3 ports channel bonded the card does not reach the performance of 3 3c905B cards: NPmpi (from Netpipe) compiled with mpich-1.2.1 as well as NPmpi compiled with mpipro show that the 3C905B's outperform the DFE570Tx by about 10%.