torsdag 5 januari 2017

NBASE-T or IEEE 802.3bz - faster speeds for your network

There have been efforts a few years ago in bringing 10 Gbit/s network speeds to PC motherboards. It has also been used in servers, but mostly using fiber cable. It is only recently when the standard has evolved to be usable with regular twisted pair copper cable. With CAT6a cable you could in theory reach 100 m using 10GBASE-T.

Due to the high requirements of 10 Gbit ethernet, it is often not possible to communicate over longer links due to not spec compliant cable, or when using much more common CAT5e cable. What happens then is that the network link speed is lowered from 10 Gbit/s to 1 GBit/s.

Recently a new standard has been evolving to lower the implications of this problem. New speeds of 5 Gbit/s and 2.5 Gbit/s have been introduced in a new standard IEEE 802.3bz and then later in practice as the NBASE-T alliance.

With IEEE 802.3bz, a speed of 5 GBit/s can be used with up to 100 m CAT5e copper cable.

What this means is that when your 10 Gbit/s link doesn't manage to keep the speed up, instead of dropping to 1 Gbit/s, it drops to 5 Gbit/s or 2.5 Gbit/s. Much better!

Most new motherboards and network cards in 2016 and 2017 that support 10 Gbit ethernet also seem to support NBASE-T, but be sure to check the specifications. Don't buy a 10GBASE-T device without NBASE-T support! An example controller is the Intel Ethernet Controller X550-AT that supports NBASE-T speeds.

Note that only Linux so far supports the new standard. There is no support in Windows drivers for NBASE-T.

Unfortunately there are no affordable (consumer) network switches yet on the market supporting the new NBASE-T standard, but I expect them to arrive shortly. In the professional segment there are already switches supporting this new standard.