When I get asked what is the best PCIe x1 Gigabit Ethernet adapter today, I quickly answer the Intel Gigabit CT Desktop adapter without hesitation. Although it may seem disingenuous to many to recommend a desktop adapter for servers, I have about a half-dozen of these adapters and they have become my go-to choice whenever I see an open PCIe x1 slot on a motherboard.
What then did the Intel Gigabit CT Desktop adapter do to garner this kind of support both from myself and many others? Simple, the Gigabit CT Desktop adapter packs an Intel 82574L controller. Readers familiar with this site know that I am a big fan of these network controllers because they work with just about every server operating system around. They are very popular used as onboard Ethernet controllers on ASUS, Intel, Supermicro, Tyan, Gigabyte server boards. With the huge installed base, the controller, and thus the Intel Gigabit CT Desktop adapter will be supported for a long time to come. VMware ESXi 4.x works well with the 82574L as does Microsoft Windows, just about every major Linux derivation, FreeBSD (including FreeNAS), and Solaris. As a result, this is a piece of hardware than can be used for a long time even if other components change.
As one can see, the Desktop CT adapter is a low profile part and is not exceedingly long. For those users looking for an Intel upgrade to Realtek onboard NICs, the diminutive stature of the Desktop CT adapter actually means that on consumer motherboards like the ASUS P67 Sabertooth, a GPU in the primary PCIe x16 slot will likely have sufficient airflow even with one of these installed in the PCIe x1 slot. Performance wise, when I am attached to decently fast storage I regularly see transfers (even from a few sources into this NIC) in excess of 120MB/s in Windows 7, so the performance is there.
If you are looking for a PCIe x1 Gigabit Ethernet adapter there are cheaper choices out there. For a server, one would be hard pressed to find a PCIe x1 Ethernet adapter with the operating system support that the Desktop CT adapter provides with its Intel 82574L chip set. For those looking to purchase the card, they typically cost $30-40 looking at Amazon.com‘s multitude of sellers and ebay is generally close on price with some used adapters being slightly less expensive. Newer Intel controllers do have some great features, but for a PCIe x1 interface, and the relatively low cost of this adapter compared to its virtually universal support, it is my top recommendation in this area.
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