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Intel PRO/1000 MT Gigabit Network Adapter

Overview

Intel PRO/1000 MT The Intel PRO/1000 MT network card has the advantage of being compatible with just about every variation of operating system you can imagine. Windows Vista, XP, Server 2003 and 2008, NT 4.0, and Windows 2000 Server are supported in standard 32 bit and 64 bit forms.

If you want to play around with other operating systems it supports Unix, Linux, FreeBSD, OS/2, DOS and Mac OS.

It works in both standard PCI 2.2 and PCI-X slots. Other varients of the PRO series come in PCI Express. The server versions of the PRO series are identical to the non-server versions, except they can include up to four ethernet ports and have the option of PCI-X.

The server versions are physically longer at 16.5cm (6.5in) than home versions in order to support the longer PCI-X slot. This shouldn't be a problem for most users because this is still shorter than most graphics cards, but it might be an issue for people with smaller cases.

Performance

Intel PRO/1000 MT Chipset While I'm certain this card performs well as a Gigabit ethernet adapter a server, that's not the focus of this review. In some gaming circles this card (and other Intel PRO cards with the same chipset) is being touted as providing lower latency in multiplayer games compared to an integrated network card. Other manufacturers have picked up on this as well, as with the Killer Xeno Pro.

The idea is that the chipset of the card offloads some of the processing tasks that would normally be done by the CPU. This lets the CPU spend more time working on the actual game, rather than auxiliary tasks. The card also has several other features [PDF] that are meant to improve performance. These features are important for when the card is in a high bandwidth situation, as in a server, but will it really matter on DSL or cable internet connection?

Benchmarks

Let's start with a benchmark that is not CPU limited, the original Halo for PC. Halo is single-threaded, which means it will only use one of the four available CPU cores. This leaves three to process other tasks, such as running the ethernet connection.

To compare the Intel card, I'll be using the integrated Gigabit Realtek TRL8168C adapter that is used in a large number of recent motherboards.

The Intel card is the only device using the PCI bus, so this should not be a limiting factor. The Realtek adapter uses PCIe. Therefore, both devices internal bandwidth shouldn't be an issue.

Data points were collected from the same server nine times with an interval of three seconds.

 Comparison of Latency with Only Halo Utilizing Internet Connection
 Device  Min/Max Latency (ms)  Average Latency (ms)
Intel PRO/1000 MT 67/100 89.2
Realtek Integrated NIC 67/101 89.1

Now I'll run Prime95 SmallFFT with four threads. This simulates a game that uses all four cores, making the game CPU-limited.

 Comparison of Latency Halo and Prime95 SmallFFT in the Background
 Device  Min/Max Latency (ms)  Average Latency (ms)
Intel PRO/1000 MT 66/100 77.6
Realtek Integrated NIC 66/100 66.6

Now, what about a fully utilized internet connection? For this test I loaded up the official Ubuntu ISO torrent, and let it saturate both upload and download speed.

 Comparison of Latency with Halo and Bittorrent in the Background
 Device  Min/Max Latency (ms)  Average Latency (ms)
Intel PRO/1000 MT 200/435 317.0
Realtek Integrated NIC 1066/1868 1347.6

Next, here's the CPU load on a Core 2 Quad Q8200 @ 3.01Ghz with just the Ubuntu ISO torrent.

 CPU Load with Bittorrent
 Device  Minimum  Maximum
Intel PRO/1000 MT <1% 1%
Realtek Integrated NIC <1% 2%

Finally, let's compare the two using SiSoftSandra's synthetic benchmark on a normal 10/100 connection. The test was run five times on each device in order to rule out any transients.

 Bandwidth and Latency With SiSoftSandra LAN Benchmark
 Device  Min/Max Bandwidth  Average Bandwidth  Min/Max Latency (µs)  Average Latency (µs)
Intel PRO/1000 MT 6.00/6.03 MB/s 6.018 MB/s 480/491 486.6
Realtek Integrated NIC 6.01/6.04 MB/s 6.026 MB/s 487/508 492.8

Conclusion

It seems that the gamer and average home user will see little advantage with the Intel PRO/1000 MT over an integrated network device. The only real advantage for the Intel card was multiplayer latency when running a torrent full tilt in the background. The easiest way to nullify this problem is to tune your upload and download speeds to avoid saturating the internet connection.

I'm sure this card has real advantages in a server enviroment, or perhaps transferring files on a Gigabit network, but for the average user it's not worth the price for performance benefit. However, the real advantage of the Intel card is being supported on almost every operating system released in the last 15 years. Having an internet connection right off the bat in any operating system makes installation and subsequent updates much easier.

More Information

Computer Hardware

  • Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 2.33Ghz @ 3.01Ghz
  • GigaByte GA-EP45-UD3R Motherboard
  • 2x 2GB OCZ Reaper HPC 1066 @ 1030Mhz
  • ATI Radeon 4850 512MB built by Sapphire

Kevin Castor Jul. 30th 2009 kcas88@gmail.com

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