good commodity NIC

Michael Stein mas at ucla.edu
Tue Oct 23 15:09:33 EDT 2001


>   Does anyone have recommendations for a reasonably affordable (preferably < 
> $30-$40) 10/100Mbps NIC? I would like to go with a 3Com card, and obviously, 
> Linux compatability is very important. We've had a number of problems with 
> the 3Com OfficeConnect card and etherboot as well as a few other programs. 
> We're planning on channel bonding these; 4 to a node.

How about Netgear FA310tx 10/100 NICs?  About $20 each and uses a clone
tulip chip.  Probably not the very best as I see 90 Mbit/sec instead of
94 Mbit/sec with netperf.

Beware, though, that the first time I tried etherboot, it's tulip driver
failed for me.   This was with a clone tulip based NIC.  More tests showed
that the driver worked on a 10 Mbit port and also worked on 100 Mbit
ports with the original (non-clone) Digital tulip chip Netgear FA310tx.

I've heard that the etherboot tulip driver was originally based on the
Linux tulip driver source; however parts weren't being used (interrupts)
and it clearly hadn't been tested as much as the real Linux driver.

So it seems that while etherboot network card drivers are derived
from others sources which work, they are modified and running in an
enviroment not even slightly close to the original.  And they haven't
been tested/used enought to "generally" work.

  - - - 

I want a "magic floppy" which will boot in (almost?) any machine and
bring up a full linux system via booting over the network and running
in RAM (no local disk usage).

The target machines are campus wide and various NICs are expected.
Security during the netboot and on the active system is required.
(Who are you really booting from?  Is the data unaltered?)

Since there isn't time (or even access to the machine with the next
NIC) before use, I want a network boot scheme which would have a high
probability of working the first time I try it.  Due to the above driver
problem Etherboot isn't it.  Probably GRUB is in the same category since
I've heard it uses etherboot's drivers.

I have only two candidates so far: netboot and a linux kernel.

Netboot uses old DOS drivers (including packet drivers).  These seem
to be reasonably well tested and are supplied by the manufacturer of
the NIC (and others).  This is what I've been using for the same subnet
case (and without security).  Netboot has the disadvantages that it's
developed using strange 16 bit tools and doesn't run 32 bit (or support
adding 32 bit C code).  In addition a separate floppy is needed for
each NIC/driver.  It has the advantage that it's small, less than 100KB,
even with the packet driver.  I've seen it boot on machines which due
to floppy problems wouldn't boot anything else...

Booting a linux kernel seems to be the other approach.  Since the goal
is to run linux this removes any driver problems since if the linux
driver doesn't work, linux over the net isn't going to work either.
I'm assuming a cut down kernel is booted from floppy and it uses two
kernel monte to switch to the real kernel.

However the Linux kernel is quite large and it's not clear how much it
can be cut down.  It needs to be a current/recent kernel so that the
network drivers are current.

Any other ideas?  Comments?

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