Upgrading my home network to gigabit

August 3, 2010
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This time around I wanted to briefly discuss my network upgrade from 100Mbs wired to 1000Mbs, and to direct wiring more of the machines. This was a little project from this Spring.

Upgrading my home network
I had been running a basic wireless G 100Mbs router for a number of years. It served its purpose admirably. It always was easier to just go wireless than try to run a cable. Our now-retired TIVO had a wireless adapter, the arcade cabinet and laptops were wireless. The only PCs that were wired were the two under my desk. Speed was rarely an issue, though, as file transfers were infrequent, and web surfing doesn’t require much bandwidth. If I needed a faster connection for the laptop (moving files back and forth), a spare Cat5e cable plugged into the router worked just fine.

Once I decided to build the ESXi box, I knew the time was right to upgrade the network. Traffic would be heavier and faster network speeds would be helpful. Besides that fact, the primary PC had a gigabit NIC already, and the ESXi box would have one, too. Keeping the status quo would be like trying to race two Corvettes down a one lane, dirt road. A major bottleneck.

I wished to keep the total expenditure for the project under $80, a purely arbitrary number. This put some limitations on what I could use.

I initially debated moving to a new, wireless-N router with gigabit ports but that was quickly reconsidered. Not only did I not have any wireless-N devices, it was more money than the $80 budget would allow for.

After a bit of time watching SlickDeals, two inexpensive gigabit switches, the D-Link DGS-2205 ($22 AR) and TRENDnet TEG-S50G 10/100/1000Mbps GREENnet Switch ($15 AR), were ordered. Each had a rebate, one per household, so that is my excuse for the two different manufacturers. A StarTech ST1000BT32 1 Port PCI 10/100/1000 32 Bit Gigabit Ethernet Network Adapter Card ($14) that had been ordered at the same time as the ESXi parts replaced the slower one in the backup machine. An order from MonoPrice ($21) yielded me a box of goodies that included a variety of lengths, and colors, of cat5e cables. These ranged from 12″ to 75′. I knew it was going to be a lot easier to trace any wiring in the basement ceiling if they were not all basic-black. I stayed with Cat5e rather than moving to pricier Cat6.

In the end, my entire upgrade cost just $72, less than the cost of just a Wireless-N router. I was under budget, which always feels good. I also have a few extra Cat5e cables on hand now, if needed.

The Move
At that time, I had the backup machine under my work desk. This had begun to limit the leg room and the kids were starting to bump into it more frequently while sitting with me. My finished basement is a large square, with a utility closet in the middle making it more of a donut. We use the left side for the office, and the other side contained a half-wall of sturdy, completely filled shelves. The top shelf of one unit ended up being EXACTLY the right height I needed to house the backup machine and ESXi box. So two storage boxes were relocated from the spot, and the backup machine was moved. This necessitated a cable being run from the router at one end of the basement, up and across the drop ceiling, and dropped down above the shelf, to the PC’s location. This single line would be connected to a switch to allow for multiple devices.

The PC required an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) in case of short power outages or general power fluctuations. I moved my second 330W APC UPS from by the desk to a shelf beneath the newly relocated PC. I have owned a number of their UPSs over the years and they have never let me down. I did try a Belkin about seven years ago and it didn’t even compare; brownouts would still power off the PC. With APC’s products, I have never had that issue. They last between four and five years for me. When it is time for a replacement, the new one goes with the newest PC, and that machine’s UPS gets moved to the open spot. The spent battery gets taken to Lowes and dropped into their recycling box, the case goes into the garbage.

The switches

The TRENDnet switch was placed on my desk, beneath the router. The primary PC was plugged into it, as was the wireless router. The cable that ran to the other side of the room was also plugged into a port.

On the shelf across the room, the D-Link switch, was placed between the two PCs. One foot cables connected the machines to the switch. The cable from the other side found a port, too. The remaining two ports would be used for the arcade and the Blu-ray player, both on the main level. Both switches were plugged into their respective UPSs. A picture of the network that might make more sense is further down this post.

Running the cables
As previously mentioned, the basement has a drop ceiling. This made the cable runs a lot easier that it might have been otherwise. I selected a brightly colored 50′ cable and ran it from the server-side switch up to beneath the arcade cabinet (in the main level’s front room). A 5/8″ spade bit from above quickly made a hole through the carpet and floor. I pushed a straightened coat hanger down through the floor, attached the cat5 cable to the lower end of the hanger with black tape, then pulled the hanger back up through the floor, dragging the cable with it. Then I plugged the cable into the cabinet’s PC and I moved onto the other runs.

The run to the Blu-ray in the family room was a different colored 50′ cable. I decided to also string a 75′ cable along with it to the far wall of that room for future expansion. I just left it coiled up beneath the floor (the family room is above a crawl), with electrical tape covering the plug. It was not plugged into the switch.

The Finished Network
Below is the layout of the main, wired network.

Home Network Layout

Home Network Layout

Before testing, I upgraded the NIC drivers in my primary PC and the backup machine. After that was completed, I tested the network throughput by moving around some 13GB home video files. For the large files such as that, the gigabit portion of network runs at 220-240Mbs. Batches of smaller files showed a slightly reduced rate. Definitely a step up from 70-75Mbs I get from the 100Mbs NIC in the arcade cabinet.

I have been quite happy with the increase in speed over the network. It was well worth the limited expenditure. If I had to do one thing differently, it might have been to buy an 8-port switch rather than the second five-port. Other than that, I have no regrets.

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