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Fast Ethernet Switches vs Gigabit Switches

Fast Ethernet vs Gigabit

When it comes to networking, you have a lot of choices. Most devices are connected wirelessly when they can be, but there are still plenty of occasions where it makes sense to run Ethernet cables.

This could be related to security concerns, network reliability, or connection speeds.

Regardless, you have some level of freedom in how you design Ethernet networks, and a lot of it boils down to the switches you select. In general, you can choose between fast Ethernet and Gigabit switches. Which is right for you? Let’s really explore the potential answers to that question.

What Is Fast Ethernet?

Fast Ethernet is a form of Ethernet that has been around for several decades now. It is sometimes known as 10/100 Ethernet, and the primary identifier is that this form of Ethernet caps at data rates of 100 Mb/s.

One of the advantages of fast Ethernet is that these switches can often handle relatively large numbers of devices at this rate, as any one device won’t be consuming large amounts of bandwidth.

Fast Ethernet connects via RJ45 connectors, and it only requires Cat 5 cabling. Any Ethernet more advanced than standard Cat 5 is overkill and a waste of money with these ports.

It’s also worth noting that fast Ethernet switches can support Gigabit uplink ports — using copper or fiber connections. That ensures that the switch has more than enough bandwidth for the connected devices.

What Is Gigabit Ethernet?

Gigabit Ethernet is an upgrade to the concept of fast Ethernet. The primary difference between the two is data rates. As the name implies, Gigabit Ethernet supports Gigabit connection speeds. At the lower end, you can find switches that will provide 1 Gb/s rates to connected devices.

Higher-end devices can push up to 10 Gb/s per device. Keep in mind that this is still using Ethernet connections.

Of course, there are faster switches, but getting above 10 Gb/s will typically require fiber optics connections.

Gigabit Ethernet still uses RJ45 connectors, but it requires Ethernet cabling that can support demanded speeds. For 1 Gb/s, you need Cat 5e or Cat 6 cables. For 10 Gb/s speeds, you will need Cat 6a or better cables. You don’t need Cat 8 for these connections as Cat 8 supports data rates up to 40 Gb/s.

How Do You Choose Between the Two?

That covers the essentials of each type of Ethernet switch. How do you go about choosing between the two?

You’re going to compare what your network needs to the cost of each option. Basically, it comes down to bandwidth vs money. In some cases, your budget or your bandwidth needs will make the decision for you, but in most cases, you have more freedom of choice than you might imagine. So, let’s explore bandwidth needs and costs in a little more detail to see if fast Ethernet might actually be viable.

Bandwidth Needs

If you need connections that are faster than 100 Mb/s, then that answers the question for you. You have to invest in technology that can keep up with demand.

But, that brings up an important question. Do you actually need such speeds?

100 Mb/s is more than sufficient for the vast majority of internet work. You don’t even need 100 Mb connections for common downloads, high-definition video streams (which would include large Zoom meetings), or online communication in general. For the most part, only server-level work requires rates faster than 100 Mb/s — that or extremely large amounts of downloading/uploading.

Most workstations are adequately served by 100 Mb/s connections.

Costs

Networking equipment choices always come down to costs, and this one is pretty simple. Fast Ethernet is a lot cheaper than Gigabit. For starters, the switches are considerably less pricey, but you also have to factor in the cost of Ethernet cables. Cat 5 cables are very cheap. Cat 6a or Cat7 cables are not cheap at all.

You aren’t just paying more for each device to connect at Gigabit speeds; you’re paying more for every foot of cable you have to run to maintain those connections. If fast Ethernet is fast enough, it saves money on multiple fronts.

Additional Learning Center Resources