Aquantia AQtion NICs bring 5 Gbps Ethernet to a PCIe slot near you

Gigabit Ethernet has been around for what seems like forever. The standard is so ubiquitous that TR staff has discussed no longer mentioning the presence of standard-issue network adapters in motherboards and other PC hardware. The 10GBASE-T standard has been in place since the middle of the last decade, but the requirement for pricey Cat 6 cable and the substantial work needed to replace existing installations has stymied its adoption. Meanwhile, the IEEE 802.3bz 2.5GBASE-T and 5GBASE-T standards ratified last year allow for extra bandwidth on existing cabling, but desktop NICs with support for the new technology have been few and far between. We've only seen a few mobos with the new adapters, and Asus' ROG Areion NIC. Aquantia, a high-end network transceiver manufacturer, has announced a pair of cards that will make it easier to upgrade network speeds on existing PCs.

The Aquantia Aqtion AQN-108 is a PCIe card capable of pushing Ethernet packets at Gigabit, 2.5 Gbps, or 5 Gbps speeds over standard Cat 5e cabling. The higher-end AQN-107 model adds compatibility with 10GBASE-T networks when the appropriate Cat 6 wiring is used.

The company says both NICs are available immediately, though we were unable to find them at our favorite e-tailers just yet. The AQtion AQN-108 5Gbps NIC will go for $100, while the faster AQN-107 unit with broader compatibility should cost $130. In light of those prices, buyers might just want to wait until their motherboard maker of choice integrates an 802.3bz controller into its designs.

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    • freebird
    • 3 years ago

    Already got one integrated into my Asrock X370 Fata1ty Pro Gaming Mobo… It comes with: AQUANTIA® 5 Gigabit LAN (listed as AQN-108 in manual, website shows pic of a AQN-107, do they know the difference?) & Intel® Gigabit LAN

    Great Ryzen Mobo.

    • Bensam123
    • 3 years ago

    Unless it checks the wire it’s entirely possible to run 10GB on cat5e, the only reason for a higher cable standard is reducing the amount of crosstalk and signal degradation. Smaller run, less degradation. Ethernet is very robust and automatically drops out of modes if it can’t handle it. It still all uses the same number of wires, it is physically compatible.

    Not really a issue, the lack of entry level equipment on the other hand… Good ol’ chicken and the egg problem.

    • davidbowser
    • 3 years ago

    I primarily see 2.5 and 5GB on Cat5e a a solution to corporate campus wiring problems where it would be an easier upgrade path for standard desktop/laptop refresh along with a new switch(es) for the floor of the building. Cat5 was common for like 10+ years and 5e about 10 years, but Cat6 isn’t compelling yet because of the lack of reasonable desktop 10GB adapters. If the 802.3bz standards take off for business grade equipment, the enthusiast crowd will likely get the trickle-down benefits.

    Server rooms are easy (fewer shorter cable runs) and most of the modern datacenters get “top of rack” upgrades when they do hardware refresh anyway, so 10GB with Cat6 or fiber was probably done a couple years ago.

    For me, the chances of me rewiring my house for Cat6 is effectively nil. I would gladly get a Ubiquiti 5GB switch though and upgrade NICs in servers or workstations. The other advantage to 802.3bz for enthusiasts is that it will give fatter pipes for the next gen wireless access points as they creep into the 1GB+ range.

      • Airmantharp
      • 3 years ago

      So 802.3bz 2.5/5Gb is the middle ground of the middle ground, then?

      I can live with that, though personally if I needed more than 1Gbit, I’d need [i<][b<]a lot[/b<][/i<] more ;).

      • shank15217
      • 3 years ago

      The solution isn’t to replace miles of copper wires or use stop gap solutions, its to go mpo optical cables across campus sites and use decent leaf switches and finally covering buildings with mimo wireless APs

    • Chrispy_
    • 3 years ago

    The NICs aren’t the problem though, the problem is a shortage of affordable switches to link 5Gbps-enabled devices together.

    Unmanaged Gigabit switches are like $10.
    Multi-port 10GbE switches are several thousand bucks.

    There is nothing in between, at least not in the EU consumer market….

      • morphine
      • 3 years ago

      While I don’t disagree… things have to start somewhere, and these NICs are as good a point as any. They’re not unreasonably priced for brand-new gear (from a high-end manufacturer, at that), and they’ll hopefully drive adoption.

      • EV42TMAN
      • 3 years ago

      I can’t exactly confirm the European market. But overall Chrispy has a point.

      To buy a 10 GBE switch from a main stream networking company is around $10,000. All of these 10 GBE switches are full Layer 3 or better switches because they can be used for SAN networks or Top of Rack switches in datacenters. All of these switches can do infinitely more then a home environment needs.

      The price jump is similar to going from a gigabit unmanaged switch to a Layer 3 managed switch. You’re going from $10-20 to $1500-2000 because your feature set just expanded exponentially.

      The other thought is that 10 GBE switches are really load so you may not want one right now if it has to be in the same room as your equipment.

      Technically if you want a 10GBE this is your cheapest solution for brand new products. [url<]https://store.ubnt.com/collections/routing-switching/products/unifi-switch-16-xg-beta[/url<] Personally I don't count Ubiquiti as a main stream product yet. In america they are home and small business products at best. But if I had to buy a 10GBE switch I'd buy Ubiquiti before I buy Netgear [url<]https://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16833122831&cm_re=XSM4316S-100NES-_-33-122-831-_-Product&nm_mc=AFC-C8Junction&cm_mmc=AFC-C8Junction-_-na-_-na-_-na&cm_sp=&AID=11552995&PID=1796839&SID=249011591[/url<]

        • droid126
        • 3 years ago

        I am really truly impressed with Ubiquiti. From March of 2013 until May of 2017 I installed 6 of their 802.11N APs and I never had to touch them again. The only issue we ever really had was with Playstation 3s, and a random canon camera. They refused to stay connected, never figured that one out.

        They were by far the lowest end piece of our network.
        We had more issues with Windstream’s provided Cisco ISR 3945, and the Adtran Netvanta Switch than the APs.

      • Waco
      • 3 years ago

      This. Until consumer 5 Gbps switches show up around $100…this is a nonstarter.

        • Krogoth
        • 3 years ago

        You will probably get your wish sometime next year or so.

          • Waco
          • 3 years ago

          I sure hope so.

        • Welch
        • 3 years ago

        I’d say $100 is hoping for a bit much if your talking about something like a $16 to 24 port switch. The majority of small offices run on either 16 or 24 port switches with little 8 ports here and there. Once you can pickup a 5gb 24 port unmanaged switch for about $300 and a managed one for sub $600 it will go more mainstream. At least that would be a buy in point where I can talk customers in adoption. If 5gb NICs were about $60 then I could probably justify the cost.

        Glad to see network speeds increasing. It was starting to feel a bit crowded with Gigabit ISP offerings.

          • Waco
          • 3 years ago

          16 to 24 port switches are pretty far beyond most consumer use cases.

          I was speaking to the far more common 5-8 port switches you can buy for a few tens of dollars now. If 5 Gbps 8 port switches breach $100, there will be a huge uptake on that.

      • the
      • 3 years ago

      I generally don’t disagree but there are a couple of units that do fit into the middle ground. For example, [url=https://www.asus.com/us/Networking/XG-U2008/<]the Asus XG-U2008[/url<] offers two 10 Gbit ports in addition to eight 1 Gbit ports, all of them unmanaged for ~$250 USD. [i<]Most[/i<] home applications would have the high speed ports connected to a home NAS as saturating a 1 Gbit link isn't difficult.

        • willmore
        • 3 years ago

        I need at least two higher speed ports. But, $250? That’s probably more than I’ve spent on switches in the last 5 years. An, with only two 10G ports, I *know* it won’t last as long as the multiport gigE switches have.

        We always seem to be in this inescapable twiligth before the dawn of 10G. We know the sunrise is coming, but damn if it isn’t taking it’s sweet time about it.

      • sandbender
      • 3 years ago

      An 8-port Netgear XS708Ev2 lists for 600EUR on amazon.de (and thats RJ-45, not SFP) and most $10 gigabit switches are not going to be able to switch gigabit across all ports at the same time (not that most people getting consumer grade switches actually need that but still… you get what you pay for).

      A trick I’ve used for some of my more cost constrained clients is put a multiport 10G card in the file server and then run a cross over cable between the server and the workstations that really need 10G. But this is only practical for 2-4 workstations. But there’s no loss of investment. When they’re ready to scale out they can put in a switch and aggregate the ports on the server.

        • Chrispy_
        • 3 years ago

        Wow, that is genuinely less than half the price I had in my mind for the “cheapest 10GigE switch” and yet that is still eye-wateringly expensive for what is essentially the alternative to a $3 crossover cable for most people that want to link their two primary machines.

          • MOSFET
          • 3 years ago

          No crossover needed these days (but you know that)

            • sandbender
            • 3 years ago

            It depends on the card(s). The official standard is Auto MDI-X, not all cards support it and those that do don’t always successfully negotiate a link with other vendors cards. I’m just old enough to have done a few installs with token-ring and 10b2 and just flip the pairs out of habit anyway (now get off my lawn!)

            A very helpful pointer/reminder though.

        • Klimax
        • 3 years ago

        If those cheap switches can switch at all sustained load. (like more then a minute of full traffic between two ports)

        Generally I get switches around 50 USD (after conversion from Czech prices including VAT) like TP-Link TL-SG1008. Quite sturdy and perform well.

        • Oem
        • 3 years ago

        This; in olden times a “switch” or “router” etc. was not a dedicated device but a role served by a general purpose machine with the right number of add-in ports and the appropriate software configuration. You’ve always been able to do this with a Windows or Linux box, and back when dedicated routers and switches weren’t dirt cheap I would start off (for each speed generation) with buying a few NICs and using an always-on PC as a hub; and before that, just a cable between the two machines that needed the higher speed connection most.

        TL;DR cheap-enough >1Gbps NICs mean there is an affordable, stepwise migration path to the next Ethernet speed today, without throwing away any of the equipment you buy along the route, or waiting for cheaper dedicated devices.

        Realistically only a handful of devices on my network (two or three most heavily used PCs) need or would noticeably benefit from the higher speeds between them, which matches perfectly with the strategy of connecting them via their own private (and inexpensive) autobahn while leaving the rest of the network on old-fashioned 1Gbps, for now.

      • droid126
      • 3 years ago

      While way more expensive than 1Ge switches, if you are the kind of person interested in faster home wired networking the $600 Ubiquiti US-16-XG is very reasonable. Ubiquiti kit tends to be more prosumer than enterprise too. looks like they are £443.43 on ebay.

      • MOSFET
      • 3 years ago

      I realize you’re probably talking about new switch pricing, but I should mention that for home users and lab testers, I picked up a Quanta LB6M (24 port 10Gb SFP+ and 4 port 10Gb-T) with dual PSUs for $299 about a year ago.

      • Krogoth
      • 3 years ago

      Relax, it almost six months after the spec got ratified by IEEE. You aren’t going be to seeing customer-tier networking equipment with it until sometime next year.

    • TwistedKestrel
    • 3 years ago

    That seems reasonably priced to me. The backwards/forwards compatible AQN-107 is interesting to me, as I thought it was going to be 5GbE OR 10GbE for a while and unlikely to have both on one NIC.

      • UberGerbil
      • 3 years ago

      Yeah. Maybe I’m just old, but I can remember when motherboards didn’t incorporate ethernet and spending $100 to get a gigabit NIC seemed completely reasonable (especially back when 100Mbps was the cheap standard and gigabit switches/routers cost a small fortune).

        • Krogoth
        • 3 years ago

        That wasn’t that long ago ago. You probably remember when 10/100 Mbit networks use to cost a small fortune while the rest of the SMB world back in the day was still riding riding on Token Rings, Thicknet or Thinnet.

          • davidbowser
          • 3 years ago

          Thinnet FTW!

          Just don’t forget your terminator on the end of the run!

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