Zyxel XGN100C and XGN100F NIC review: or AQuantia AQC100/AQC107 vs Intel' 2021

But I did not immediately see the prospects of multi-gigabit network connections. Of course, if you look from the point of view of the data center and storage, there are no intermediate links between 1G and 10G, but the evolution went the other way: the pendulum swung in the direction of IoT and the concept of All-Wireless, the number of Wi-Fi clients increased avalanche-like, and then there was a situation that for access points of the 802.11 ax standard, one gigabit is not enough, and ten is still expensive. And although in all the variety of Wi-Fi 6 access points there are models with 10-gigabit optics and 1-gigabit copper, the most interesting models of the mid-price range are connected via a 2.5-Gigabit or 5-Gigabit Ethernet network.

If you've spent the last six months on the Moon and don't know what Ethernet speeds you'll need for Wi-Fi 6, here's a simple table of what speeds are used in which Wi-Fi 6 access points.

Speed characteristics and connection types of Wi - Fi 6 access points of different classes

entry level

middle level

top level

Hi-End

Number of 2.4 GHz spatial streams

2x2

2x2 to 4х4

4x4

4x4

Number of spatial streams 5 GHz

2x2

4x4

8x8

8х8 to 12х12

Theoretical speed, Gbit/s

1.2

3.6

4.9

10.75

Connection type

1GBase-T

2.5GBase-T

5GBase-T

10GBase-T, 10G SFP+

Link to review

Zyxel NWA110

TP-Link EAP660 HD

Huawei AirEngine 5760-51

Huawei AirEngine 8760-X1-Pro

Average retail price, USD

140

220

600

1200

Cable type when connected at rated speed at different distances when powered by PoE

10 meters

CAT5E copper-plated

30 meters

CAT5 copper-plated

CAT5E copper-plated

CAT6
copper

CAT6
copper

100 meters

CAT5E copper

CAT5E copper

CAT6
copper

CAT6A
copper

Usage optic fiber

impractical

appropriate

Of course, of all the multi-gigabit, the most interesting standard is 2.5 GBase-T, since it allows you to "free" increase the network speed by 2.5 times compared to 1 Gigabit with the same cable infrastructure, that is, with the same CAT5E cable. In our tests earlier, we were convinced that on cables with a copper core, the speed of 2.5 gigabits per second is achieved at a distance of up to 100 meters, and on cheap cables with a copper core-up to 30 meters. Both are sufficient distances to place access points under the ceiling in assembly halls or between long spans.

The 5GBase-T standard will require a 250-megahertz cable of the 6th category, the laying of which can become so expensive that it is better to immediately throw optics or a 500-megahertz CAT7 cable under the "ten" for the future, and at a short distance from the switch, the type of cable does not matter, and CAT5E is quite enough for itself.

Not all multi-gigabit switches are equally useful. To get the proud title of "multi-gigabit", it is enough to take a regular copper "gigabit", hang on it a pair of 2.5 GBase-T ports, which will make the maximum contribution to the rise in price of the device, add a pair of 10G SFP+ slots for optics - and voila!

Мультигигабитный коммутатор

We made review a similar switch from Zyxel, and it is quite a viable solution for Low-cost installations or office applications for connecting NASes. But real multi-gigabit switches for building Wi - Fi 6 networks, of course support all types of speeds on all ports, have management functions, and support PoE.

A typical example of such a switch created for Wi-Fi 6, the model Zyxel XS1930-12HP, we considered earlier. That is, there is no shortage of multi-gigabit switches on the market today, but I can not say this about network cards.

AQuantia AQC107 - thank you for cheap 10G

In the world of network controllers, everything is much more boring: there are only two real, mass-produced sets of multi-gigabit logic that are sold, installed and supported by vendors: Intel X550 and Aquantia AQC107 (we compared both solutions earlier). Somewhere in nature there are Realtek and Broadcom BCM84880 chips, but this is such a rarity that you can only take them at your own risk, and the risk here is high, and that's why.

In general, the idea of a high-speed network over a copper cable is moving extremely hard: everything above 1GBase-T has compatibility problems, somewhere at the PHY level, which manifests itself in such simple things as, for example, a switch that does not see a network card, or connects no higher than 1 Gbit/s, and even a saint by the standards of Intel network technologies here managed to inherit: Intel X550-T2 network cards tend to fly out of one of the ports (I did not believe it until the port burned on one of the boards in testlab), X540-T2 does not connect to all switches, and in general it happens that setting the link to 2.5 Gbit/s, the Wi-Fi access point does not want to give out a speed higher than 900 Mbit/s, no matter what you do. You have to change switches, change ports, try different cables, and the cheaper and simpler the multi-gigabit equipment, the less problems arise with it, and Aquantia AQC107 does not have these difficulties. This chip was originally made for the HEDT segment of desktop computers, and maybe because of the built-in PHY, maybe because of the single-port or simplicity, but it is the least demanding. I have been using the AQuantia AQC107 add-in for a long time on a working computer running Windows 10, and it left the best impressions.

Yes, the AQuantia AQC107 is a gaming network controller that began to gain popularity in the business segment only after the purchase of the developer company by chipmaker Marvell, and today there are full network cards on this chip from gaming brands Asus ROG, from Gigabyte, for which b2b networks are not a priority. From the same Zyxel, you can at least demand the protection of the project in the tender and the presence of a replacement fund in the guarantee, plus compatibility with your own switches and access points to preserve monobrandness, so of course it makes sense to overpay for the brand here.

Zyxel XGN100C

In technical terms, the Zyxel XGN100C looks exactly the same as other network cards on the AQC107: this chip does not require any complex strapping or external PHY: in addition to the small chip of the controller itself, only filters and power wiring are located on the board. Among them, there is a thermal sensor in the area under the radiator, although there is no indication of it in the drivers.

Unlike many gaming network cards, the Zyxel NG100C comes with full-profile and low-profile slats, and the design of the port is very interesting - the board has a cutout under it, and the steel pad itself acts as a stop for the RJ45 chip. And perhaps, with the exception of this moment, the rest of the fee does not stand out.

Zyxel XGN100F

In general, a Wi-Fi connection via optics should be made when you have an unfavorable electromagnetic background, large distances between devices, or there is a potential difference between the "ground" at two connection points. Today, given that the optical cable is much cheaper than a twisted pair of categories 6 and higher, I would say that optics should always be used. There are not all these intermediate speeds like 2.5 G and 5G, because there is no problem with replacing the cable: both 1G, 10G and 25G work on the same pair, and if we do not talk about the distance in kilometers and speeds in 100G, then you can not think about the quality of the cable at all.

The choice of NIC for optics, as a rule, also comes down to the dilemma of "Intel X520 or all the others", and here Intel-a has no problems with hardware: this is an old board, a real long - lived one, but it is a model of compatibility and a standard of reliability. So why would anyone buy a Zyxel XGN100F?

The heart of the controller is the AQuantia AQC100 chip, about which as little is known as about its older brother, the AQC107, well, except that the lack of PHY in the chip case made it quite indecently small: 7x11 mm. Among the standard functions for unloading traffic, there are: Large Send Offload and TCP/UDP checksum offload, and for parallelizing the load across cores - Receive Side Scaling. As you can see, the set is frankly not professional at all, and even SR-IOV is not supported by this adapter.

However, there are two points that you should pay attention to: the first is the support for a huge frame size( jumbo frame), as much as 16384 bytes, and the second is the unrealistically low power consumption of the card without a transceiver: only about 1 watt. This allows you to install Zyxel NG100F network cards in ultra-compact Edge cases, where there are restrictions on both the length and TDP, but as for the frame size, values above 4096 bytes in Ethernet networks do not give anything, except for compatibility problems.

In general, so far everything boils down to the fact that Zyxel has released a very useful, timely and necessary network card for twisted pair and a terribly overrated card for optics, which, if there is a cheaper and more functional Intel X520 adapter on sale, it is generally unclear who needs it and why. Well, maybe testing will put everything in its place.

Testing

If you're looking for a 10-gigabit network controller for your infrastructure, here's what you need to know: Linux has good built-in drivers for all modern network chips, regardless of the transmission medium. Under Windows 10, only drivers for Aquantia AQC107 are integrated, and under AQC100 - you need to install from the site. Under Windows Server 2019, drivers for both Intel and Aquantia must be installed from the manufacturer's website.

As for the diverse traffic offloads, Windows 10 will not support them anywhere, so a stream of 10 Gbit/s with a packet size of 512 bytes easily consumes 2-4 GHz of the processor's frequency capacity (read about the frequency capacity here) only for network needs. Under Windows 2019, AQuantia and Intel network cards support hardware packet offloading, and as a result, a stream of 10 Gbit/s with the same 512-byte packets consumes about 100-200 MHz. Under Linux, the situation depends on the distribution.

Without using large packages, with the default settings, you will have a speed of about 2 Gbit/s, which is confirmed by our tests. This limitation is due to the ability of the network interface processors to handle the flow of network packets, and it means that without manipulating the settings, in most cases, a 10-gigabit network card will not win over a 2.5-gigabit one, because the chip is the same.

P2P speed and latency measurement

Intel X520-DA2

Zyxel NG100F (AQuantia ARC100)

Intel X550-T2

Zyxel NG100C (AQuantia AQC107)

Interface

SFP+

10GBase-T

Speed at different packet sizes, Mbit/s

512 bytes jumbo = off

1428

926

1024 bytes jumbo = off

1787

1802

1512 bytes jumbo = off

1991

1922

4096 bytes jumbo = 4k

6900

3265

9012 bytes jumbo = 9k

9984

7932

32 Kbytes jumbo = 9k

9984

9976

CPU usage, %

512 bytes jumbo = off

8

2

35

2

1024 bytes jumbo = off

4

3

25

18

1512 bytes jumbo = off

4

2

18

22

4096 bytes jumbo = 4k

17

16

10

24

9012 bytes jumbo = 9k

20

12

4

32

32 Kbytes jumbo = 9K

20

12

6

34

Responce time, ms. psping -q - i 0 -n 10s

1GBase-T

0.69

0.62

2.5GBase-T

0.78

0.61

5GBase-T

0.64

0.52

10G

0.48

0.53

0.65

0.52

Tests show that Zyxel adapters are not inferior to Intel server solutions, which are still widely used today, and even I would say that at intermediate speeds of 2.5GBase-T they work definitely better. For maximum performance on a copper cable, change the Jumbo Frame value from Off to 9 Kbytes in the network card settings, and in most cases this will be enough to reveal the performance of the network interface. As for network delays, Zyxel's wired 5GBase-T connection gives about the same response time as 10G in optics, but the Intel X520-DA2 is still unattainable in this parameter.

Conclusions

In general, I can say that today network cards on Aquantia chips are not inferior to their "server" counterparts, and can be used in projects. Zyxel provides the XGN100C and XGN100F models with a limited 5-year warranty, which is slightly longer than the usual network equipment. But here it should be noted that unlike network switches and access points, which are the main product for Zyxel, network cards are a typical reference from the developer, not particularly distinguished from the rest. The retail cost of Zyxel network cards is prohibitively high compared to competitors, and the real price is already important in projects for the customer, where monobrandness and the ability to meet warranty requirements are valued. With this, Zyxel is traditionally all right.

Michael Degtjarev (aka LIKE OFF)
01/04.2021


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