A few months ago we did a USB 3.1 Gen1 to 5GbE Network Adapter Guide and one of the most requested items after publishing was a request to test the QNA-UC5G1T. This has sat in the review pipeline, but we finally have a chance to publish our review. We are going to answer the question of whether the QNAP QNA-UC5G1T is a solid USB 3.1 to 5GbE adapter, and what some of the limitations are.
USB 3.1 to 5GbE Video
Update: Since we have this series, we made a video talking about the first three units and what we saw when testing:
You can check out a summary of the three options we tested in that video. As always, we suggest opening the video in its own YouTube tab. This video will help provide the background for this review.
QNAP QNA-UC5G1T Hardware Overview
The QNAP QNA-UC5G1T adapter is a relatively simple unit.
Since this did not get the video treatment of the other units, we have a version lit with colored lights:
Overall, this is not the most exciting unit, but it is mostly metal which is nice from a durability perspective.
On one end we get a 5GBase-T port which one connects RJ45 cabling to.,
On the other end, we get a USB Type-C port. Effectively we have a large metal chassis with the network on one end and USB on the other.
A nice feature is that QNAP also includes a USB Type-C to Type-A cable with this unit. That may not seem like a big deal, but it makes the unit more flexible than if it had a fixed cable. If you do not need this because you are using Type-C to Type-C, then there is still a good chance this can be put to use for another reason.
In the 5GbE class, the cost is higher than the 2.5GbE generation so we prefer having a metal chassis that QNAP delivers on. This unit also has better cooling than many.
QNAPQNA-UC5G1TUSB to 5GbE Network Adapter Setup
Even though the NIC uses the Aquantia AQC111U which is now a Marvell offering, QNAP is not just allowing this to be a generic card. Our test systems did not work out of the box on Windows 10 so we had to install drivers. You can see below that the unit shows up as a QNAP QNA-UC5G1T instead of a generic Aquantia device.
Once we got the NIC installed, everything worked as expected. Still, this is not the best user experience. There are a number of features such as VLAN tagging and Jumbo Frames that one may want to change after setting up the NIC in the standard network adapter configuration, but everything was where we expected.
One item that we did not experience, but we heard feedback that others have, is with VLAN tagging and enforcement. We are simply going to note that others have had this challenge, so if this is an important feature to you, take that into consideration. You can, tag at the switch but it can be preferable to do so at the NIC.
QNAP QNA-UC5G1T USB 5GbE NIC Performance
The performance was, what we would expect now that this is the fourth adapter in our review series. Still, we recognize that this may be different than a normal consumer may expect. We tried this in a number of different configurations including TinyMiniMicro nodes from Dell, HPE, and Lenovo. We tried ThreadRipper based systems, Core i9 systems. We tried USB 3.1 Gen1 and Gen2 ports. We tried going through Netgear and MikroTik switches. We also tried multiple targets. The results remained fairly consistent. Our iperf3 results topped out around 3.44-3.45Gbps. This is common for these solutions.
Something that we have seen before is that adding Jumbo Frames actually meant we had slightly worse performance.
Here is the adapter utilization while running these tests since that is a point readers wanted to see:
We saw slightly higher CPU utilization with this unit versus some other units with 11% here instead of 9% with the StarTech and 10% with the Sabrent. Our test system for this screenshot was hitting clocks of 3.80GHz which was the same as the Sabrent. For comparison, the TRENDnet unit which used its own drivers from 2019 was around 17% here so QNAP is a bit ahead.
The big question for many is why we have a 5GbE adapter that is only delivering 3.2-3.5Gbps of performance. This seems to be a USB 3.1 Gen1 adapter only, not a Gen2 device. We tried on over a dozen different systems and this only linked at USB 3.1 Gen1 speeds. We have some that suggested that we may not have had enough test system diversity even using over a dozen different systems on different platforms and vendors, however here is the block diagram for the AQC111U which shows it only has a USB 3.1 Gen1 PHY:
Practically, the overhead from a USB link that is only running at 5Gbps itself means that we are limited to the performance range we are seeing.
For a normal consumer, this means that although the NIC is capable of 5Gbps links to the network, it can only deliver around 3.2-3.5Gbps to the host USB system. We expect that now after testing a number of these adapters, but someone that has not read this review will not know this is the case.
Overall, we saw better performance than the TRENDnet unit, and close to the StarTech and Sabrent units from the QNAP adapter. Given that these adapters generally use the same network controller and USB host interface, performance is about what we would expect.
What the QNAP QNA-UC5G1T offers is metal housing and flexible cabling, both of which are top-tier in terms of the units we have tested. From that standpoint, we have a very good mix of physical attributes and the same chip we have seen in other adapters of this class.
Something we do not like is that the performance is around 30% lower than a consumer that has not read our reviews may expect. Many of our readers know why this delta exists just from USB overheads, but it is still a challenge for all of these adapters trying to gain the trust of customers. It will be up to our readers to decide if adding ~1Gbps is worth paying twice what we see many 2.5GbE adapters sell for. The limitations of Gen1 USB 3 make this a much less clear picture than it would be if these were Gen2 devices.
In terms of pricing, at around $79 street pricing. This was less than the StarTech and TRENDnet units, but also around 33% more than the Sabrent unit. Given that this is a robust/ flexible physical design, we think that we would recommend this over the StarTech and TRENDnet units, but if the Sabrent unit is less expensive we would probably recommend that instead. The TRENDnet unit has fallen in price to be a few dollars cheaper than this since we purchased these units, but given the issues we had with the TRENDnet version, we would recommend this over the TRENDnet. Overall, this is a good unit, so our recommendation is largely based on price.