As you know it's been a Very Bad Year for the hardware that populates DinkNET. Not a single box that was running in January 2011 is still running in December 2011. The one, tiny little bright spot in all this carnage was the fact that all the replacement hardware, a motley collection of refurbs and loss leader deals, came with 10/100/1000 NICs, making me think I could easily upgrade from my old 100Mbps and get some 21st century performance out of all this crap. So I bought a (cheap) Gigabit unmanaged switch and jacked all the hardware into it, expecting to be dazzled by the sheer speed of it all.
But reality threw me a "Not so fast, sucker" on that plan.
One box, although it was "new enough" to have a 10/100/1000 NIC inside did not, in fact have one. I had anticipated this and had ordered four of the cheapest gigabit NICs I could find. Five bucks each, unbranded, which turned out to be generically packaged RealTek 8169s (shown below).
I was fine with RealTek, although I learned later that the brand was somewhat universally disliked by Linux driver developers. Check out this comment:
The RealTek 8139 PCI NIC redefines the meaning of 'low end.' This is probably the worst PCI ethernet controller ever made, with the possible exception of the FEAST chip made by SMC. The 8139 supports bus-master DMA, but it has a terrible interface that nullifies any performance gains that bus-master DMA usually offers.
Srsly? All I ever used were RTL8129s & RTL8139s (in the 90s I used a variety of NE2000 clones but let's not go there... the memories are too painful... and don't get me started on 3com 3C905s!).
Anyway, it was a Good Thing that I bought four of them because I ended up disabling every built-in 10/100/1000 NIC on the network. They were all Broadcom, using the Linux tg2 (Tigon 2) driver. After that, three out of four boxes talked to each other at full gigabit speed.
The slowpoke is the BOT House box, which is still running Debian 4.0r0, as it has been for nearly four years now. The Windows 7 box I bought earlier this year did not have a Broadcom chipset (it was RealTek - go figure) and doesn't have a problem running full speed on the network now.
Enter The Fifth Box, my old WinXP dog. Recently brought back from the dead to work on PoTTY 0.62, I installed the last $5 RealTek NIC to bring it up to speed. No luck. This is typical of the results I'm getting:
I get maybe 30 seconds of "near gigabit" speed and it immediately drops to 100 megabit-ish territory, regardless of being set to autonegotiate or 1Gbps/full duplex.
Considering that particular box is going back to the boneyard, it's probably not a Big Deal, but I'm still Mighty Pissed and Quite Disillusioned by the entire experience.