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

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Truth be known, CPUs stopped being a bottleneck to your computing experience ten years ago. And over the ensuing decade, computer storage mechanisms have grown dramatically faster. SATA 6Gbps SSDs, then 2- to 4GBps NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express). External USB SSDs regularly top 500MBps, and even the sustained throughput of conventional hard drives has jumped from 125MBps to 250MBps. Basically, computing lag due to slow storage has disappeared.

So where’s the remaining lag. Depending on how heavily you use it, it’s your network. Your garden variety gigabit 1Gbps ethernet delivers only 120MBps transfers (about the speed of an older USB hard drive) and slow seeks. In short, it’s the last remaining bottleneck in your computing experience but it’s easy to fix—upgrade to multi-gig.

Note that there are 8 bits (the small “b” in gigabit) in a byte (the capital “B” in megabyte) so bit speeds are 1/8th byte speeds. 

Until quite recently, upgrading from gigabit meant a rather hefty investment in 10GbE (10-gigabit-per-second ethernet) equipment. As fantastic as 10GbE is, only in the last couple of years of its 15 years of availability has it dropped from prohibitively expensive (around $50 a port) to relatively affordable ($35-$40 a port). That’s not even counting the standard’s increased power consumption.

Likely the only reason 10GbE prices have dropped at all is because an intermediate standard—IEEE P802.3bz, aka multi-gig, 2.5Gbps and 5Gbps Ethernet (2.5GbE/5GbE)—was introduced in 2016. It was introduced, you guessed it, partly because 10Gbe stubbornly remained expensive to buy and operate.

Today, far-more-affordable 2.5GbE is available via PCIe and USB adapters, NAS boxes, enthusiast motherboards, and 2.5GbE switches are on the scene to the tune of around $25 a port.

Long story short, this is a great time to update—if you need the speed. To address that qualifier, let’s do an all-important sanity check.

qnap qsw 1105et 100855543 cropped 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.

Who needs 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.

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