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.
Here’s a quick comparison of what you can do with each network type:
- 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
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- 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
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:
- 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.)
- 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.
- Adding a switch to a network that already has a router is really easy, so saving money won’t cost you much time.
About the author:
David A. Harding is a Linux Professional Institute certified system administrator and freelance writer with over 10 years experience working with Linux. He’s been published in over a dozen magazines and has given over 50 presentations about Linux–including two Software Freedom Day keynotes. Dave always loves to hear from readers and can be reached at email@example.com.
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.