Gigabit Ethernet Upgrade for Windows Home Server

Gigabit Ethernet Upgrade for Windows Home Server

When I built my server I envisioned a paradise where I could have my files centrally stored and called up on a moments notice on any machine. The reality was that transferring files was painfully slow. When I built the server and started to transfer files to it, I thought that it was ridiculous that it was taking so long. I upgraded my entire network because I hate to wait and certain tasks require a faster network connection.

Gigabit

I believe in speed – lots of speed. When it comes to computers and transferring information from computer to computer or computer to server, I want it to take as little time as possible. By default, most networked devices have a maximum throughput speed of 100 megabits per second which is fast, but not quite fast enough for the amount of data that we move today. What is Gigabit Ethernet? Well it uses the same structure as 10/100 Ethernet, but transfers data ten times faster. Faster is better – much better. Enter the world of Gigabit networking.

Let us put this Gigabit thing into perspective with real world examples – transferring files – one hundred 1000 kilobyte JPEG files, 100 MP3 files at 3 megabytes each and 20 gigabytes of various files. This is a perfect world example; there are other factors that come into play, so these are the absolute best times that both 10/100 and gigabit Ethernet can provide.

Bits Per Second 100 – 1000 K Jpeg 100 3 MB MP3 20 Gigs of Files
10/100 Ethernet 100,000,000 8.2 Seconds 25 Seconds 28 minutes 38 seconds
10/100/1000 1,000,000,000 0.8 Seconds 2.5 Seconds 2 Minutes 51 seconds

Would you rather transfer 100 pictures in less than a second or 8 seconds? Or transfer 100 songs in 2.5 seconds compared with almost half a minute. The real noticeable gain is transferring 20 gigabytes of files – half an hour versus three minutes? Gigabit Ethernet provides real world time savings.

More and more products are appearing on the market that have gigabit Ethernet built-in such as Sony Playstation 3 consoles, Apple Mac computers, and home servers. More and more Windows based computers are appearing on the market containing Gigabit Ethernet adapters. Data is also becoming more diverse, larger in size and easier to store. Hard drives are a good example of the data bloat that we have all come to live with. Just a few years ago we were measuring hard drive in gigabytes, now we measure it in hundreds of gigabytes. With all these devices, and the amount of information that can be shared amongst them, it only makes sense to upgrade the connection between them to take advantage of the speed.

Gigabit Ethernet is compatible with 10/100 so that you can use existing Ethernet cabling without fear of needing to upgrade your wiring. Knowing that we do not have to upgrade existing wiring, the only thing that needs to be changed are routers, switches and network cards.

I upgraded my network with Dlink equipment, but you can upgrade yours with any manufacturer that you like.

For my router I choose the Dlink DIR-655. This router not only allows screaming fast Gigabit Ethernet wired connections but allows me to connect wireless devices such as my laptop and Nintendo Wii. It is very easy to set up, and if you are an advanced user it is fully configurable through its web interface. It only has four ports, so that if you have five or more devices, you will either need a network switch, or to connect to those devices wirelessly.

I do have more than five wired networked devices. The four ports on the router are not sufficient for my purposes. To expand my network capabilities, I need to add a switch. If I add a 5 port switch, that only extends my network by 3 ports. What?!? Yes, when you connect a switch to a router, two ports are lost by connecting one port on the switch to one port on the router. Therefore, a little bit of forethought is required. It is far too easy to say four plus five is nine when it actually equals seven.

Seven ports in my case do not leave much room for expansion, so I choose an eight port switch – the Dlink DGS1008D. Not only does this switch run at top speed, it is an energy efficient switch that detects when ports are unused and throttles back the power to those ports. In addition it senses cable length and saves energy when cables shorter than 20 meters (65.6 Feet) are used. It is very easy to set up – connect the network cables and connect it to power.

Now it is nice that my infrastructure is going nice and fast, but if all the devices use only 10/100 Ethernet, we have gained nothing. The first two steps of adding a router and switch are simple. If you can unplug cables and power cords and then reconnect them to new hardware the job is done. Swapping out or adding network cards to computers require a bit more intestinal fortitude. Not everyone is comfortable opening and installing additional equipment. If this applies to you, take the computers that you want upgraded to your local computer store and tell them to upgrade you to gigabit Ethernet – they will be happy to do it for you.

If you are comfortable installing new hardware in your current computer systems then Gigabit Ethernet adapters are readily available at most computer stores. I installed a Dlink DGE-530T GigaExpress card into my desktop computer, my test machine and my home-built home server. These cards are easy to install, windows detected and installed the drivers for them even without the disk present.

When everything is set up to use Gigabit Ethernet and all the cables are connected, start moving files around the network. I bet that you will be as impressed as I was. There is no lag when viewing a slideshow on the PS3 when the pictures are being sent from my home server. Transferring music or pictures from my PC to the server takes seconds not minutes. Another benefit of Gigabit Ethernet is that your network will have more bandwidth and can accommodate more traffic so that many computers can access the server or each other without a noticeable delay or network lag.

For the curious, I am providing a list of connected hardware to show where the benefits of Gigabit Ethernet go in my house. Here are the items that I have attached to my network: Six permanently wired and three wireless.

· A home built Window Home Server (Gigabit)

· A custom built PC work-horse (Gigabit)

· A test PC (Gigabit)

· Sony Playstation 3 Console (Gigabit)

· An Apple Imac computer (Gigabit)

· An Xbox 360 Elite (10/100 – Why this didn’t come with wireless or gigabit Ethernet is a mystery)

· An HP Color Laserjet 3600N (10/100)

· A Nintendo Wii (Wireless)

· A Compaq laptop (Wireless)

· Sony Playstation Portable (Wireless)

· Various other computers from time to time. (10/100/1000)

  • http://www.ezlan.net Jack

    There is a difference between the core Speed of the Network Cards and the actual Bandwidth that can be achieved in Real world Networks.

    The least efficient of Network topology is Client OS

  • mr-data

    Great article, with plenty of good advice and comments.

    I do, however, have one question: In the article, you say that you have a couple of 100Mb/sec devices on your network. If I remember correctly, most switches and routers will choose to operate at the slowest speed of any device on ALL its ports.

    So if, for example, you have a Gigabit switch, and attach a number of pc's with Gigabit NIC's and one 100Mb/sec device, the switch will only operate at 100Mb/sec.

    Is this still the case, or . . . ?

    • http://www.ezlan.net Jack

      No, it is Not the case.

      Giga switches are smart enough to negotiate the traffic according to the capacity of the NIC that are plugged in.

      I.e., the switch would allow Giga traffic between computers with Giga cards even if other computers and the Router are only 100Mb/sec. capable.

      Jack (MS, MVP-Networking)

      • mr-data

        Thank for that answer, which I after my first post found myself. According to several sources, this was only the case with older hubs, whereas most modern switches could run with different speeds on different ports

  • Fezmid

    Why not add info in the article on how to actually TEST your throughput between your host and the WHS box instead of just saying, "Gigabit is better!" Add some substance!

  • Lee

    Just on the XBOX 360 gigabit statement… why on earth would you need gigabit in a 360, you would gain nothing because there is nothing that could make use of it.

    • Kelly Mayo

      Actually, there is gain in having a gigabit connection to a xbox 360. Have you never downloaded gigs of data to your xbox? I download demos and video promos all the time. Gigabit would definitely be better.

      Kelly (just a computer enthusiast)

      • John

        Your download speed (from the internet) is very likely much lower than 10/100 ethernet, so gigabit would not make diferrence for your 360 downloads.

    • Paul

      Of course gigabit isn't going to make internet access faster on 360. But for streaming high bitrate content from PC and transferring files, gigabit would yield a huge increase in speed (as Kelly said).

  • rust11sp

    The connection is via an outside aerial attached to the vehicle.;

  • Bart

    Maybe this is a stupid question, but by changing to Gigabit router do anything to increase the speed on your wireless connections too? My wireless is 11n but the connection to the server doesn't seem very fast but maybe that's normal for 11n and 100 ethernet.

    PS3 is 11g right? Is it worth getting an 11n access point or better to try powerline?