The fast lane for the home network: the value of gigabit card
Verena Wolff | May 4, 2004
MUNICH — Networks exist because two or more computers need to communicate
with each other, particularly if a printer or Internet access is to
be shared between them.
This is just as true in the home as it is at the office. The
wireless version, WLAN, is a home network workhorse, as well as a
Yet a cable connection using the Ethernet standard is cheaper.
It offers a significantly higher data transfer rate than other
currently available consumer network technologies.
The major issue for those setting up such a network is whether
to go with a Fast Ethernet or a super-quick Gigabit card. "For a
traditional home network, you can get by with a so-called Fast
Ethernet card," says Markus Bauer from Munich-based computer
magazine "PC Professionell."
Pure Ethernet cards with a data transfer rates of 10 Megabit per
second (MBit/s) are already obsolete. Fast Ethernet, the current
standard, offers 100 MBit/s. A newer alternative is the Gigabit
Ethernet card. This allows for up to 1000 MBit/s to be sent from
one computer to another over a cable.
"You will need a correspondingly quick storage media that can
handle this bandwidth," explains Christian Anderka from chip maker
Intel. It does no good in the end "to have a fat fire hose attached
to a trickling mountain stream." For consumers who surf the
Internet exclusively at DSL tempo, the Gigabit cards are overkill.
"You only need the 100 Mbit ones," says Bauer.
Even when computer gamers link their computers together for so-
called LAN parties, allowing multiple players to go head-to-head on
a single game, a Gigabit card isn't needed. This kind of broadband
is primarily of value for users who frequently use their computer
for multimedia applications.
"Those looking to send a film from a digital video camera from
one computer to the other will be well served by a Gigabit card,"
Anderka says. Network card makers like 3Com and D-Link recommend
installing the quicker cards even if the speed gains will only be
realized down the road.
"You don't buy a car that can only accelerate up to the speed
you want to drive today," a spokesman for 3Com reminds. Today's
standard computers are usually Gigabit-technology ready.
Nevertheless, the computer architecture found on most chips is
hitting its limits for broadband expansion.
Intel is approaching the problem from two sides. On the one
side, Anderka has announced new platforms that support the
so-called PCI Express standard, thereby offer sufficient bandwidth
for Gigabit Ethernet on the main board.
The firm has also begun offering so-called CSA (Communication
Streaming Architecture) chip sets, which allow a quick, dedicated
interface to the main board for the network card.
When buying a completely new computer, the decision between Fast
and Gigabit Ethernet makes very little difference in price, Anderka
When retrofitting a card, the price difference is more
noticeable. A Gigabit network card costs almost twice as much as a
traditional Ethernet card, which can be had for as little as ten
There are also costs for switches and cables to connect the
computers. Those who settle on the quicker card will also need to
exchange any cables and switches that cannot handle the larger
stream of data.
When putting in a new network, Markus Bauer reminds, it is worth
it to think of the future when choosing cables. "You should buy the
top-line product, category 6 or 7," the expert says. The cables
cost only a few cents more per metre.
"You'll spare yourself the frustration of switching again if and
when you move up to a card with a higher data throughput." The
question remains as to whether the new technology can fulfill its
full potential on a home network. "The network is often faster than
the transfer rates for older hard drives - modern hard drives are
roughly as quick as Gigabit Ethernet," Bauer says.
The network will only rarely be fully utilized. The user should
also make sure that the server is Gigabit ready, although the speed
will only seldom be provided to the individually attached