Many modern motherboards ship with a new multi-speed Ethernet. You may have noticed that one port on the back of your system is a different color, or in some cases, upside down in relation to the others. At first, the enhanced Ethernet ports added support for 10-gigabit speeds but many companies have introduced NBASE-T or Multi-Gigabit with provisions for 2.5 and 5-gigabit networking (IEEE 802.3bz).
The market has been rip for replacing gigabit Ethernet for a long time. With Ethernet, you get just over 100 MB/s of throughput. When it was first released nearly twenty years ago, no one even expected flash to take over as the dominate storage for personal computers or the speeds the technology enables. 100 MB/s was a 10x increase over the standard gigabit replaced. 10-gigabit is another 10x increase. Enthusiasts have used discarded datacenter add-in cards for nearly a decade to utilize 10-gigabit technology but had to utilize loud and expensive enterprise switches to expand the network to more than just a small handful of systems.
Enthusiasts are Slaves to Big (and Small) Business
Until recently, the problem with 10-gigabit in your home came down to the lack of consumer-focused network switches. Just three years ago, we could count the number of small business switches with 10-gigabit support on two hands. Even then, most only shipped with one or two 10GbE ports and four to eight gigabit ports.
The lack of switches wasn't hardware related. Marvell and others had low-cost solutions ready to go but businesses lacked the infrastructure to take advantage of the higher speeds. The network market works on high volumes at low margins. It simply wasn't cost effective to design products for home users where Wi-Fi is the dominant technology.
CAT 5e, CAT 6, and Beyond
The lack of infrastructure comes down to existing cabling routed through the walls and ceilings of small and medium-sized businesses as well as homes built over the last decade. Most buildings went up with CAT 5e or even CAT 5 cable that doesn't support the bandwidth needed for reliable 10-gigabit transmissions.
Cabling is a widespread problem that still exists in new construction today. Over the last month, I consulted for a business focused on gaming just outside of Indianapolis, Indiana. The contractor ran CAT 5e cable in January 2019, before I was involved. The 3,000+ feet of cable had to be removed and replaced with new CAT 6A before we could even start the network infrastructure rollout with a top of rack switch that fans out to table switches for individual stations.
The cost differences between CAT 5e and CAT 6 per 1000 feet is around $15 or less. The spread increases to around $100 for CAT 6A for the same 1000 feet. The material costs make up only a fraction of the overall expense of hiring a professional installer route the cables through the ceiling and walls.
The new 2.5 and 5GbE standards elevates the need for full cable infrastructure upgrades. Both operate over existing CAT 5e.
Modern Components for Modern Convenience and Performance
The starting point in your high-speed network starts with your motherboard. Several companies integrate multi-gigabit network components on mainstream and premium boards. ASRock reached out to us to write this article and show performance on our NBase-T network and the company leads the charge with several models currently shipping with faster than gigabit Ethernet support.
Shoppers now have the conveniences of products designed for homes and small offices. Netgear appears to lead the way with several switches with support for multi-gigabit. These products span the full range but small business to "gamer" inspired models, including integrated products like routers, keep the noise down and are suitable for use in your home.
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