Intel Ethernet Server Adapter I350T2 Dual port, for ESXi 5.5 home lab

Posted by Paul Braren on Sep 24 2013 in
  • ESXi
  • Network
  • Reviews
  • Here's a quick look at the Intel I350T2 Dual Port Ethernet Server Adapter, found on Amazon or Newegg for around $135 USD, with a nice Intel Product Brief here:

    The Intel® Ethernet Server Adapter I350 family includes Intel® Virtualization Technology for connectivity (Intel® VT-c) to deliver I/O virtualization and Quality of Service (QoS) features designed directly into the controller on the adapter.

    In a virtualized environment, a VM can be assigned to a virtual controller to reduce the CPU overhead seen when using a software-based network bridge by offoading network traffic management to the controller.


    Energy Efficient Ethernet (EEE)
    The Intel Ethernet Server Adapter I350 family supports the IEEE802.3az Energy Efficient Ethernet (EEE) standard so that, during periods of low network activity, EEE reduces the power consumption of an Ethernet connection by negotiating with a compliant EEE switch port to transition to a low power idle (LPI) state. This reduces the controller power to approximately 50% of its normal operating power, saving power on the network port and the switch port. As soon as increased network traffic is detected, the controller and the switch quickly come back to full power to handle the increased network traffic. EEE is supported for both 1000BASE-T and 100BASE-TX.

    DMA Coalescing
    Another power management technology that can reduce power on the server platform is DMA coalescing (DMAC). Typically, when a packet arrives at a server, DMA calls are made to transfer the packet within the server. These calls wake up the processor, memory and other system components from a lower power state in order to perform the tasks required to handle the incoming packet.

    and a very helpful comparison grid, where the Intel I350T2  jumps out as fitting my home lab needs

    • moderately affordable
    • small form factor
    • low watt burn
    • dual ports
    • iSCSI acceleration
    • all the latest virtualization features, including  VMware NetQue, and SR-IOV.

    Here's an Amazon buyer review by CJ.

    Intel did a great job with the chipset and the PCIe 4x interface. The card can guarantee full line speed for both gigabit interfaces (tx and rx combined) and near 10GE low latency numbers. In fact, this card reduced our network latency to 0.06ms compared to our older e1000 server card which averaged 0.23ms on a local gigabit network. If you are serving data which needs very low latency like DNS, NTP (time) or even web data take a look at a good network card.

    Intel lists the specs here, and of course, it's on the VMware Compatibility Guide here, right up to ESXi 5.5

    I've tested the I350T2 with 5.5 myself these past weeks, and it works well. While it's unlikely I'll be fully taking advantage of the advanced virtualization features like SR-IOV or I/OAT (which requires some effort), it'll be good to learn them, especially now that ESXi 5.5 is finally GA. I'll add those experiences over time to the bottom of this article.

    At least driver support is probably be one less thing I'll need to worry about for years to come, since this modern I350 family of adapters is pretty new, announced in 1Q2012. Contrast that with Broadcom, who haven't released a PCIe card in years that'd suit the home lab.

    See also:
    Think Before You Buy… PCI vs PCI-E Gigabit NICs by VMware's Brian Graf, Jun 06 2013.
    Install VMware ESXi 5.x with Intel i210 and Intel i350 Ethernet Adapters by Patrick Kennedy, Jun 19 2013.

    Realtek 8168 Software Components.
    Realtek 8168 Gigabit Ethernet Hardware Status view in vSphere Web Client
    Realtek 8168 Gigabit Ethernet Network Status view in vSphere Web Client.

    Similar to what I did in Nov 2011 here, I'll be doing some casual speed tests of 3 NICs that span quite a spectrum of price points, to see if there's any significant different between them in the ESXi 5.5 home lab environment: