SmartNIC vs NIC: How to Choose?

Posted on Oct 18, 2023

With the continuous surge of virtualization and microservices in the cloud, as well as the increasing utilization by mobile devices and cloud service providers, the rate of workload growth has outpaced the processing speed of traditional data center CPUs. Therefore, there is an urgent need for a solution that can achieve network function offloading and improve application performance. In this article, we will delve into the world of NICs and compare SmartNICs to standard NICs, shedding light on their differences and the unique functions they bring to the table. Provide guidance on how to choose the right product to address these evolving needs.

Network Interface card

What Is a Standard NIC?

Network Interface Cards (NICs) have been the workhorses of networking for decades. They are the hardware components that connect computers to networks, enabling communication between devices and the internet. Standard NICs are designed primarily for data transmission and reception, which are often used in data centers because of their reliability and robustness.

What Is a SmartNIC?

SmartNICs, are a new breed of network cards that go beyond the traditional role of data transmission. They are equipped with powerful processors, memory, and specialized hardware that enable a wide range of advanced functions. These functions include networking enhancements, storage acceleration, security features, and more. It is designed to offload and accelerate various network-related tasks from the host CPU, providing dedicated processing power and hardware capabilities to enhance network performance, security, and efficiency.

Differences Between Standard NICs and SmartNICs

Networking Functions

Standard NICs are primarily designed to handle basic networking tasks such as packet forwarding, segmentation, and checksum offloading. While they perform these tasks admirably, SmartNICs take networking to a whole new level. SmartNICs can implement complex networking functions like packet filtering, load balancing, and Quality of Service (QoS) enforcement directly on the card itself, offloading these tasks from the host CPU. This results in lower latency, reduced CPU utilization, and improved overall network performance.

Nowadays, many conventional network cards also have advanced network functions, such as E810CAM2-2CP, which supports various network protocols such as Ethernet, TCP/IP, UDP/IP, etc. It has advanced functions such as On chip QoS and Traffic Management, iWARP/RDMA, RoCEv2/RDMA, Intelligent Offloads, and storage functions for iSCSIs and NFS.

Storage Functions

SmartNICs excel in storage acceleration, making them ideal for modern data-intensive applications. They can offload storage functions like Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA), iSCSI, and NVMe over Fabrics, improving data transfer speeds and reducing CPU overhead. standard NICs, in contrast, lack the hardware and processing capabilities required for these storage-intensive tasks.

Offloading Tasks from CPU to SmartNIC

One of the most significant advantages of SmartNICs is their ability to offload a wide range of tasks from the host CPU. This includes not only networking and storage functions but also security tasks like firewall processing and Intrusion Detection System (IDS) checks. By shifting these tasks to the SmartNIC, the host CPU is freed up to focus on application-specific processing, resulting in improved application performance and reduced server sprawl.

Network Adapter

How to Choose Between Standard NICs and SmartNICs?

When contemplating the choice between standard NICs and SmartNICs, it's crucial to assess your specific networking needs and use case. Standard NICs provide dependable, fundamental network connectivity, which is typically sufficient for everyday networking tasks. However, when the demand for higher performance, lower latency, and advanced features arises, smart NICs become an enticing option. Here's a more detailed exploration of the factors to consider:

  • Performance and Speed: If your applications demand superior network performance, lower latency, and advanced features such as load balancing, storage acceleration, SmartNICs may be the better choice. They can offload and accelerate various tasks, improving overall performance.

  • Workload and Use Case: Consider the nature of your workloads and use cases. SmartNICs are particularly advantageous in data-intensive scenarios, virtualization environments, machine learning and cloud services, where advanced networking and storage functions are essential.

  • Budget and Cost: Evaluate your budget constraints. SmartNICs are generally more expensive than standard NICs due to their advanced features. If cost is a significant factor, standard NICs may be a more economical choice.


In the realm of network connectivity, we often find ourselves at a crossroads, contemplating the choice between regular network interface cards (NICs) and smartnics. At this juncture, FS offer a range of Intel Based Ethernet Adapters, providing our customers with cost-effective solutions. These adapters have undergone rigorous testing and certification to ensure comprehensive compatibility with a wide range of operating systems and management programs. The E810CAM2-2CP, for example, which stands out for its advanced functionality include: On-Chip QoS and Traffic Management, iWARP/RDMA, RoCEv2/RDMA, Intelligent Offloads and Storage Functions. This Intel-based Ethernet adapter, with its compatibility and advanced features, provides a balanced and reliable solution for those seeking optimal network performance and functionality.

In addition to our featured NIC solution, we also offer Mellanox SmartNICs for those requiring cutting-edge networking capabilities. In collaboration with Mellanox Technologies, these SmartNICs unlock a realm of possibilities for network enhancement, offloading, and security. Whether you choose our advanced NIC or opt for SmartNICs, FS stands ready to cater to your networking requirements, ensuring that your network performs optimally, securely, and efficiently.

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