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I am in the process of buying a dell server hosting a database and a web application and a low volume website.

I am wondering what differences do the NICs make? Dell is quoting me with a Broadcom 5716 Gigabit w/o TOE which is default, but I see other choices.

How are those better?

Thanks for the comments. I will most likely be using ubuntu and I guess I will need to do some research.

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Anecdotal... blog.serverfault.com/post/broadcom-die-mutha –  Zoredache Sep 29 '11 at 7:47
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Subjective thoughts: Intel NICS are more expensive for a reason. You always get quality. –  pauska Sep 29 '11 at 8:12

3 Answers 3

The main difference I have found is in driver stability.

I've had a fair amount of experience with Dell 1950/R410/R610 1U servers running RedHat, and we had such stability problems with an R610 running RHEL5 as a backup server/NFS client (Isilon NFS Server) that we decided to stop using the onboard Broadcom PHYs and installed Intel PCIe Dual GigE NICs. It only failed under heavy load, but it did fail. Another 1950 with Broadcom PHYs also had stability problems under heavy NFS load.

RedHat later fixed the R610 problem by issuing new Broadcom drivers, but by that point I no longer had any confidence in the Broadcom drivers. Even after getting the updated drivers, we got slightly better throughput from the Intel GigE interfaces. (We were not, however, using TOE.)

If you know which OS you're going to use, I strongly recommend searching your OS's support site for Broadcom related driver issues before you settle on them.

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Some NICs have features that others don't, so it depends on whether or not you would use the features of the more expensive NIC. A lot of times these features are geared towards virtualization. Sometimes they can be useful towards website hosting, such as NIC teaming. Intel NICs are generally more expensive, mainly just because they're "Intel", but they are still very good NICs. Also as the above blog post suggests, drivers are better with Intel if you're using Windows.

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Say you are in a company there milliseconds matter. Like a financial company. You can get network cards with a CPU built in so it doesn't have to wait to offload it's work to the CPU saving you milliseconds.

So that could be the difference in a trade making you a lot more money since things are trading in milliseconds these days.

Also.. get a broadcom NIC in the Linux world with heavy traffic and you'll see why so many Linux admins curse out broadcom

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