Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Upgrade to Gigabit Networking for Faster Transfers

Get speedier file transfers, smoother video streaming, and better network gaming with the right PC networking tools.

ON MOST HOME networks, the transfer rate of a fast ethernet connection (about 12.5 megabits per second) is the speed limit—and that’s painfully slow for some tasks. The solution? Upgrade to a gigabit network. Switching over to gigabit (1000-mbps) speeds increases potential throughput tenfold, minimizing transfer times and greatly enhancing your ability to stream high-bandwidth files to connected devices without interference. Gigabit networking is now a common feature of networking devices and shouldn’t carry a big cost premium. Most modern motherboards have gigabit functionality built in. This guide does not apply to wireless networks. The factors that constrain speeds on wireless networks are entirely unlike those that limit speeds on wired networks. Here we’ll look at how to determine whether your equipment can handle gigabit networking, and (if not) how to build a gigabit network from scratch.

Identify Your Network
Do you already have a gigabit network? Th e Windows desktop doesn’t indicate whether you’ve acquired this superspeedy networking feature. And since many factors influence network transfer speeds, your gigabit network might crawl at a data transfer rate of less than 10 mbps for various reasons. One requirement of gigabit networking is that all connected devices be connected via a gigabit port. In addition, they must be connected to one another with network cables that can handle the bandwidth. For devices such as your router, a gaming console, or an external storage device, the easiest way to discover whether they support fast Ethernet (10/100 mbps) or gigabit ethernet (10/100/1000 mbps) is to check the devices’ specifications in their online descriptions or accompanying manuals. Look for a mention of either “gigabit networking” or “1000 Mbps.” Your PC’s motherboard is a critical component of the gigabit network. If your system came to you prebuilt or if you don’t remember relevant details about your rig’s motherboard, don’t worry. In Windows, click Start and select Run (for more-modern versions of the OS, move your cursor to the search box and left -click). Type ncpa.cpl and press . The Network Connections window should pop up. Right-click the network connection that’s listed as your Local Area Connection (LAN), and left -click Properties.
Click the big Configure button located to the right of the listing for your network controller. In the new window that appears, open the Advanced tab and scroll down until you find a property labeled ‘Connection Type’ or ‘Speed’. Left -click it and click the Value field to the right. Scroll up and down through this list of options, looking for anything that starts with a value of ‘1000’ or anything that refers to network speeds in ‘Gbps’. If all you see are ‘100’ values and speeds designated in ‘Mbps’, your motherboard’s built-in Ethernet controller tops out at fast-ethernet speeds. But you can still upgrade your PC to gigabit networking by installing a third-party gigabit ethernet card. If all of the devices on your network do support gigabit functionality, great! If you add a slower, fast-ethernet device to a gigabit-ready hub, transfer speeds will crawl only when you access that particular device—a slow device connected to a router won’t poison the rest. Obviously, if you directly connect a gigabit-ready PC to a fast-ethernet device such as a network-attached storage (NAS) box, you’ll get only fast-ethernet speeds. Also, consider your cables. A typical category 5 (Cat 5) cable supports gigabit ethernet, but it’s worthwhile to invest in Cat 5e cables if you are building a gigabit network from scratch. Plain old Cat 5 cabling is now considered obsolete, and Cat 5e cabling meets more-rigorous specifications, allowing it to do a better job than Cat 5 cabling can of minimizing electromagnetic interference. On the other hand, bumping up your cabling to a classification higher than Cat 5e may not benefit your network speeds; for example, Cat 6 cabling doesn’t dramatically improve speed. To see what kind of cable you have, check the cable’s side: The spec should be printed somewhere along the length of the cord.

Test Your Network
If your parts are in order and the cables are connected, you’ll want to fire up your gigabit network so that you can check its performance. But first you need to confirm that the drivers and firmware related to your network-oriented devices (motherboard, router, NAS box, and so on) are up-to-date. Suppose that you are planning to connect your PC to a gigabit NAS box via a single router. At this point you need to make sure that you are running the latest firmware for your NAS box and your router, and either the latest firmware and drivers for your motherboard or the most recent drivers for your discrete gigabit network card, depending on how you’ve set up your system. All too often, a device may not work as intended out of the box. Head over to the manufacturer’s Web site to grab the latest drivers and firmware updates; then run the accompanying driver setup program or follow the related instructions for flashing your device. The process isn’t difficult (see find.pcworld.com/63936). Fire up your network devices and use the helpful LAN Speed Test utility (www.totusoft.com/Products) to gauge the speeds that your gigabit network is attaining. After launching the tool, click the Start Test button and browse to a folder on a connected network device. Enter a size for your test file (1GB should do the trick), and the program will begin to track the read and write speeds of transfers between your system and the target device. Of course, you won’t get the maximum 125-mbps connection that a gigabit network theoretically supports. Ultimately, the speed of the storage devices doing the reading or writing—be they magnetic hard drives or flash-based storage—will limit your network’s performance. For a hard drive, relevant factors include the physical speed of the drive itself and the location where the drive writes the data on its physical platters. For a solid-state drive (SSD), the
performance you get depends on whether the drive uses faster single-level cell flash memory or slower multilevel cell flash memory, and on whether you’re reading or writing to the drive. Unless it uses a RAM drive, or an array of hard drives or SSDs, your network won’t reach the 125-mbps limit for gigabit networking. Nevertheless, you can realistically expect to achieve speeds of at least 40 to 50 mbps, which is four times as fast as the realworld speed of a typical fast-ethernet connection. Though gigabit networking might not be the Star Trek transporter of LANbased file transfers, the performance improvement that it offers over a typical fast-ethernet connection amply compensates for the time this setup process requires.

Source of Information : PC World December 2009

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