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What does 10/100/1000 mean to me?

Author:  Ben Brindle
Date:  2008.04.10
Topic:  Other
Provider:  Thermaltake
Manufacturer:  Thermaltake

What does 10/100/1000 mean to me?

1. Introduction

Most people don't know it, but Ethernet technology is involved with nearly every aspect of everyday life. The list of data transmission protocols is immense, the more common ones being 802.11 or WiFI, Ethernet, bluetooth, WiMax, and many many more working behind the scenes to ensure our data "gets there". Recently, there was a 700mhz frequency auction that has caused a wireless transmission technology explosion. More and more data is now being transmitted by wireless technology. This expansion leaves the all too important wired standards in the dark. There are many standards that support the backbone of the internet e.g. Fiber optic, but for the home / gamer / office user, the 10/100/1000 Ethernet standard is what supports our wired world.

2. Standards

The IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) provides Ethernet data transmission standards as part of the 802 specification. WiFi, designated 802.11, is subdivided into three official standards: a, b, g, with a third draft standard: n. Wired Ethernet is designated IEEE 802.3 and encompasses a variety of "sub-standards" with many names. These "sub-standards" are most commonly referred to by the respective bandwidths that they provide, 10 Megabits, 100 Megabits, and 1000 Megabits per second. To introduce the actual standard name for these protocols would make this article incomprehensible to all but the most technical reader, and thusly I will follow the common convention.


3. What does 10/100/1000 mean?

For the more common Ethernet bandwidths, 10,100,1000, I will give some examples using a fictional character, named Joe, as a computer user of varying tech savvy. For the first example, Joe is an average computer user that only uses the internet to check email and surf the web. In this case, a 10 Megabit connection would be fine since this (forgive my pun) average Joe doesn't even know what a network does. In this second example, Joe is a typical office worker. A 100Megabit connection may be all Joe needs. His typical use of the network is in sharing documents and doing research. Occasionally, IT may need to utilize his connection for remote support or to push software updates to his computer. In these instances, more bandwidth is needed because there are larger number of office Joe's using the network at the same time. The "power user Joe" or a very large corporation may need a 1000Megabit connection because of the need to transfer large files across the network. Also a typical use of a large bandwidth connection is streaming multiple live video streams or audio streams inside a large building.

4.Is Bandwidth Important?

Speed is everything, right? Well only kind of. For most users the speed of their network means almost nothing. Most cable ISPs have an average of from 1Megabit to 6Megabit, far less bandwidth than is supported in even the lowliest IEEE Ethernet standard. Then why, you might ask, do they sell anything with more bandwidth than 10Megabits? ISPs provide WAN (Wide Area Network)access, which is a global connection to the internet. On a smaller network, for instance a corporate LAN (Local Area Network), it may be useful to be able to transmit information faster than 1 Megabyte per second. At that speed, it would take 1.3 hours to transmit the information contained on one DVD. In a small office setting, it would be much quicker to write the information to a DVD and walk it to the recipient! Remember, that a Megabyte per second is actually eight Megabits per second (8bits=1byte). So a 10Megabit connection is capable of transferring, in the ideal case, 10/8 = 1.25 Megabytes per second; 100Megabit 100/8 = 12.5 Megabytes per second; 1000 = 125 Megabytes per second.

5. Conclusion

So in review, Wired Ethernet has some very important implications when selecting the bandwidth of a network. For most networks, a difference in bandwidth will not be noticeable. However, in some situations, e.g. file transfers on a LAN, bandwidth is very important. For the average user, any of these standards will work and until ISPs and internet technology reach speeds in excess of 10Megabits per second, most things will still use 10Megabit hardware. So don't throw out that 10Megabit router just yet!

Thanks to Michael Bosse' for some ideas and some very important edits. Stay tuned for the second part of this article, "Debunking the Myth of Speed."


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