Since NIC card receives data from memory in parallel, does it perform the transmission over the link serially? if yes, how?

Thank you.

  • 1
    I bet if you spent 30 seconds of quality time with Google, you would find your answer.
    – Ron Trunk
    Jan 25, 2016 at 1:06
  • I am sorry if the question was rude. I did google it but couldn't find the precise answer. If this post is not suitable, I will delete it. My apology Jan 25, 2016 at 1:08
  • Try "Nic serial parallel" in your search.
    – Ron Trunk
    Jan 25, 2016 at 1:08
  • BTW, your question isn't rude -- it's just that there is a wealth of information out there, and there is little point in just repeating it here.
    – Ron Trunk
    Jan 25, 2016 at 1:10
  • 1
    @RonTrunk Hi, You are right! 30 seconds of quality time with Google led me to this post.
    – Naveen
    Apr 26, 2021 at 23:43

3 Answers 3


If you think about it you already know the answer. To spur you along it is easier to think of optical cabling than copper to think through the example. With optical cabling there is one core for Tx, and one for Rx. This alone should be enough to answer your question, but with Wave division multiplexing it muddies the waters.

In answer to your question all information sent across an Ethernet network is sent serially. Multiplexing of any sort is sending multiple serial communications over the one core and is done by sending different channels over different wavelengths of light. However a fibre connection from an end device such as a server will generally only use one wavelength (e.g. 850nM for SX) to send all data serially over the wire. The same is true for copper connections. For up to FastEthernet 4 wires are needed as you have one pair for TX and another pair for Rx as they are electrically balanced.

Gigabit Ethernet over copper is slightly different as the signals are modulated over what is known as 4D-PAM5. What this means is that there are 4 signals over 5 voltages and 2 bits are sent at a time, however this is still classed as serial transmission, only with more information density. http://www.hardwaresecrets.com/how-gigabit-ethernet-works/


The reason many people gloss over this stuff is because if you actually look at the real details and not oversimplified models it's a massive rabbit hole.

Firstly Ethernet is not just one type of interface but a whole family of them with the fastest variant being TEN THOUSAND times faster than the slowest.

Secondly many moden interfaces don't fit nicely into either the tradtional paralell or serial model. Many moden interfaces use a multi-lane arrangement where multiple connections carry data in paralell but each "lane" has seperately managed bit timings and the receiver adds small delays to make up for timing skew and bring the data back into sync.

Generally frames are first transffered from main memory to a buffer in the medium access controller. The interface used will depend on the application, an on-chip MAC is likely to use a paralell interface. Old off-chip MACs also used parallel interfaces but nowadays serial interfaces are increasingly used. 10 gigabit and faster interfaces typically use multi-lane PCIe which isn't really either a tradtional paralell or a traditional serial interface.

The buffer inside the MAC is needed to decouple the timings on the Ethernet interface from the timings on the host interface.

The MAC decides when to transmit a frame (using CSMA/CD if needed) and transmits it at wire speed to the PHY. For 100 megabit and 1 gigabit systems the MAC to PHY interface is typically a narrow (2-8 bits) parallel interface, though serial interfaces are also sometimes used. For 10 gigabit and 25 gigabit I belive a fast LVDS serial interface is typically used. For higher speeds I believe a multi-lane interface built up out of fast LVDS serial links is used.

The phy takes the data from the MAC and re-encodes it for the wire. 10BASE-T uses manchester encoding. 100base-TX first passes the data through a 4B5B encoding process. This is then further encoded using "MLT-3" to reduce the effective frequency. 1000BASE-T uses multiple pairs in parallel, uses a multi-level encoding scheme to send multiple bits at the same time on the same pair and uses echo and crosstalk cancellation techniques to use all four pairs in both directions at the same time.

On fiber at speeds up to 25 gigabit data is sent serially on a single wavelength. At higher speeds a multi-lane approach is used with the lanes of data either being sent down multiple seperate fibers or on multiple wavelengths in the same fiber.


From Que Publishing

Serial Versus Parallel Information Transfer

Parallel Information Transfers

Parallel transfers use multiple "lanes" for data and programs, and in keeping with the 8 bits = 1 byte nature of computer information, most parallel transfers use multiples of 8. Parallel transfers take place between the following devices:

  • CPU and RAM
  • CPU and interface cards (see Chapter 8)
  • LPT (printer) port and parallel printer
  • SCSI port and SCSI devices
  • ATA/IDE host adapter and ATA/IDE drives
  • RAM and interface cards (either via the CPU or directly with DMA)

Serial Transfers

A serial transfer uses a single "lane" in the computer for information transfers. This sounds like a recipe for slowdowns, but it all depends on how fast the speed limit is on the "data highway."

The following ports and devices in the computer use serial transfers:

  • Serial (also called RS-232 or COM) ports and devices
  • USB (Universal Serial Bus) 1.1 and 2.0 ports and devices
  • Modems (which can be internal devices or can connect to serial or USB ports)
  • IEEE-1394 (FireWire, i.Link) ports and devices
  • Serial ATA (SATA) host adapters and drives
  • 2 downvotes? What's wrong with the information? Dec 21, 2016 at 18:17
  • It's a huge information dump with only one tiny nugget that is related to the question, and that one tiny nugget is outdated. Jan 4, 2017 at 17:44
  • @PeterGreen If the terms are outdated, that's an issue with the question itself, not my answer which directly addresses the question. My answer is 186 words. Your is 410 words, well over double mine. Jan 4, 2017 at 20:00
  • @RonRoyston, there is nothing wrong with the information you provide, however your answer doesn't address either (a) whether the communications of a NIC over a network link is serial or parallel nor (b) how a NIC could take data in parallel from the CPU/memory and transmit it over a serial link. While the information provided is accurate, it doesn't address the questions asked by the OP.
    – YLearn
    Jan 18, 2017 at 23:40
  • @YLearn, I reread this question and it seems different but i assume it's never been edited. I'm not sure about "NIC card receives data from memory in parallel" at all, i.e. I 'm not sure about the accuracy of the premise of the question. Agreed re precision of my answer. I'm no hardware expert... However, I know enough to know that all answers provided except mine are inaccurate. Jan 19, 2017 at 3:05

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