Breaking the 1Gbps LAN Speed Barrier
We're finally overcoming the decades-old consumer LAN 1GbE bottleneck, with the help of Wifi 6 and 802.3bz (2.5/5Gb ethernet). No need to outfit your home with fiber and buy ultra-expensive, enterprise grade 10Gbase-T switches/NICs anymore... it's all available now at your local Best Buy (or for most of us, Amazon/Newegg)! So first, I'm going to go into what brought me to this point and why this is awesome. Then I'll show you what type of gear is available to do this yourself, and then I'll show you my new 2.5G+ network setup as a reference point. If you want to skip the preamble, just flip down to the "What Gear Can I Do This With?" section.
Why is This a Big Deal?
For about a decade now, with the advent of affordable SSD's, the speed bottleneck in our network environments have been... well, the network. SSD's allowed you to fully saturate a standard 6Gb/s SATA III link in your PC since the mid-2000's. Before that, HDD's caused nearly all of the speed issues we have in modern computing, and mechanical permanent data storage solutions (magnetic drives, tapes, diskettes, etc) really were the weakest link in the 'performance chain' in computing since the dawn of personal computing. Sure, slow CPU's really made handling even trivial tasks a pain... but think back to every game or application you ever tried to load off a floppy or your internal HDD and the clicking and clacking that accompanied multi-minute wait times. Then think about loading up your NES/SNES/N64/Sega cartridges in that same time period, and the instant load times you got with them. It always came down to those dang mechanical drives.
Anyway, since we've gotten to live in the lap of 6Gb/s luxury (which itself is pretty long in the tooth for 2020) for well over a decade now... we've been shunted by our LAN speeds, much of the time unwittingly, ever since. We've been stuck at 1GbE speeds as our standard, and even wifi marketing played that "Gig+" speed up like it truly was the high bar to attain, making a lot of us equip our homes with CAT5e/6 and otherwise make sure we had a hard connection to every high-performance piece of tech in our house, because nothing else (eg. wifi) could hit 1GbE speeds or stability. But now think about it... 1Gb/s. That's all we got. And, I was a victim myself, I thought that was really all I needed. That sounds like a ton of speed! Part of it is that false sense of speed cause by the gigabit/gigabyte conversion, and part of it was that vendors did a great job of really trying to make 1GbE still sound fast on every router and switch box you saw on the shelf, for all it was worth.
But now that Wifi 6 (802.11ax) is becoming a standard, and that it can reliably tout 1.2-2.4Gbps speeds for any supporting clients, the bell finally tolled for that archaic 1Gb ethernet standard. So now, I assume for vendors to continue milking ethernet speeds by building in planned obsolescence to their standards (802.3bz is literally just based off the decades-old 10Gbase-T to let it run at deprecated 2.5/5Gb speeds), we've FINALLY got affordable consumer routers, switches, NICs and motherboards with 2.5/5Gb ports built-in. And even with this knowledge of planned obscelescence... I just don't care. you can bet I'm grabbing every piece of networking gear I can to finally loosen up that bottleneck across my home network and start being mesmerized by my 300MB/s+ file transfer speeds between my NVMe NAS and other 2.5G clients (compared to the puny ~120MB/s speeds we all suffered with in the 1GbE era).
So this really is a big deal. If you've got an internet connection that outpaces your LAN connection, it just feels wrong. And if you've invested in high speed SSD's in devices like a NAS, a USB 3.0 drive connected to your router, or remote clients you grab clients off of in your home network, you'll probably want to enjoy the speeds all of those devices are capable of when you upgrade their network links, too. So if you're eager to do this, let's move on to the gear you'll need (and that I use/can vouch for):
What Gear Can I Do This With?
($250) Single-Port 2.5GbE+Wifi AX: Asus RT-AX86U
($450) Single-Port 2.5GbE+Wifi AX: Asus GT-AX11000
($500) Single-Port 5GbE+Wifi AX: Netgear Nighthawk RAX120
($500) TP-Link Archer AX11000
^This has NO 2.5GbE LAN ports (WAN only) and very deceiving marketing
(NOTE: There's a great article comparing Multigig switches here)
($100) 2.5GbE 5-port unmanaged switch: QNAP QSW-1105-5T
($500) 10/5/2.5GbE 8-port switch with x2 10GbE SFP's: TRENDnet TEG-7080ES
($600) 2.5GbE 8-port switch with x4 10GbE SFP's: Engenius ECS2512
($750) 2.5GbE 8-port POE switch with x2 10GbE SFP's: D-Link DMS-1100-10TP
($20) m.2 (2.4Gbps 2x2): Intel AX200
($25) PCIe x1 (AX200 internally): AX3000
(NOTE: Great review on NICs here)
($25) Single 2.5GbE PCIe x1: TRENDnet TEG-25GECTX
($35) Dual 2.5GbE PCIe x1: Syba SD-PEX24066
($30) Single 2.5GbE USB 3.0: CableCreation Adapter
What To Look Out For (Marketing)
Claimed wireless speeds: When manufacturers claim "Over 10Gb speeds!" or "4804Mbps over 5GHz" etc, that's aggregate backplane ability to deliver as a total speed to all clients. Each client though will only be able to connect at 2402Mbps with current 2x2 hardware for now though (theoretically, clients can operate at full 4.8Gbps with 4x4MIMO). So that is to say, you can theoretically have 2 wireless clients transferring data to each other at a full 2402Mbps speed each... and then if a third one comes into the mix, you'll start seeing degraded performance. But in a home environment, ummm... I'm having trouble even thinking of theoretical use cases where saturation like that for any regular, sustained period, would ever happen. So these claims of speeds are really not super relevant, but esPECIALLY irrelevant when talking about actual achievable speeds you'll see on any client.
As a standard for reference, Wifi AX per-client speeds top out at:
5GHz 4x4 antenna: 4804Mbps
5GHz 2x2 antenna (eg. Intel AX200): 2402Mbps
2.4GHz 4x4 antenna: 1148Mbps
2.4GHz 2x2 antenna (eg. Intel AX200): 574Mbps
NOTE: In 2020, there is not 4x4 capable client hardware as of yet, so you'll be looking at 2x2 speeds across the board.
2Gb "capable" references for LAN ports. This just means it supports link aggregation standards (like LACP) for you to use 2 physical connections to your computer back to the router that will act as a bonded link. The problem here is though, that it's not a straightforward 2Gb/s you'll achieve. If you're transferring a lot of data to one single client (as would be the case in most households), you will only see 1Gb/s speeds coming from your 2Gb/s "bonded link". That's because these protocols cannot transfer data simultaneously like some kind of RAID 0 striped pair in networking form. You'll initiate a connection to only a single one of the NICs for each client. So if you had two or more clients asking for data from your client with the bonded link, THEN you'd see 2Gb/s total outgoing traffic... but still, each client would only be receiving data at 1Gb/s. Kinda stinks.
Multi-gig (2.5GbE) WAN link routers (with no 2.5GbE LAN ports). This is such a ridiculous configuration, I don't know why it exists. If you've got internet speeds over 1GbE, cool. But none of your clients will be able to reach those speeds directly (like the "2Gb LAN" port point above)! Unless you have a 10 person household, and everyone is obsessed with torrenting and downloading TB/s of data every month, Gig+ internet speeds going to 1GbE bottlenecked clients, just seem so antithetical to the whole point of this post or this technology to begin with. Sure, there's a case for your Wifi 6 clients to get Gig+ speeds... but again, what kind of network has higher performance wifi than cabled capabilities? Nothing wrong with it technically... it just seems... not right. Whew.
Reference Real-World Network
Below is my home network topology. All of the PURPLE connections run to one of the components I listed above, at 2.4Gbps+ speed. I've vetted, benchmarked and tested each component and to date they all do exactly what they say on the tin. Below the diagram I've list my Multigig gear with links to each piece.
Router: Asus GT-AX11000
2.5GbE Switches (x2): QNAP QSW-1105-5T
AMD 32GB FX8370 Desktop PCIe Wifi AX NIC: AX3000
Alienware 13R3 laptop m.2 NIC: Intel AX200
Server dual-port 2.5GbE NICs (x3): Syba SD-PEX24066
Intel NUC8i7BEH 2.5GbE USB 3.0 Adapter: CableCreation Adapter
Macbook Pro 2019: Built-in Wifi 6 adapter (1.2Gbps max speed)
If you want to know more about the logical connections and why certain components are connected the way they are (eg. those servers to those multiple QNAP 2.5GbE switches), check out this other post where I'll dive into detail here: https://www.hyperadvisor.net/post/building-an-enterprise-level-home-lab-without-the-enterprise-rack-gear
Well I hope this article was useful for you, and good luck on your efforts to move into a post-1GbE world.