I was in no hurry to upgrade my home network from 100 Mb/s to gigabit speed, which is odd when you consider how much time I spend waiting for file transfers. That's because when I spend money on PC upgrades, I think of the components that offer an immediate performance increase in the applications and games that I run. Putting cash towards things like video cards, CPUs, and even peripherals is almost like buying toys for myself. For some reason, network components don’t inspire the same amount of excitement. Indeed, it’s harder to let go of hard-earned money when it feels like an infrastructure investment rather than a self-gifted advance birthday present.
Inevitably, however, my high-bandwidth networking demands were making it obvious that 100 Mb/s weren’t going to cut it anymore if I valued my time. All of the systems I was running at home already had gigabit network controllers built into their motherboards, and I remember looking into the rest of the hardware shopping list that I needed to step up my network to full gigabit speed.
When I was all done collecting the pieces, I remember copying a large file over the old 100 megabit equipment, which took about a minute and a half, and then upgrading to the gigabit network. After the upgrade, it took about 40 seconds to copy the same file. It was a nice performance boost, but not quite the 10 times difference between 100 Mb/s and 1 Gb/s I was expecting.
What's with that, anyway?
Let's find out what's going on by examining the basics. If you're a network wizard and you know all about MTUs, frame sizes, and the minutia of optimizing a network, this article will be somewhat elementary reading. But if you don't know much about networking except that there are computers and cables involved, read on. We’ll be going over the fundamentals of gigabit networking, the variables that will impact the network speed, and what a home user can do about them to get the most out of Gigabit Ethernet.