Sabrent USB 5-Gigabit Ethernet Adapter NT-SS5G on macOS Review

This is a review about the Sabrent USB 5-Gigabit Ethernet Adapter NT-SS5G. This review only covers my experience with macOS.




Summary:

  • Does NOT work on Apple M1 hardware (yet), no arm64e support
  • Does work with Apple Intel hardware. Also needs SIP off which might/should be a dealbreaker for some/most users!
  •  Due to the USB 3.1 Gen1 interface speed is limited to ~3.5Gbit!
  •  Based on AQC111U chipset by Marvell/Aquantia


I recently ordered this adapter on amazon to get faster ethernet connection to my TrueNAS server which is on a 10Gbit network. Unfortunately it is not really working with macOS Big Sur. I planned to use this dongle with my 2018 13" MacBook Pro and a new Mac mini M1, both running on the latest macOS Big Sur 11.1.

On the Mac mini M1 this dongle barely works at almost 1Gbit, actually it is just about 740Mbit. So that is useless because you got 1Gbit ethernet built-in and there are other cheap and actually working 1Gbit adapters if you need a second NIC.

On my 2018 13" MacBook Pro the dongle works more or less after installing the driver which you can download from the Sabrent website. The problem is that you need to disable System Integrity Protection (SIP). Also the supplied driver is based on old KEXT architecture, read more here. So sooner or later this dongle will not work until Marvell (which bought Aquantia) releases a compatible driver.

USB connection

Due to the USB 3.1 Gen1 interface, speed is limited to ~3.5Gbit. This is not a macOS issue but more of the design of the dongle itself. One can definitely question why the manufacturer combines a 5Gbit ethernet chipset with a 5Gbit USB interface which will only give you ~3.5Gbit due to USB protocol overhead.

Power consumption

on the MacBook is around 5 Watts in idle, going way up under load. No wonder the dongle gets pretty warm in use. However, this seems to be normal. My 10Gbit PCIe NIC (also Aquantia based, AQC107) in my Hackintosh also gets hot and needs a little fan pointed at it...

Conclusion

Right now I cannot recommend this dongle, no matter if you use it on a new M1 Mac or the Intel architecture. But hopefully Marvel/Sabrent will release a driver that is based on the new macOS extension platform and also supports the arm64e architecture for the M1 CPUs. I contacted Sabrent about this issue but did not get a respond yet.
EDIT: I got a respond from Sabrent support. They say that at this point the dongle is not supported by Apple M1 CPUs:

Hello,
Thank you for contacting Sabrent Support! I apologize for the inconvenience you are having with the adapter. Unfortunately, we do not have a driver that will work for Mac mini M1 running macOS Big Sur 11.1. The current driver has been released for intel but not for M1 so it will not work.
If you are still within 30 days of purchase we will respect your decision if you would like to return the item and contact the place of purchase.

There are a few 5Gbit ethernet dongles on the market right now, like Sonnet Solo5G, StarTech.Com and Qnap. But I guess none will work at this point, because they are all based on the same AQC111U chipset. Often the drivers which are provided are all the same, pacific.kext at version 1.4.12/13.

I just ordered the PLUGABLE 2.5G USB-C (USBC-E2500) ethernet adapter to see if this one works any better, although it has "only" 2.5Gbit speeds. I will review it as well in a few days.

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