Portable and Powerful 2.5 GbE iperf3 Server Capable of 3 Gbps – Topton M6 Mini PC

After using FriendlyElec R5S single-board computer as a portable iperf3 server, I decided to also order and test Topton M6 Mini PC. It is more powerful, based on Intel CPU, and runs Windows 11 Pro or Ubuntu. I personally chose Windows (yes, I am brave), mainly because I also wanted to use this device as a Windows Wi-Fi client for other things than iperf3 testing.

Dimensions and case

Compared to the R5S, Topton M6 Mini PC is still portable, but about twice as large. Plastic case wraps the unit, but it is more fragile if you plan to carry it in your backpack or tool bag. There is a built-in fan which is always on. Not a big deal if you use it as an perf3 server, but little inconvenient when it runs on your desk for a longer period of time.

iperf3 performance

Topton M6 has a single onboard 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet port consistently capable of 2.35 Gbps up and down iperf3 throughput with default settings.

Consistent 2.35 Gbps iperf3 throughput

Now, can we make it go faster? Let’s see. We will use USB-A 5 Gigabit Ethernet capable Sabrent adapter. This can either be connected to a USB-A port or USB-C port of the Mini PC. In my tests, I have found that the USB-C port has limited throughput and only tops around 350 Mbps. When I connected the Sabrent 5GbE adapter to USB-C, it only auto negotiated 1 Gbps Full Duxplex.

Use any of the three USB-A 3.1 ports instead to avoid that limitation.

Use USB-A ports, not the USB-C
With the USB adapter, we get 2.94 Gbps down and 3.27 Gbps up

With the USB adapter, the whole setup get less portable. But it allows us to achieve 2.94 Gbps down and 3.27 Gbps up from clients perspective. Is it worth the extra spend? If you need to break the 2.35 Gbps barrier of the built-in 2.5 GbE port, this might be a workable solution for you.

Power adapter with an adapter

This Mini PC is quite strict when it comes to its power source. It requires 12V/2A USB-C PD adapter. Unfortunately, your USB-C MacBook or iPad chargers won’t work.

It draws around 7.5 Watts in idle mode.

If you happen to only use this PC in the US, happy days, as the power adapter ships with US plug. If you select UK during the ordering process, you will receive the US power adapter with UK adapter, which adds to its overall size.

My way around this is to use a standard non-USB-PD 12V/2A adapter with 5.5×2.1mm barrel jack connector, and a barrel jack to USB-C adapter. This particular “power brick” has a standard IEC C14 power cable connector, which you can find in any data centre and with the right European, UK, or Australian plug.

Power adapter with barrel jack + barrel jack 5.5×2.1mm to USB-C adapter
Detail of barrel jack 5.5×2.1mm to USB-C adapter

Battery power

Simply use a USB-C cable and USB PD battery pack capable of delivering 12V/2A. No surprises there.

Powered by PoE

I prefer powering equipment using PoE over local power bricks. If you are in the same boat, you can power this Mini PC by a PoE splitter.

Please pay close attention to the splitter specs. We want the one with a barrel jack and 12V/2A. Since the Mini PC uses USB-C power connector, we will use a barrel jack 5.5×2.1mm to USB-C adapter. Here is the complete setup. Press the power button and voila!

Under the hood

Most of the components are soldered to the main board with little room for upgrades. I ordered the lowest 8GB DDR4 and 128GB NVMe spec with Windows 11 Pro OEM preinstalled (no actual Windows license included).

I was hoping for the Wi-Fi adapter to be replaceable, but it is not the case. It is Intel AX201 and soldered to the board. Good enough, just not ideal for Wi-Fi professionals. M.2 slot would be ideal.

A quick look at the bottom side of the PCB shows the NVMe drive.

NVMe drive is practically the only replaceable component

Final verdict

Personally, I think this Mini PC has some great potential for certain use cases, but as an iperf3 server, I would rather use the FriendlyElec NanoPi R5S I reviewed here.

If you absolutely need to break the 2.3 Gbps barrier, it can be done with the help of a USB 5 GbE adapter, but it is not very cost effective. The Mini PC cost me £186 including shipping to the UK. The Sabrent 5GbE USB adapter costs around £65.

Finally, it you need top performance, don’t care that much about small form factor, and money is no object, the latest Apple M1 Mac Mini can be configured with built-in 10 GbE.

Portable and affordable 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet iperf3 Server – FriendlyElec NanoPi R5S

What problem am I trying to solve?

Wi-Fi standards have developed and also WAN links are fast and reasonably priced these days. When it comes to throughput testing tools like iperf3 servers, 1 Gigabit Ethernet has become a bottleneck. A Wi-Fi 6E client can now easily generate more than 1 Gbps of traffic, but how do we measure it?

To overcome that issue, I am looking for a reasonably priced portable single-board computer, which can push more than 1 Gbps of traffic. It should be powered via USB-C, battery, or PoE powered, and should be portable to fit in my “just in case I need it” tool bag.

FriendlyElec NanoPi R5S

This little FriendlyElec NanoPi R5S single-board computer (SBC) delivers everything I mentioned above. Let’s have a look.

Dimensions and case

It comes with a well designed aluminium case, which also serves as a heatsink. The whole unit is smaller than the smallest iPhone, slightly thicker obviously. It runs silent. There is no built-in fan whatsoever.

Portable? Tick! By the way, did you know that the original WLAN Pi uses NanoPi NEO2?
Left to right: WLAN Pi, R5S, Intel-based SBC I am also testing, WLAN Pi Pro

Ports

USB-C power input, two 2.5 GbE, one 1 GbE, HDMI useful troubleshooting or demos, two USB-A 3.0 ports

It has two 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet interfaces (LAN1 and LAN2) and one 1 Gigabit Ethernet interface (WAN). Either of the LAN ports delivers 2.3 Gbps of actual useful iperf3 throughput with default 1500-byte MTU and single stream. I used MacBook with OWC 10 Gigabit Ethernet Thunderbolt 3 Adapter and Cisco WS-C3560CX-8XPD switch.

From client’s perspective that’s 2.27 Gbps down and 2.35 Gbps up

Power

The R5S only draws 4 Watts in idle, and can be powered by any USB-C 5V power source. Your MacBook USB-C charger, iPad/iPhone charger, or USB-C battery pack would do. Alternatively, use a 1 Gigabit Ethernet 5V PoE splitter and PoE power the unit. In my lab with a 2 meter cable, the 1 Gigabit Ethernet PoE splitter actually allowed the R5S auto negotiate stable 2.5 Gbps connection with the switch.

PoE powered

Software

FriedlyElec built and published two operating system SD card images for the R5S – Ubuntu and FriendlyWRT. I tested both, and for my use case FriendlyWRT works best. It has a network-centric and easy to use web UI, has iperf3 preinstalled, and delivers great performance.

Initial setup and tips

R5S ships without any micro SD card, so make sure you have one ready to use. Flash the software image to it using Balena Etcher or similar tool.

Connect the WAN port to a network with existing DHCP server. If you are in the same subnet, simply ping FriendlyWrt.local to get the IP address of the R5S.

Then access the web UI or SSH to the unit, SSH is enabled by default. Change the root password now.

Now, this is important! To achieve maximum throughput, delete the pre-configured bridge interface br0, and configure both multigigabit eth1 (LAN1 port) and eth2 (LAN2 port) as standalone unbridged interfaces. Also, tweak IP address settings to your liking while you are there.

eth1 configured as a standalone interface. Bridge interface removed.

Make iperf3 automatically start by going to System > Startup > Local Startup and add iperf3 -s and hit the Save button.

Change CPU Governor setting to Performance. And CPU Minimum Frequency to the maximum value.

Here is the FriendlyElec documentation and introduction to their FriendlyWRT distribution.

Final verdict

This little single-board computer absolutely deserves its space in my tool bag. For the 2 GB RAM model with case I paid $88 including shipping to the UK. Add a Micro SD card and that’s all you need to get started.

Finally, it you need top performance, don’t care that much about small form factor, and money is no object, the latest Apple M1 Mac Mini can be configured with built-in 10 GbE.