I received a message from a follower asking me about my current network configuration, both in reference to a post I made a few years ago and the fact he too lives in the St. Louis area and uses Charter. Funny you should ask….
I currently pay for Charter’s highest tier at 100/5 (the fastest in our area… /praying for Google Fiber to come to the St. Louis area). I’ve never really achieved the speeds I pay for with my hardware and never felt the need, but as my hardware was nearing 5 years old (it was future-proofed at the time) and my family’s demands on the hardware are more reliant and strenuous, I felt it was time to future-proof once again.
First, my old configuration:
- Motorola SB6120 Modem
- Cisco Linksys WRT610Nv2 with DD-WRT (the modded WRT350N from my post mentioned above was donated to a friend… and is still being used might I add)
- Dual-band wireless N
- Trendnet Gigabit Switch
- CAT5e cables throughout
And for my newly purchased upgrades:
- Motorola SB6141 modem
- Asus RT-AC66U
- IPv6… because Charter supports it
- I have no AC devices yet, but I imagine I will within the next 12 months
- Trendnet Gigabit Switch
- Rosewill CAT7 cables throughout
The purpose behind this whole project was to future-proof with reasonable expectation of some slight speed increase over the network… nothing spectacular and not terribly expensive.
I received my new Asus router first and had the chance to set it up and tinker before I received any of the new cabling. This is a good thing as there were significant speed increases once I installed the cable. And after testing in a real world scenario with CAT5e, CAT6 and CAT7, I can vouch that CAT7 is some awesome stuff. Yes, your cables matter and they do make a difference. And anyone who says CAT7 cables won’t make a differenc has never used them. My internal network speeds are dramatically better from CAT5e to CAT7. File transfers from computer-to-computer are blazing fast!
My CAT5e Maximum speeds were in the 125s over both the Asus gigabit router AND the my older Linksys router (love the sales pitch on “tested 1Gbps” CAT5e cables… MY ASS!)… and yes I tested on multiple CAT5e cables. The differences in speed [on paper] were marginal between CAT5e and CAT6, getting about 200Mbps out of the CAT6 cables; I certainly couldn’t feel the difference between the two. The Linksys router kinda crapped out at speeds above 200Mbps anyhow. So yay for CAT7 baby (results above)! So what exactly is CAT7? Well:
- CAT5 = 100MHz
- CAT5e = 100MHz (it may claim it’s 300MHz or 350MHz… it’s not!)
- CAT6 = 250MHz
- CAT6a = 250MHz
- CAT7 = 600MHz
Translate, noise is bad. And the CAT6, CAT7 cables offer more shielding to prevent noise, hence faster communication and less errors. The primary advantage of CAT7 is supposed to be maintaining speeds over longer distances… ie, if you’re gonna run a 100-foot line of cable, CAT7 is probably the way to go in order to prevent transfer speeds from diminishing. For the geeky details on category cables, this link breaks it down really well. I primarily went with CAT7 because it seems like it may be the last generation of category cable to be backward compatible over copper. Whether that’s true or not remains to be seen with CAT8 on the horizon. I’m more interested in the hands on feel as opposed to the “on paper stats” anyway, and CAT7 is zippy as can be.
Don’t forget, that hardware plays a HUGE role in network transfer speeds as well. Albeit a bit dated (2009; pre-SSD era) Tom’s hardware has a great article that discusses the hardware aspect very well, although I didn’t even come close to achieving the results the article did. In my particular case, I’m testing transfers from my Windows 7 workstation (12GB RAM, solid state drive) to my Windows Home Server (8GB RAM, multiple 7200 RPM WD Black Drives in a pool) and my Windows 2012 development server (8GB RAM, 10000 RPM raptor Drive). The CAT7 cables these tests were run on were all 15-feet in length.
After configuring my router (BEFORE installing the cable), I ran some tests and was only getting slightly better speeds [on the web] than my old router (about 80Mb/s vs the roughly 70Mb/s I was getting before)… exactly what I expected. However, once I enabled and configured IPv6, some speeds over the internet seemed to dramatically improve, like even my wife and teenagers noticed. Google services in general are noticeably faster as well as Wikipedia and FaceBook (a simple ping for these sites from a command prompt will return IPv6 addresses). Most exciting, I can now pay my Verizon wireless bill over IPv6 (yes, Verizon’s compliant too). The other IP services only pickup my IPv4 address, and don’t really seem any faster than they were before, as is the vast majority of the web that has still not adopted IPv6. So I’m assuming most of the “zippiness” or “zest” I’m feeling are from sites who’ve already adopted IPv6. After running speedtest however, although my speeds were reliably faster, As I stated before I still wasn’t achieving the 100mb speeds I was paying for with Charter. Why? Turns out I’m a victim of “peak hours”. How do I fix this? My modem. 8 bonds instead of 4 to be precise… which Charter just pushed on supported modems on August 29th! So although I didn’t plan on upgrading my modem, I went ahead and upgraded to the SB6141 which has 8 bonds as opposed to the 4 bonds in the SB6120. And what was the result? Although I had to wait 24 hours for Charter to push the 8-bond firmware update to my modem… low and behold I have the speed I’m paying for! (insert angelic sound and bright white lights)
Now I’ve never had trouble with bandwidth before, but naturally I now want to stress test everything and flex my muscles a bit. So I put the whole family on our devices all at once. With two simultaneous netflix streams, four simultaneous network HD video streams off the Windows Home Server, and downloading two 1GB files simultaneously… neither the network or the internet even hiccuped… and speeds were fast and zippy the whole time. This is the hands on result I was looking for.
I was impressed, so lets play with IPv6 some more!
World of Warcraft has an enable IPv6 setting. Yep… lower ping and I’m no longer seeing detailed scenery load… it’s loaded before I get there. Another nice unexpected perk. Sweet!
My HP CP2025DN Printer has detected an IPv6 address in its control panel. Although Windows didn’t pick it up automatically, I was able to copy the IPv6 address and add the printer manually. I honestly have no idea if there’s any speed increase with the printer and don’t even care, but it’s cool so I set it up on all the computers as IPv6.
As for wireless, I didn’t even bother to test it. I don’t have any AC devices yet which makes that feature of the router and the network pointless at the moment. And simply put, tasks on my wireless devices don’t really consider speed to be critical. The phones, tablets and laptops simply need a solid connection anywhere in the house for basic surfing, streaming video/music and maybe some PDF downloads. The heavy network tasks are performed by the machines that work… the servers (I have two) and the workstations (again, two on the network).
I don’t profess to be an expert at this and I’d certainly like to tinker some more to see if I can squeeze out faster speeds, which I think lies in tweaking the NICs on my network as opposed to any other hardware. And I’ll admit I got a bit carried away, but really enjoyed this two-week project… the quest for more speed is addicting! Not bad for a home network in my humble opinion. Remember those archaic things called wires and desktop computers… you know… used to do actual work? Yeah… they’re still VERY relevant. Granted… this network’s setup for both work [at home] and the new toys. Here’s to the five years before the next upgrade.