Today, we have an exciting update to give on our USB Network Native Driver for ESXi Fling which has had two updates since releasing earlier this year and has been extremely well received by the VMware community. As many of you know, I am always on the look out for new and innovative tech that can help enable our customers, especially when it comes to building home labs to learn about the latest and greatest VMware software.
UPDATE (06/08/20) - QNAP has just published the updated firmware for their QNA-UC5G1T USB NIC which resolves some of the performance issue observed with the initial release.
Several months back, I came to learn about a really cool USB-based Multi-Gigabit Network Adapter (QNA-UC5G1T) from QNAP which can negotiate with speeds up to 1Gbps, 2.5Gbps and 5Gbps. I was not familiar with the multi-gig specification but it it looks like it was created as a standard back in 2016 as IEEE 802.3bz. This initially evolved from advancements in wireless technology but more recently it started to make its way into ethernet-based devices.
Although this particular device is from QNAP, the underlying chipset is actually from Aquantia, now part of Marvell. If the name sounds familiar, it should as Aquantia is also the vendor to Apple for their 10GbE NICs in both the 2018 Mac Mini and new iMac Pros. In fact, their chipsets are also used in a number of Thunderbolt 3 to 10GbE NICs which also works with ESXi. Access to 10GbE is certainly more common these days but it certainly is not for everyone and not all platforms can be expanded to support it.
The QNA-UC5G1T device is not only small but because it is USB-based, you are more likely to have spare USB ports on your system than say a traditional PCIe slot or Thunderbolt 3 port. From a cost standpoint, this device is about half the cost of the 10GbE Thunderbolt adapter coming in at $79 USD and can be ordered from Amazon. As far as I know, QNAP is the only vendor who has produced a multi-gig USB adapter, but perhaps in the future, there will be other vendors.
Over the last couple of months, we have been working hard to get this device enabled for ESXi and thanks to the hard work from Songtao (VMware Engineer) and the folks from Aquantia, we now have our very first release which is included as part of the latest Fling v1.2 release. I think this device will enable some new and interesting possibilities for VMware-based Home Labs, especially for those needing additional bandwidth and connectivity without requiring additional investments into network infrastructure.
Note: During the development of this driver, we had access to a newer version of the Aquantia firmware which was required for the device to function. This device may not be recognized by ESXi until the new firmware is made available to the general public by Aquantia, which should happen in the coming weeks.
One additional thing to be aware of is that although the underlying chipset can go up to 5Gbps, because the physical device is a USB 3.1 Gen 1, it is actually limited to about ~3.7Gbps. From our initial testing, we have also found that the speed can vary based on the type of USB controller found in a system and you may want to try different ports to see which will give you the best performance. Speaking of performance, from my limited testing via iPerf, I have been able to achieve the following:
|Intel 6th Gen NUC
|USB 3.0 (Type-A)
|Intel Hades Canyon NUC
|USB 3.1 (USB-C)
We certainly will continue to look at how we can improve the performance in the future and if you have any feedback or comments, please drop us a note on the Fling page which is monitored by both myself and Songtao.