As we recently did a USB 3.0 to 2.5GbE adapter review series, we wanted to take a look at the next step up the chain, 5GbE USB adapters. Up first is our TRENDnet TUC-ET5G USB Type-C to 5GbE NIC review.
USB 3.1 to 5GbE Video
Update: Since we have this series, we made a video talking about the three units and what we saw when testing:
You can check out a summary of the three options we tested in that video.
TRENDnet TUC-ET5G Overview
The TUC-ET5G is a relatively simple device. On one hand, we get a RJ45 port capable of 5GbE speeds. The USB 3.1/ 3.0 and PWR labels below this port are for two LEDs that come on when it is connected.
The other end is a USB Type-C connector. This is quite significant. The other units we are testing have adapters or different cables bundled to be used in either Type-C or Type-A ports. Inherently, this makes TRENDnet’s solution less flexible.
The side of the unit has holes to vent heat. The unit gets very warm even with these vents. We also will note that he chassis itself is made from plastic not metal like some competitive offerings.
Overall, this is a very simple unit from a hardware standpoint.
TRENDnet TUC-ET5G USB 5GbE Network Adapter Setup
In Windows 10, the TUC-ET5G is not as simple to setup as the Realtek based 2.5GbE USB 3 adapters. We did some searching, and the NIC uses the Aquantia AQC111U which is now a Marvell offering. We could not get the newest Marvell drivers to work, so we had to use the TRENDnet drivers. One can see that these have not been updated since the “Initial Release” in October 2019.
The driver installation package will trigger Microsoft Defender SmartScreen.
Once we got the card 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.
TRENDnet TUC-ET5G USB 5GbE NIC Performance
The performance was, let us just say, not as we expected. 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.
Something we wanted to note is that we swapped to 9K Jumbo Frames and performance went down slightly. This was extremely consistent.
We saw relatively similar performance when we did actual file transfers in this 400MB/s range.
We have had feedback on doing these USB adapter reviews around CPU utilization. We generally saw 14-17% on a Core i7-8700T which is a 6 core / 12 thread CPU depending on the type of traffic we were running and when fully saturating the NIC. We will note that on the higher-end Intel Core i9 and AMD Threadripper machines the CPU utilization was lower and performance did not improve so we seem to be hitting a limitation well below the USB limit.
Overall, that is acceptable CPU utilization if you are just trying to add a larger pipe for doing transfers.
The bigger question is why we have a 5GbE adapter that is only delivering 3.2-3.4Gbps of performance. This seems to be a USB 3.1 Gen1 adapter only, not a Gen2 device. From the documentation, TRENDnet only says it is a USB 3.0/ 3.1 device, not mentioning the generation. To be fair, USB naming is horrible. Effectively, the USB port is limited to 5Gbps and so with overheads, we cannot get full 5GbE performance. Being fair here, we are clearly around 1Gbps over a 2.5GbE adapter speed, but we are not what a user might expect.
Operational Consistency a Deal Breaker
As part of our testing on whether it was a test setup, or a device being USB 3.1 Gen1 (5Gbps) capable only, we tried a huge number of configurations just to get diversity. Saying that there is a limitation on a device like this is a big one. We not only tried over a dozen different systems, multiple switches, cables, and network configurations, but we also tried working on these over time. Something that we saw very consistently in Windows 10 was that the adapter would just stop and say “Network cable unplugged.” Note: this is #2 in this system because of a re-installation effort after it happened previously.
We saw this on two of our initial systems. What we did was we just initiated copies from the system the adapter was connected to a NAS with an Optane P4800X drive non-stop. Every system we tested was unable to complete 24 hours of this testing non-stop. Sometimes (e.g. when that screenshot was taken) it would happen after only a few minutes. In a world where we expect that a NIC works 24×7, this did not.
Note, this could be a driver issue, but we checked the morning of this publication and TRENDnet still has the same driver from October 2019 as its latest. We will also note that the other USB to 5GbE adapters we tested did not see the same issue.
We purchased this unit on Amazon for $59.99. It is now $89.99. For those curious, yes review cycles are long, especially when we run into this type of finding and end up purchasing every device we can in its class. To be fair, the other USB 3.1 Gen1 units that will have reviews soon also stop in the 3.2-3.4Gbps range. Still, this is the marketing effort by TRENDnet on Amazon:
As one can see, there is an image showing 5Gbps here. Specifically, it is showing a “speed test” where a notebook using WiFi gets up to “5000Mbps” on the meter that does not reach anywhere near that high. The “Wired Connection” showing its adapter hits 5000Mbps on the meter. We tested, and this should, at most, hit ~3500Mbps as the USB 3.1 Gen1 implementation has overhead that limits actual throughput. Showing 5000Mbps is disingenuous here.
We were wondering how a product like this got 4-stars on Amazon. There, users saw similar speeds and found that one can use Thermal Throttling settings to prevent overheating and dropping like we experienced. That also impacts performance so it seems as though this is a rough product.
In summary, we have a product that is advertised as not just 5GbE, but 5000Mbps. It is not 5000Mbps capable due to only being capable of 5Gbps USB 3.1 Gen1 speeds where there are additional overheads. We do get performance beyond 2.5GbE which is good. It also seems to drop links and require restarts that are not in-line with modern industry standards in this class of product. While this unit may have a driver fix, it uses TRENDnet drivers that have not been updated since October 2019. It is at the higher end of the price scale for these adapters even while being limited to Type-C only connectivity.
The TUC-ET5G is not without merit. It allows for quick transfers beyond 2.5GbE speeds so long as the link holds. Getting another 1Gbps and over 100MB/s moving data can be very helpful. Still, after seeing the performance of this one, we are now doing an industry survey and can say this is an option we would avoid in the market.