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Hot-rod your home network with multi-gig wired ethernet—for far less coin than you might think

Hot-rod your home network with multi-gig wired ethernet—for far less coin than you might think

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Hot-rod your home network with multi-gig wired ethernet—for far less coin than you might think

Computer storage mechanisms have become dramatically faster over the last decade or so. There was the 600MBps SATA interface and then 2- to 4GBps NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express). Even conventional hard drives have jumped from 125MBps to 250MBps. The top speed of gigabit ethernet? 125MBps, which means it’s now the bottleneck on your wired home network. You should upgrade.

“Wait,” you might be thinking, “isn’t ‘giga’ more than ‘mega?’” Yes, it is. But look at the second half of the words gigabit and megabyte: There are eight bits in one byte, so one gigabit equals 125 megabytes; hence, 1Gbps equals 125MBps.

Until very recently, any upgrade from gigabit ethernet to achieve faster media streaming and client backup has meant an investment in 10GbE (10-gigabit-per-second ethernet) equipment. As fantastic as 10GbE is, it has remained prohibitively expensive for the average consumer despite the fact that’s been on the market for 15 years. As a result, an intermediate standard—IEEE P802.3bz, aka multi-gig—was introduced in 2016: 2.5Gbps and 5Gbps ethernet (2.5GbE/5GbE).

Today, you’ll find very affordable PCIe and USB 2.5GbE adapters, and NAS boxes, enthusiast motherboards, and faster PCs increasingly support multi-gig. Interestingly, you’ll also encounter relatively affordable 10GbE switches as well as 10GbE/IEEE P802.3bz combo switches. Better yet, truly affordable 2.5GbE switches are also coming to market.

So, this is a great time to update—if you need the speed. To answer that question, let’s take the all-important sanity check.

qnap qsw 1105et QNAP

QNAP’s QSW-1105-5T has five 2.5GbE ports, but none of the other business-oriented features that would drive up its price tag, which is just $99.

Do you need multi-gig?

Beyond bragging rights, the average consumer doesn’t absolutely need multi-gig. Gigabit ethernet handles 1080p and even 2160p (given a low enough bit rate) video streams just fine—at least for a limited number of users. Client backups over gigabit ethernet aren’t much slower than vanilla USB, and generally fire off in the background where you won’t notice anyway. Also, 10/100/1000 ethernet is very power efficient compared to the faster standards.

On the other hand, when has anyone ever complained about a backup finishing sooner? And is it a bad thing that more people can stream high-def movies at the same time? Is anyone not buying a 4K UHD TV because it consumes more electricity? Of course not. More speed also opens up more possibilities.

Possibilities

Multi-gig networking makes feasible many activities that are simply too slow via gigabit ethernet. I’m talking about running virtual machines off your NAS box, controlling another household computer, and using your NAS as working storage rather than just for client backups and music, photo, and movie repositories. As you can see in the chart below, simply stepping up to 2.5GbE can deliver significant gains. 

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