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Is there any point in upgrading from 100Mbps CAT5 to 1Gbps CAT6?

Posted on 2013-01-15
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A client with a very small SBS 2008 network (6 users) has asked me to upgrade their network to 1Gbps and I wonder if they will see any real difference locally.

They currently have a mixture of CAT5e and CAT6 cabling, so the CAT5e would need replacing along with the switches. All the PCs and the server have Gbit cards in them.

Would they really notice any significant improvement. I asked the same question in the past. albeit several years ago, and received a resounding no?

They still have 2 XPP PCs - any advantage in upgrading these to Win 7 Pro, like the others?

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Question by:mikeabc27
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lamaslany earned 350 total points
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Cat5e can run at 1Gbps so unless they want to standardise on Cat6 there is no need to replace it.

What kind of data runs over their network?  Unless they are transferring lots of data 1Gbps probably isn't needed.
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by:Dave Baldwin
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If you replace the switch, you may find that the network will be running at 1GBps internally without changing anything else.
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by:Sandeep
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If they really need to transfer the data at faster speed in this small network then only it would be advisable to upgrade to CAT6. As advised above CAT5 can take up to 1 GBPS speed. Why not try to change the speed for all network to 1 gbps if all machines have NIC supporting it. then think of upgrading to CAT6 if still required. Rather than putting lot of money first better try with these options and then upgrade if still required by customer.
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by:Cliff Galiher
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I don't know who told you "no" but, yes, 1GB is a definite upgrade when it comes to local LAN traffic. Windows updates will streak faster' exchange will cache faster. The user may not "notice" the difference, but a bunch of little improvements will add up.

Same goes for win7. I firmly believe the sysadmin's job is easier if all desktops are running the same OS. That alone translates to a better ROI. But win7 does have a series of incremental end user improvements that they may not immediately notice, but will subtly improve their productivity.
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by:mikeabc27
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They are mainly running Office and accounts/payrolls programs, emails so nothing huge.

I'm sure there are no CAT5 cables left in the network, but need to double check. They use 3 switches, two are 100Mbps so these would need to be replaced.
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by:lamaslany
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"...Windows updates will streak faster..."
As downloading Windows Updates happens in the background, and given the typical size of Windows Updates, I would question the relative worth of downloading these updates 'faster'...

"...exchange will cache faster..."
This is true.  But how big are the users' mailboxes?  And once it has fully cached the mailbox the benefits of the faster link are negligable.

"The user may not "notice" the difference..."

If the user doesn't notice the difference you have to ask yourself how happy they'll be after their investment.

"...but a bunch of little improvements will add up."

True enough.  :)


EDIT: To be clear I am not saying that 1Gbps is not a good idea - only that for a small business they may not need it.  Any ROI will take far longer to realise than on a larger network.
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by:cpmcomputers
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If they are using accounts and payroll program's of any significance and the data is located centrally on the server I would expect them to notice a response difference

Three network switches on a six user system ?
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by:mikeabc27
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"To be clear I am not saying that 1Gbps is not a good idea - only that for a small business they may not need it.  Any ROI will take far longer to realise than on a larger network."

This was the general consensus I received a few years back.
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by:garycase
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A few thoughts ...

=>  There will be NO difference in anything they're downloading from the internet.   100Mb is certainly faster than the internet connection :-)

=>  Windows Updates won't be any faster IF they're being downloaded from the internet (that may or may not be the case for such a small network) ... but if they're being loaded locally from the server (via WSUS) then yes, they'll be faster.    Whether the users will notice this is certainly debatable ... obviously not if they're rolled out overnight.

=>  Any large file transfers will be MUCH faster ... I typically get 80-100 MB/s on my gigabit network for file transfers;  with a 100Mb network you'll get about 11Mb.    Again, whether or not the users will notice this speed difference depends very much on the size of the data they're transferring.    For the usage you've described, I suspect not.

=>  There is NO reason to swap out the Cat-5, assuming it's all  Cat-5e (as you indicated).   Cat-5e is fine for gigabit networks => it's not certified for 1000Mb, but can usually achieve it; and will certainly get close.

=>  Depending on the topology of the backup strategy, backups may be MUCH faster.

=>  As noted above, if you simply change the switches to gigabit switches, you'll get gigabit performance for all paths that don't have to go through the router (assuming the router's built-in switch isn't gigabit).    

=>  Replacing the XP PC's with Win-7 PC's is a different issue altogether.   But I tend to agree that overall system management is better if they're all running the same OS.

Bottom line:   If the client wants the upgrade, I'd do what they've asked.   But I'd advise against replacing the Cat-5e;  and be sure their expectations are realistic.    Since all the PC's have gigabit adapters, the upgrade is very simple => replace 2 switches and possibly the router.
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by:mikeabc27
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"Three network switches on a six user system ?"

In place when I took over and at the time there were 10 PCs on 4 floors. I suspect I may find at least one CAT5 cable connecting the 2 older switches, if so, I'll reduce it to 2 switches.
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by:mikeabc27
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I'd check the properties anyway, but do the NICs automatically default to the fastest speed available?

Besides the obvious file transfer before and after comparisons, what is the best way to show the actual speed they are getting?
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by:lamaslany
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"=>  Depending on the topology of the backup strategy, backups may be MUCH faster."

garycase makes a good point.  I had assumed that as they are running SBS their user files would be stored and backed up on the server.  If the client machines are backing up to the server then there would indeed be a substantial reduction in backup periods.  

Again though the question is whether the cost of the two switches can be justified.

It may be easier to argue in favour of gigabit connectivity by looking at the restoration time.  If the backups happen out of hours then as long as it doesn't over-run into business hours, thus impacting the users' day-to-day activity, the business probably doesn't care.  On the other hand as restoration of files is typically required within business hours there is a strong argument to ensure that the restoration does not adversely affect productivity for the other users and that the restoration time itself is as short as possible.

I suppose I should have asked before but do you know why they've asked for a network upgrade?
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by:garycase
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If they all have gigabit cards, they will auto-negotiate the speed with the switch they're connected to.    So if they're all connected to gigabit switches, they'll connect at that speed.

If this is a fairly old infrastructure, be sure the cabling is indeed Cat-5E   (emphasis on the E).    Cat-5 (no E) is only rated for 100Mb, and won't work well much above that.   It will still work on your network -- but will result in much lower speeds.

I use this little tool to test network speed:  http://download.cnet.com/LAN-Speed-Test/3000-2085_4-10908738.html
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by:lamaslany
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"I'd check the properties anyway, but do the NICs automatically default to the fastest speed available?"

The default for every desktop NIC I've seen in the past ten years has been to auto-negotiate the speed to the highest supported by both ends.  I would be extremely suprised if they didn't negotiate to 1Gbps - unless the switch requires manual configuration.  What model switches do you have/are you getting?


"Besides the obvious file transfer before and after comparisons, what is the best way to show the actual speed they are getting? "


The file transfer comparison is the most relevant and visible difference to the end users.  Why would you want something else?  I suppose you could stream data instead but throughput is throughput...

EDIT: Of course depending on your server you may find that the disk I/O becomes the bottleneck and you cannot max a 1Gbps link...
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by:mikeabc27
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Thanks for the link Gary.

"I suppose I should have asked before but do you know why they've asked for a network upgrade? "

General six year review of network.
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by:lamaslany
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General six year review of network.

If it is going to be six years before they take another look at the network then I'd definately recommend upgrading to 1Gbps!
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by:mikeabc27
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Many thanks to you all. I'll check all cabling is at least 5e and replace the switch(es)
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