iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






USB-to-Ethernet: CATC and 3COM Adapters

Today plenty of companies are involved into production of USB-to-Ethernet adapters. And today we will speak about two models that we have tested in our lab - CATC NetMate(TM) Link and 3COM USB Network Interface (3C19250).


Unfortunately, both adapters lack for either a package or drivers, that is why the first thing for us to do was to find the required drivers on the Net.

Use and technical characteristics

The adapters are designed to connect a computer with a USB connector to the Ethernet network with a twisted-pair cable at the data rate of 10 Mbit/s.

  • Ethernet interface: ISO 8802/3, IEEE 802.3 compatibility, RJ-45 connector
  • USB interface: USB v1.0, v1.1 compatibility, USB-B connector
  • Memory size: 32 KBytes SRAM cache for data; 1 KBytes NVRAM for configuration storage
  • Data rate up to 8 Mbit/s, depending on a PC, operating system and a network protocol
  • Current drain from a USB port: 200 mA for the CATC Netmate(TM) and 300 mA for the 3COM
  • OS support: Microsoft Windows 9x, Microsoft Windows 2000, Apple MacOS for the CATC NetMate and Microsoft Windows 9x (and Windows 2000 with the drivers from third parties) for the 3COM
  • Dimensions: 27 x 92 x 67 mm of the CATC Netmate(TM) and 25 x 55 x 67 mm of the 3COM
  • Weight: 70 g

CATC Netmate(TM) Link Adapter

The adapter looks like a rectangular box with a ribbed side panel, a light gray upper lid and a dark gray lower surface. The lower panel has 4 soft rubber-like plastic legs to prevent slipping of the adapter on a desk. On the upper panel you can find an oval LED which works in two modes: when on the Ethernet it glows steadily, and when connected to the USB it flashes. Both connectors (USB and RJ-45) are located near each other, on the side panel of the adapter.

Installation and connection

The drivers have a user-friendly installer which will ask you to reconnect the adapter to the USB port to make it ready for work. The drivers are supplied with two utilities: CatcDiag and Usbready. The former can test the operation of the adapter both with the USB interface and when on the Ethernet. The latter will help you check whether your OS supports USB devices correctly.

Highs: Plenty of drivers for a great deal of operating systems.

Lows: Relatively big device, the connectors are placed not very conveniently.

3COM USB Network Interface Adapter (3C19250)

This adapter is twice smaller than the CATC Netmate due to the more compact and two-sided layout of components. The adapter has no legs. But since the USB and RJ-45 connectors are located on the opposite sides of the case UTP and USB cables look like a single whole, i.e. like one cable, with the adapter being just a bulge. This model has two LEDs: one signals that the adapter is connected to the network, while the other indicates activity on the net. The LEDs are located on the upper edge of the RJ-45 connector, that is why you have to turn it by 180 degrees to make sure it works.

Installation and connection

The installation procedure was ordinary: being connected to the USB the adapter was detected by the system and then the system installed the drivers after I typed in the path. After that the device was ready to start working.

3COM has probably forgotten about this adapter: it took us a lot of time to find drivers for the Windows 9x. Drivers for the Windows 2000 are absent at all. The photo shows that this model comes with the KL5KUSB101 controller from Kawasaki LSI U.S.A. Inc., on the site of which we have found drivers for this OS. But in order to make the Windows 2000 install these drivers, you have to change parameters of the Vendor and Device ID in the file klsienet.inf from 05E9 and 0008 to 0506 and 03E8, respectively.

Highs: Compact design, better location of the external connectors.

Lows: Lack of support for operating systems different from Windows 9X/ME


Both adapters perform worse than a usual network card which has a 7-10% lead in the Windows 98 and Windows 2000. Besides, you shouldn't wait for adapters for 100 Mbit/s Ethernet with USB 1.x interface; this might become possible only in case of wide popularity of the USB 2.x or in case of transition to the FireWire.

The USB-to-Ethernet adapters are obviously not the essentials for a home or office network. But if you often repair or connect strange computers to your network this adapter may be a good helper. These adapters will suit subnotebooks which often ship with only one PCMCIA slot and lack for an FDD or a CD-ROM drive, and which lack for a possibility to expand with the help of PCMCIA devices after such drives are connected. A notebook owner can also use such a adapter, but he'd better purchase a network card of the PCMCIA format (as it provides a higher speed). Besides, you can make use of such an adapter for connection to a network when none of the expansion slots on your motherboard is free.

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