How To Setup Gigabit Ethernet

Gigabit ethernet promises to be 10 times as fast as typical wired networks, but it can require a complete replacement of your existing networking equipment. Here we’ll describe the benefits of gigabit ethernet and describe everything you’ll need to make the switch.

The Benefits of Gigabit Ethernet

Typical ethernet, also called fast ethernet or 100BASE-TX, can send a maximum of about 12 megabytes a second from one computer to another. Gigabit ethernet can send 120 megabytes a second–making it 10 times faster. It’s called gigabit because it sends 1 gigabit a second, but most computer users think in terms of bytes–not bits–and it takes 8 bits to make a byte.

Gigabit Ethernet Networking Equipment

Here’s a quick comparison of what you can do with each network type:

Typical Ethernet

  • Watch up to 3 DVD-quality films over the network simultaneously
  • Watch 1 Blu-ray high-definition-film over the network
  • Copy about half a gigabyte a minute from one computer to another
  • See more articles about Networking Tips.

Gigabit Ethernet

  • Watch up to 30 DVD-quality films over the network simultaneously
  • Watch up to 10 Blu-ray high-definition-films over the network simultaneously
  • Copy about 6 gigabytes a minute from one computer to another

Do I Need Gigabit Ethernet?

Look, who doesn’t want fast internet? Everyone I know does. But when you are relying on the internet for your living then speed and reliability is important. But unfortunately there are good and bad points to Gigabit Ethernet.

The Drawbacks of Gigabit Ethernet

The primary drawback of gigabit ethernet is replacing all of your network equipment, which can cost hundreds of dollars for a multi-computer home or small office and be a major inconvenience. This drawback isn’t a concern if you’re building a new network or you begin using gigabit-capable components in your current network until everything suddenly runs gigabit.

The only other drawback of gigabit ethernet is that components cost slightly more. Every year, the price for gigabit ethernet components drop closer to the prices for typical ethernet, so this may no longer be a concern for most people.

What You Need To Buy To Get Gigabit Ethernet

All gigabit ethernet components are backwards-compatible with typical ethernet, so you don’t need to buy all of the following parts at once. However, you won’t get the maximum speed on your network until all the essential parts are gigabit-ethernet compatible.

  • A Gigabit Router or a Gigabyte Switch. If you already have a router that connects to the Internet, all you need is a gigabit switch. Gigabit Router, most of which include 802.11n wireless, cost between $70 and $120, but gigabit switches cost only about $25–a huge savings. See the instructions below for details on how to use a gigabit switch with your old router.
  • CAT 6 Ethernet Cable needs to entirely replace older ethernet cable in your network. If you don’t know which kind of cable you currently have, look at the wires–every 6 or 12 inches should be a printed label indicating whether it’s CAT 5, CAT 5E, or CAT 6. Technically all you need is CAT 5E to get gigabit speeds, but future routers may be able to offer even faster speeds over CAT 6 Ethernet Cable.
  • A Gigabit Network Interface Card (NIC) in every computer. Computer manufactures mostly switched to gigabit cards about 3 years ago, so you may already have the hardware you need. To check, right-click the My Computer icon on your desktop, select Properties, and find your network card–if it says 10/100 it’s a typical ethernet card; if it says 10/100/1000, it’s a gigabit ethernet card.If you don’t have a Gigabit Network Card, you can buy one for about $15 in either PCI or PCI express versions.

After you have all of the parts, connecting everything should be easy: install any gigabit NICs, power on your gigabit router or switch, and connect the CAT 6 cable from the router or switch to each computer. You now have gigabit ethernet–enjoy 10 times as much speed!

Save $100 On Gigabit Ethernet Using This Secret

Hardware manufacturers don’t want you to know that you can avoid buying one of their expensive gigabit routers if you already have a typical ethernet router. This trick works for three reasons:

  1. Almost no home or small office has an Internet connection faster than 100-megabit typical ethernet, so you don’t need a gigabit router. (150 megabit service is available using fiber optic, but the price is $200 a month in my area–if you’re going to pay over $2,000 a year, you can afford the extra $100 for a gigabit router. You can also look into an affordable business ethernet service.)
  2. Computers on your network can talk to each other at full gigabit speeds using a switch, so you don’t lose any speed where it matters.
  3. Adding a switch to a network that already has a router is really easy, so saving money won’t cost you much time.

What to do: buy a gigabit switch and a six-foot (two-meter) CAT 5 or CAT 6 Ethernet Cable. Plug one side of the cable into one of your router’s regular output ports and other side of the cable into your gigabit switch’s uplink port (usually the port on far right–see your manual). Then plug the CAT 6 cords for all of your gigabit computers into the switch’s regular output ports. That’s it–you’ve saved $100 on gigabit ethernet hardware.

Comments

  1. says

    David,

    Thank for the article. I found that my structure wiring was no good enough to run gigabit, despite having gigBIT network equipment. So thank you for that, I am going to change our the wiring in the walls for my media server.

    Chad

  2. David says

    Hi, Stephen. I’m glad you liked the article.

    Regarding your question about legacy devices: regular legacy devices won’t slow down your network. That means your printer is fine.

    Your Vonage phone adapter might slow down your network, depending on how you use it. I used to have Vonage and the adapter they gave me (model VDV21-VD) has two RJ-45 ethernet jacks on the back. The uplink jack was supposed to plug directly into my cable modem and the other jack was supposed to plug into my router.

    If that’s what you do (and you have a 10/100 legacy ethernet Vonage phone adapter), then your Internet connection will be limited to 100 megabits. You can get around that limitation by plugging the uplink jack directly into your router the same way you plug in your printer. (That’s what I did and it worked for years without any problems.)

    On the other hand, unless you have super-fast FiOS, it doesn’t matter where you plug in your Vonage phone adapter.

    About the router indicator light: I can’t be sure without researching 2010 Mac Pros, but your Mac probably supports a protocol called “Wake On LAN” which allows another computer on your network to send it a special ethernet[*] packet which will turn on the Mac. It’s nifty to watch, but almost useless on a home network. (Large offices and server farms use wake-on-LAN all the time.)

    In order for wake-on-LAN to work, your Mac needs to send a tiny bit of electricity to the router so the router knows how to find the Mac when the wake-on-LAN packets are sent. That’s why you see the light. Although wake-on-LAN could use gigabit, the authors of the Mac firmware driver probably made it use 10/100 legacy ethernet so that it would support legacy routers. Once your Mac turns on and sees that the router supports gigabit, it also switches to gigabit, so you have nothing to worry about.

    If the light annoys you, you may be able to disable wake-on-LAN in your Mac’s BIOS. I’m mostly a PC guy and I never learned how to change Mac BIOS settings, but if you search Google for something like “apple bios wake lan”, you’ll probably find instructions. (On the flipside, if you check your PC’s bios, you may be able to turn on wake-on-LAN.)

    I hope that answers your questions.

    Thanks for reading Tips4PC!

    -Dave

    [*] Unlike almost everything else on your network, wake-on-LAN doesn’t use the TCP/IP protocol which powers the Internet. It’s a ethernet-specific protocol–and that means it confuses a lot people (including some system administrators I’ve met).

  3. Stephen Inoue says

    David,

    QUESTION for you. I’ve read that the ethernet local network is only as fast as the slowest device on it. Does this mean that if I have a legacy device (My Canon Pixma printer and my Vonage phone) that the rest of my gigabit ready PCs on the network will run at 10mbs instead of 120mbs? Do I need to kick these legacy devices off the network and go with a wireless connection for them?

    In regards to your article – GREAT JOB! I do a lot of file copying between my PC and Mac and this tip alone will save me hours of transfer time!

    Stopped by Frys and swapped out all my old CAT5 for newer CAT6. They did have CAT7 but it was way too expensive and I don’t have anything that supports it.

    Another tip for those that want confirmation they are running at Gigabit speeds. I’m using the Net Gear Gigabit Switch which has helpful amber and green lights showing what devices are connected at what speed. It shows amber if you use Cat 5 or have an ethernet device that isn’t gigabit ready. Interestingly My 2010 Mac Pro runs at Gigabit when on, but when the Mac is off the switch shows it a the slower speed. My PC just shows Gigabit when on, and no light when off. Any chance my Mac is passing data when “off”?

    Thanks for being the blazing Pioneer educating the rest of us!

    Stephen