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Does The Choice Of Network Interface Cards Really Impact System Performance?
As Internet broadband technology continues to grow, many users now have reasons beyond standard network uses (print and file sharing) to require a Network Interface Card (NIC) as standard equipment on a PC. Most types of DSL and Cable modems require an Ethernet NIC card in order to connect to a user's PC. While many people might think that examining Ethernet cards performance is about as fun as watching paint dry, we're going to examine the performance of several NIC cards and see if there is any real difference.
When one asks a PC user which NIC card is installed in their PC and why, the answers are amazing! Some of these answers include: "I used to use brand X, but I had problems with the drivers, so I switched to brand Y." / "I only use brand X because that is what our company uses." / "I use brand Z because that brand is what came with the PC or was built into my computer." / "I use brand X because it is cheap, and there is no difference between brands because Ethernet is a standard."
As most readers know, Ethernet technology is a standard. Beyond this, is there a difference between NIC cards? Will one NIC card yield better performance results than another? What good is building a top of the line system when the system's network performance is being crippled by a slow performing NIC? Is there a real feature difference between NIC cards? Can your choice of NIC degrade the performance of your PC? In this article we look at the performance of several 10/100mbit NIC cards to answer these questions.
It is a fact that Ethernet technology is a standard. Early 10 Base-T standards provided 10mbit half duplex performance, and in fact this technology is still in use today on the vast majority of DSL and Cable modems that require an Ethernet connection. With the cost of Ethernet technology falling, many users have moved from simple 10 Base-T technology to 100 Base-TX, which provides 100mbit half or full duplex performance depending on the device that connects with the 100mbit card. In order to achieve 100mbit full duplex performance, the card needs to be attached to a switch that supports the full duplex option. Additionally, 100 Base-TX does require the use of category 5 cabling.
Many home users are now using Ethernet home gateways. These have a hub/switch that provides local network connections of 100mbit full duplex and a 10 Base-T connection for a DSL or Cable modem solution to allow Internet connection sharing. In many cases, this is a good solution, because it provides local network connections of 100mbit full duplex, while still allowing all of the networked home PCs to have access to the Internet.
On the horizon, we are starting to see Gigabit-over-copper Ethernet, which will require category 5e cabling. Yes, Gigabit-over-copper Ethernet is available, but currently it is reserved for high-end server applications. It will be some time before we see Gigabit-over-copper Ethernet in use in non-corporate environments. However, if you want to be prepared for the future, which will likely be Gigabit-over-Copper, it is worth it to spend the few extra cents per foot for category 5e cabling rather than slightly cheaper category 5.