A system for protocol processing in a computer network has an intelligent network interface card (INIC) or communication processing device (CPD) associated with a host computer. The INIC provides a fast-path that avoids protocol processing for most large multi-packet messages, greatly accelerating data communication. The INIC also assists the host for those message packets that are chosen for processing by host software layers. A communication control block for a message is defined that allows DMA controllers of the INIC to move data, free of headers, directly to or from a destination or source in the host. The context is stored in the INIC as a communication control block (CCB) that can be passed back to the host for message processing by the host. The INIC contains specialized hardware circuits that are much faster at their specific tasks than a general purpose CPU. A preferred embodiment includes a trio of pipelined processors with separate processors devoted to transmit, receive and management processing, with full duplex communication for four fast Ethernet nodes.