Faster networks, please

Faster networks, please

Summary: You can’t be too rich or too thin, or have a network that’s too fast. I struggled over the weekend trying to tweak the performance of an Xbox 360 connected to a PC running the new Media Center software in Windows Vista. The experience was amazing and frustrating at the same time. Is there a hardware fix waiting in the wings?

TOPICS: Networking
You can’t be too rich or too thin, or have a network that’s too fast. I struggled over the weekend trying to tweak the performance of an Xbox 360 connected to a PC running the new Media Center software in Windows Vista. (I’ll have a closer look at Vista Media Center later this week.)

The experience was amazing and frustrating at the same time. Vista Media Center pumps a lot of data over the wire, at true HDTV quality levels. That means even a few small hiccups in network performance can turn into skips in music and pixelated on-screen images. Using the Xbox 360 as a Media Center Extender, I wasn’t able to get through more than a few minutes of TV without dropouts and glitches.

And this is over a wired network. I pity anyone trying to stream a high-def picture over a wireless connection, especially using an 802.11g connection that’s also trying to serve the rest of the network.

Now, the problem could be on the somewhat tortured network connection between these two devices, with a router, two switches, and several long cable runs to deal with. This could be the incentive I need to reexamine those wiring paths and simplify, simplify, simplify.

A few months back, I tossed away a whole bag full of obsolete network cards, routers, hubs, and other gear. With one exception, every intermediary link in the network chain is now capable of running at Gigabit Ethernet speeds. It’s made a big difference in throughput, but nothing is fast enough.

So I was interested in this morning’s report on Ultrawideband (UWB) technology, prepared by Scottsdale-based market research firm In-Stat. In theory, at least, UWB devices can deliver data at gigabit rates over short distances, which makes them ideal for PC media center applications.

In-Stat says UWB chipsets will first start appearing in wireless USB dongles later this year and will then start to show up as PCMCIA cards on PC motherboards. Eventually, they’ll end up on cell phones and, presumably, iPods and other portable music players.

I can’t wait.

Topic: Networking

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  • You got some other problems Ed.

    UWB is great for in-room stuff, but no way can it be as good as a wire. You have some other problems Ed. Even HDV streams (the kind coming from a camcorder) only use 28 mbps. A stabil 100 mbps switch should be able to sustain 80 mbps. I think you might have some duplex mismatch issues or something which would reset the link every few seconds.

    Of course, gigabit switches are dirt cheap and they're great when you need to transfer large files in the gigabyte range. If I were you I would transfer some large files and watch the throughput meter built in to WinXP's task manager. Make sure it stays north of 70 mbps at all times. If it can't, you got some weird problems with one of the end points or your network.
    • Could be autosensing on NIC or routers

      I would hard strap all of the devices to the maximum speed and full duplex. Autosensing is great in theory but causing far too many problems in practice.
      • Far more problems using manual settings

        In my experience, there are far more problems when trying to use manual duplex/speed settings. Sometimes it's needed but it's more likely to get you in trouble. The best solution is to do the throughput test. There is no reason that Fast Ethernet shouldn't be stable.
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    • I agree

      However, it sounds like you're saying you're using a gigabit network already, Ed. As George points out, even a 100mb network should be enough to handle that. There has got to be something wrong with your setup.

      Furthermore, if your wired gigabit network isn't able to keep up, why would a wireless gigabit network be any better?
  • About that Router...

    When you said it was passing through a router, I take it you meant a switch built into a router, not actually being routed (as in two seperate network segments in your house)? I've never seen a router even remotely affordable for home use that would give you more than a 10mb WAN port, so running anything across network segments would be bad.

    Same pretty much goes for the switch in the router. None of the consumer-focused routers I've seen have built-in gigabit switches (yet), they're limited to 100mb.

    As far as the multiple switches and long cable runs, I'd be surprised if that turned out to be the problem. Unless they're poor quality switches and / or poor quality VERY long cables, they should be alright.

    If you ever get it worked out, I'd be interested to know what you found the problem to be.
    • Router with gigabit switch

      D-Link's DGL-4300 has four Gigabit Ethernet ports.
      Ed Bott
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