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Cheap network hardware

Steve DeLassus reminded me that NICs are dirt-cheap at right now. A Netgear FA311 runs $10.50 after rebate. (Hint: these cards use the NatSemi module in Linux, and yes, you have to have a pretty recent distribution to have that module, though you can certainly download the source and compile it if you want.)
A Netgear 4-port 100-meg hub runs about 35 bucks. A Netgear 5-port 10/100 switch runs about 40. Very nice. Pricing at is very similar.

If you prefer a tier-1 NIC, you can pick up Intel cards for $19 at Or if $10.50 will break you, you can get a generic RealTek-based card from Directron for $9.50 (it uses the rtl8139 module; 8139too will work as well, but the prior module is better). Be aware that the RealTek 8139 is anything but a high-end chip; and generic 8139s ought to be considered tier-3 cards. But if you’re on a budget and need something that’ll work with Linux, no questions asked, it’ll do.

Cheap cables? Directron’s got 7-footers for 3 bucks. Your choice of a 14′ or 25′ is 5 bucks. Pricing at is even a little lower.

I built my first home network in late 1998. I bought a SOHOware kit that included a 4-port 10-meg hub, a pair of 25′ cables, and a pair of 10/100 PCI NICs with a DEC Tulip knockoff chipset. I was pretty proud of myself for finding it for less than $100. That hub fell over dead within a few months. Now for that price you can have first-tier stuff.

I’m out of here for a couple of days. I’ve sent Steve DeLassus some stuff that he can post while I’m gone, so things shouldn’t be too different around here. Unless Steve decides he wants to write something, that is, in which case you’ll just see a marked increase in quality that day…

Well, and you won’t see immediate responses to comments from me.

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5 thoughts on “Cheap network hardware”

  1. Oh. Duh. I forgot about Wal-Mart selling PCs without operating systems online. A 1-GHz Duron or Celeron with 128 MB RAM and a 40-gig 5400 RPM hard drive will set you back $399. A 1.4 GHz Athlon with 256 megs runs $499. The line goes on up to a 2 GHz P4 with 256 megs for $868.

    One of those would make a nice low-end Linux box and saves you the Windows tax.

    As for quality, I can tell from the picture they aren’t using 100% Tier-1 components. You won’t get the price point that low without some compromises.

    If you just want a cheap Windows box, you can search PriceWatch for a Windows license. You can get Win95 for under $30 if you’re careful.

    Here’s the link.

  2. I used to like Netgear equipment; I own a couple of their 4-port 10/100 hubs at home that work fine.


    Over Christmas break we had some 3COM 10Mbit 24-port hubs die (after 7 years), and we picked up a couple of Netgear 24-port 10/100 hubs (it was what we could find locally). After a month, each of them has 1 or 2 dead ports! Not just one has failed, but both.

    So we have resolved to not buy more Netgear equipment for the current time.

    BTW, we think we’ve found end-of-life on the 3COM Superstack II’s – 7 years. We had to replace 4 of these in the last 3 months.

  3. I just had a port on my 3Com 4-port 10Mbps hub bite the dust on me the other day. Granted, it’s just an OfficeConnect hub. But for $40, I have no problem buying a 5-port Netgear switch that *may* die after three years. By then, I’ll probably want more network bandwidth anyway.

  4. I’ve got a 4 port 100Mbps Netgear hub that has worked flawlessly for over a year and a half for me. Plus three netgear 310 cards that have worked like a champ.

  5. Yeah, but the 24-port 3COMs were "managed" hubs which cost over $1500 each. They have a lifetime warranty, so in theory we can get them fixed, but who wants a 10MBit hub even if it does have 24 ports?

    The 24-port Netgears were a disappointment, losing at least one port on each of the two we bought after a month or so. We are working on a plan to rebuild using 24 port 10/100 switches (probably HP) and will send the Netgears out to be fixed at that time. I had to go fish out an ancient 10MBit 3COM unmanaged hub to get the hub cabinet back up to enough ports.

    And my racks have some really odd shelves – 3COM Superstack II hubs work well for that .

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