Upgrade to Gigabit Networking for Better Performance

Test Your Gigabit Network

If your parts are in order and your cables are connected, you'll want to fire up your gigabit network and check its performance.But first you need to confirm that the drivers and firmware related to your various network-themed devices (motherboard, router, NAS box, and so on) are up-to-date.

Suppose that you're planning to connect your PC to a gigabit NAS box via a single router. At this point you need to make sure that you're running the latest firmware for your NAS box and router, and either the latest firmware and drivers for your motherboard or the latest 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 manufacturers' Web sites to grab the latest drivers and firmware updates; then run the accompanying driver setup programs or follow the related instructions for flashing your device. The process isn't difficult (see "Firmware and You: A Comprehensive Guide to Updating Your Hardware").

LAN Speed Test is a convenient utility to use to determine the bandwidth of your current network as measured between a PC and a target network device.
Fire up your network devices and use the helpful LAN Speed Test utility to see gauge the speeds that your new gigabit network is attaining. After launching the utility, press the Start Test button and surf 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 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 the physical platters. For a solid-state drives (SSD), performance 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.

As this convenient hard-drive benchmark indicates, the maximum read speed for files off our gigabit network is 95.8 mbps.
Short of operating 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 speeds of at least 40 to 50 MBps, which is four times as fast as the real-world speed of a typical fast-ethernet connection. Gigabit networking might not be the Star Trek transporter of LAN-based file transfers, but the performance improvement it offers over a typical fast-ethernet connection amply compensate for time this setup process requires.

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