Ethernet : Computer Hardware Buyers’ Glossary


aka IEEE (Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers) 802.3, aka network adapter. You can connect computers together to let them share files, printers, or programs. Ideally you connect them in a star using 10-base T wiring, that looks like fat 8-conductor telephone wire with oversize clear plastic phone jack plugs. At the center of the star is a little box with indicator lights called a hub. The other technique is to snake a single coax cable (called ThinNet) through all the computers. Coax suffers from the same problem that cheap Christas tree lights do. If any link is not perfect, the whole system goes down. The advantage of coax is you need less wire altogether and you don’t need to poke around in the ceiling threading wire all the way back to the hub to add another workstation. Ordinary Ethernet can transmit 10 million bits per second, about 1/8 the speed you can access data off a good quality hard disk. There are various Ethernet variants that allow you to transmit 100 million bits per second. 100M Ethernet uses the same 10-base T cabling, though you will get better results with cat5 cable sometimes sold under the name Datatwist 350. If you mix slow and fast Ethernet on the same LAN (Local Area Network), you need a switching hub. For heavy duty applications there are now Ethernets capable of a gigabit per second, i.e. ten times faster still at 1000 million bits per second. There is even a 10-gigabit per second Ethernet, which is 100 times faster than 100M. These are used primarily to link servers to the Internet.

The electronics to support Ethernet connections are sometimes part of the motherboard or sometimes on a separate PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) adapter card that Intel likes to call a desktop adapter. Intel reserves the term Ethernet controller for the master chip on that card. In a laptop, usually Ethernet is built-in, but sometimes you must buy an add-on PCMCIA card.

Long Distances

Ethernet via 10-Base T twisted pair won’t go further than 100 metres (109.36 yards). There are several techniques to use to deal with LANs (Local Area Networks) that are very spread out.

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