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Any gain with gigbit network on old PC's

By gbhall · 7 replies
Aug 28, 2005
  1. I have recently upgraded my firm's server and network with a 48-port gigabit network switch. At the moment this is just a future-proofing exercise, as no PC other than the server has a gigabit network card.

    My question is would any of the older PC's benefit at all from having a gigabit card installed, as many date from the era of 450Mhz to 600Mhz PII's?

    I feel the card's speed would gain nothing as the internal processing would be relatively much slower (66Mhz front side bus as opposed to 1Ghz timing on the card.) Furthermore, I'm concerned there could be greater instability and as I'm the only IT 'expert' I don't have much time for looking at hard-to-sort-out networking problems.

    If anybody has hard experience to share about upgrading to gigabit cards, I'd love to hear it.

  2. Nodsu

    Nodsu TS Rookie Posts: 5,837   +6

    It sort of depends on what do you do with your network..

    If your current network is 100Mbit and is not heavily saturated then there is absolutelty no point in installing the gigabit interfaces that probably cost more than the computers themselves. If those machines have 10Mbit NICs in them then an upgrade will help for sure.
  3. Samstoned

    Samstoned TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,018

    gigabit are rather cheap now
    3com 10/100/1000 as low as 15.00 lower on ebay
    may look into that and don't forget keep the cards for faster machines
    also most of them do there own processing to a point
    save the pc's cpu time.
    the moneys in the router/switch
    one of my pc's a 450 and it really helped when I added a 1000mt to it. transfers are a blink now.
  4. gbhall

    gbhall TechSpot Chancellor Topic Starter Posts: 2,431   +77

    informational response

    Thanks to my two contributors (so far). Nodsu seems a touch out of date wth his pricings, as the 48-port switch cost about £650 (not the £3,000 it might have done a year ago) and Samstoned is correct that gigabit cards are available for around £15.

    For info, previously I had unmanaged 100Mb switches with only 100Mb uplinks, and the 48-port switch is already slightly faster in 'feel' to my users, who ALL have 100Mb cards or motherboard ports. It is also much quieter and cooler. I suspect the faster feeling, even though everything bar the switch and server is still running at 100Mb, could be due to the switches ability to store-and-forward, which could be giving a total of 2Gb through the switch.

    Samtoned experience is what I wanted and respect, and the comment about the ability of the card to offload processing from the CPU could be key. I am encouraged to try. I think I need to look carefully for cards having just such off-CPU capabilty, as well as solid Win98 drivers.

    Any more members care to comment/advise on manufacturers?
  5. Nodsu

    Nodsu TS Rookie Posts: 5,837   +6

    Unless those 100Mbit NICs are complete trash then they do just as much CPU offloading as the gigabit ones would..

    And the speedup you will feel depends on what kind of traffic your network has. For example if you have people working with documents < 1MB then for a user it doesn't matter if it takes 0.1 seconds to open it across a fast ethernet link or 0.01 seconds over a gigabit link.

    BTW around here you can get PII machines for free..
  6. gbhall

    gbhall TechSpot Chancellor Topic Starter Posts: 2,431   +77

    data movements

    Nodsu, you are correct to say a network used just to read/write the odd Mb now and again would improve nothing. My users, however, are REALLY pushing network connection. They are reading/writing dozens of Visual Foxpro tables totalling 3Gigabytes, and while most of those reads are heavily indexed (which VisFox is superb at), sometimes there is a full text search over a table about 100Mbyte size. This requires the whole 100Mb to be shovelled into a PC. A task that takes between 3-15 seconds, depending upon local cacheing.

    If I can get that down to 1-3 seconds consistently, I will probably be bought some chocolate cakes.

    I'm mostly nervous of incompatibility problems with a very fast card in a very slow PC....that's why I'm hoping for genuine practical experience.
  7. Nodsu

    Nodsu TS Rookie Posts: 5,837   +6

    Your best bet would be chips from a solid vendor like Intel, 3com, Broadcom. Cards using these chips may be more expensive but are well worth the money both performance and compatibility wise. Noone has ever been fired for buying Intel as they say :p Stay away from Realtek.

    Note that I am talking about chips here. Always check what chip a NIC uses - the brand of the card itself is not important since nowadays an ethernet interface is virtually nothing but the chip and the line driver - no brilliant engineering required.
  8. gbhall

    gbhall TechSpot Chancellor Topic Starter Posts: 2,431   +77

    testing report

    Thanks to all contributors so far. I bought an Intel PRO1000GT £26 and installed it without any problem in an old machine 300Mhz PII. There is always a long boot-up time as the chip tries to obtain a DHCP boot image - without success of course. Once booted there is little or no improvement in the PC's responses except in very heavy network activity, when it feels about twice as fast as the previous 100Mb card.

    I then moved it to a somewhat faster 600 Mb PC with a more marked perky feel resulting. Applications as well as network data seem to load about twice as fast on this PC, and the overall feel is much better. There is no boot-up delay in this PC

    I tried it last in a 2Gb pentium III and got similar or slightly better results. I timed a re-index of a 150Mb file which used to take about 180seconds and at 1Gb it consistently took around the 140-second mark. So 13-15% overall improvement is the best that can be expected.

    My overall conclusion is most PC's will feel 'somewhat' faster than with a 100Mb card, but in few cases will the result be sufficiently better to compel an upgrade. You might guess this on reflection, as Dell, for example still does not supply Gb network speeds except in servers - clearly the improvement is insufficient to justify any increased cost whatever.
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