Ethernet Network Interface Card vs. IB Network Interface Card

Posted on Feb 28, 2024 by

Network Interface Card (NIC) is an important component for network devices such as computers, switches, and routers to connect to external networks. It plays the role of an interface at the TCP/IP layer and is responsible for physical layer signal transmission and network layer data packet transmission, realizing communication between the computer or server and the data network. This article will introduce the components of a network card and the two types of network cards mainly used in data center servers: Ethernet network interface cards and IB network interface cards.

Components of Network Card

A network card typically consists of a controller, one or multiple network card ports, a bus interface, LED indicators, a bracket, and several other electronic components. Each component serves a unique function.

Components of Network Card

  • Controller: The controller serves as the core of the network adapter, directly influencing its performance. Similar to a small CPU, the controller processes the received data.

  • Network card ports: Typically, these ports directly connect to Ethernet cables or optical modules, enabling the transmission and reception of signals over the network cables or fiber optic jumpers.

  • Bus interface: Located on the side of the circuit board, the bus interface is inserted into the expansion slot on the computer motherboard, facilitating the connection between the network adapter and the computer or server.

  • Indicator light: The LED indicators assist users in identifying the operational status of the network adapter, such as network connectivity and data transmission. For example, "Link/Act" indicates the connection activity status, "Full" indicates full-duplex capability, and "Power" indicates the power status.

  • Bracket: In the PCI network card market, there are two types of brackets available: full-height brackets (120mm high) and half-height brackets (79.2mm high). These brackets help users secure the network adapter in the expansion slot of their computer or server.

What Is an Ethernet Network Interface Card?

An Ethernet network interface card is inserted into the motherboard slot, supporting the Ethernet protocol standard. Each network card has a globally unique physical address, called a MAC address. In the network, data can be accurately sent to the destination computer based on the MAC address of the network card. There are many types of Ethernet network interface cards, which are divided in many ways according to hardware form, network interface type, speed, etc.

Hardware form: It can be divided into PCIe and OCP2.0/3.0, which are also the current mainstream. The difference is shown in the figure below on the left (OCP3.0) and on the right (PCIe). The OCP network card can be directly plugged in, which is easy to maintain and saves one PCIe slot for other card functions. The PCIe network card needs to open the model cover to be installed.

OCP vs. PCIe

Network interface type: Electrical port and optical port. The Ethernet network interface card with the optical port is generally called a fiber optic Ethernet network interface card, which follows the fiber optic Ethernet communication protocol and is usually connected to a fiber optic Ethernet switch using a fiber optic cable. It is also the most widely used type of network card currently. The following picture shows the difference in appearance.

Electrical port and optical port

Network card speed: It is mainly divided into 1G, 10G, 25G, 40G, 50G, 100G, 200G, 400G, etc.

Server Shipment Share %

What Is an InfiniBand Network Interface Card?

InfiniBand is a high-speed, low-latency interconnect technology primarily used in data centers and HPC environments. Also check-InfiniBand Network and Architecture Overview. The InfiniBand architecture defines a complete set of hardware components necessary to deploy the architecture, and the IB network card is one of them. There are some advantages of InfiniBand network cards:

1. IB network cards provide the highest performance and most scalable interconnect solutions for servers and storage systems.

2. IB NICs are an ideal solution for HPC clusters that require high bandwidth, high message rates and low latency to achieve high server efficiency and application productivity.

3. IB NICs offload protocol processing and data movement from the CPU to the interconnect, maximizing CPU efficiency.

Ethernet NIC vs. IB NIC: How to Choose?

InfiniBand and Ethernet are two different data center network communication technologies. They have differences in design goals, transmission rate and delay, reliability and scalability, cost and maintenance, and applicable fields. Also check-InfiniBand vs. Ethernet: What Are They? There are also some differences between Ethernet cards and InfiniBand network cards. Understanding them can help you make a better choice.

  • Performance: Compared with Ethernet NICs, the advantages of IB NICs are high-speed transmission, low latency and scalability. The main advantages of Ethernet network cards are standardization and wide support.

  • Application: IB network cards are usually used in data centers and HPC environments, while Ethernet is widely used in enterprise networks, Internet access, home networks and other fields.

  • Cost: The cost of Ethernet network cards is relatively low, while using IB network cards requires supporting IB switches, cables, etc., and the cost is high.

Therefore, the choice of Ethernet network interface card or IB network card needs to be based on the actual network needs of the business.

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