RICHARD SWIN­BURNE NBASE-T FOR THE HOME

It’s time for home users to get a faster Eth­er­net stan­dard, rather than more over the top Wi-Fi kit, ar­gues Richard Swin­burne

Custom PC - - OPINION - / VIEW FROM TAI­WAN

Base-T is a new spec­i­fi­ca­tion de­signed to bridge the gap be­tween Gi­ga­bit Eth­er­net and en­ter­prise-cen­tric 10 Gi­ga­bit (10GbE) stan­dard, which typ­i­cally uses op­ti­cal fi­bre and costs big wads of cash. The NBase-T spec calls for band­widths of 2.5Gb/sec and 5Gb/sec – a sig­nif­i­cant up­grade – while re­tain­ing the use of the CAT5e/6 spec ca­bling that’s ubiq­ui­tous in homes and small to medium busi­nesses. The spec­i­fi­ca­tion states that th­ese speeds should be pos­si­ble at up to 100m over cop­per wire, making it an ideal up­grade.

At the mo­ment, though, Wi-Fi is get­ting all the in­vest­ment, with routers sport­ing ex­treme speeds, such as AC3200+, al­though ad­mit­tedly, those speeds are tech­ni­cally not true pe­ruser. There have also been big ad­vance­ments in beam-forming, with Wi-Fi kit fea­tur­ing six, eight and even 13(!) an­ten­nae, while MU-MIMO tech­nol­ogy yields su­pe­rior per­for­mance and sig­nal re­li­a­bil­ity.

In the process, wired Eth­er­net de­vel­op­ment has been fool­ishly side­lined. You can never be 100 per cent sure what you’ll get from a wire­less router sig­nal, where the faster speeds are only at­tained us­ing the dis­tance-lim­ited 5GHz band. Also, while 802.11ac routers are very pop­u­lar in the USA, in the UK (and EU) where we typ­i­cally have brick walls and denser hous­ing (so we can see half a street’s worth of hotspots), I’d ar­gue that wired Eth­er­net is still prefer­able for many peo­ple.

Gi­ga­bit Eth­er­net de­liv­ers roughly 100MB/sec in terms of re­al­world through­put, de­pend­ing on ca­bling qual­ity, router per­for­mance and the speeds of source/des­ti­na­tion drives. As SSD prices hit the deck, though, and more peo­ple dump their hard disks, this 100MB/sec through­put will quickly be­come a bot­tle­neck.

This year, 1TB SSDs have dropped in price sig­nif­i­cantly, and Sam­sung’s 950 SSDs will even have a 2TB op­tion.

NBy 2017, we’ll see up to 6TB of flash mem­ory packed into 2.5in boxes, mean­ing that SSDs will quickly be­gin to re­place NAS hard drives as well. And so they should – their fast bootup ca­pa­bil­ity, low power, zero noise and smaller size are per­fect for an al­ways-on de­vice. With SSD-to-SSD trans­fers due to be­come the norm in the near fu­ture, 5GbE NBase-T will be an es­sen­tial up­grade to give us 500MB/sec through­put.

The prob­lem is that the NBase-T Al­liance ( was cre­ated with en­ter­prise in mind, and the tech has been sold as a good-value op­tion for 10GbE, rather than an up­grade path to 1GbE. It’s hardly sur­pris­ing, since the NBase-T Al­liance Chair­man works at Cisco, al­though the work­ing group has grown to 34 mem­bers this year, in­clud­ing In­tel, Real­tek, Marvell and Qual­comm – com­pa­nies that all make kit in typ­i­cal home routers and moth­er­boards. How­ever, even though the 1.1 spec has been re­leased, no one is push­ing NBase-T to its fuller po­ten­tial in the home and small to medium busi­ness mar­kets.

In­tel re­cently launched new Xeon D pro­ces­sors for net­work­ing and data stor­age that are NBase-T com­pat­i­ble, but again, the tech is just a foot­note when the pre­mium spec has half a dozen 100GbE links. In ad­di­tion, along with its new Max­imus VIII Ex­treme/As­sem­bly moth­er­board, Asus ROG also showed off its 10G Ex­press card – a 10GbE add-on. Yet with no router to com­ple­ment it (at the time of writ­ing), and the moth­er­board cost­ing $500 US (£329), this tech­nol­ogy is clearly for the very few.

With en­ter­prise net­work­ing and home net­work­ing hav­ing sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent re­quire­ments, and of­ten dif­fer­ent de­sign teams, the en­ter­prise-cen­tric de­vel­op­ers have clearly for­got­ten us at home. How­ever, NBase-T is an ideal and soon to be needed up­grade – let’s make some noise and de­mand it.

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