Ethernet Ports on PCs Are in for a Long Overdue Speed Boost

Today’s Workloads Demand PC Network Speed Upgrade

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Every year, the processing power of the CPUs that drive our computing and gaming devices increases, enabling them to ingest, process, and churn out more data faster. When you look at the increases over time, as the folks at Expert Exchange did in 2015, the progress is nothing short of mind-boggling.

They found that an Apple iPhone 5 had 2.7 times the processing power of a 1985 Cray-2 supercomputer. And a pair of 2015 Nintendo gaming systems had about the same processing power as the computer that guided Apollo 11 to the moon.

We see it in the new models of workstations, PCs and laptops that come out every year, or even every six months – each one faster and smaller than the last. But, as IDC Research Director Linn Huang points out, the same is not true for the wired Ethernet ports on those machines.

“Over the last decade, PC innovation has accelerated. PCs have gotten sleeker and more powerful while operating at lower power envelopes,” Huang says. “Yet, the Ethernet port has largely been left behind.”

Gigabit Ethernet became a standard in 1999 and started showing up in PCs a few years later. While wireless Ethernet has seen steady increases in bandwidth in the last decade, the same is not true for the wired version, which has been stuck at Gigabit speeds since then.

While it’s true that run-of-the-mill office employees who work with spreadsheets, Word documents and other productivity applications can get along just fine with a Gigabit Ethernet connection (or less), consider some of the other applications that other, more specialized workers are now using on a routine basis.

Video is playing a larger role, and not only for companies in the movie business. Nearly all large enterprises now produce sleek videos for marketing purposes, and they require high-powered machines running video editing applications that produce very large files.

Image rendering is a similar story. Whether it’s CAD-CAM software for engineering designs or image stitching tools to create lifelike panoramic images, lots of industries rely on various sorts of imaging applications that again produce massive files.

Simulation software, such as computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and electromagnetic tools, can also require massive amounts of bandwidth. That’s true whether they are premises-based or, as is increasingly the case, cloud-based – obviously, the faster the network connection, the quicker they will render results. 

As these applications and others produce ever-increasing quantities of data, it only increases enterprise data exchange on the LAN and backup requirements, again driving the need for more wired bandwidth – and faster network ports.

A solution is on the horizon, however. At Aquantia, we’ve developed technology for increasing network speeds to 2.5G and 5G bps over Cat 5e/Cat 6 twisted pair cable. And now we’ve come up with a line of multi-Gigabit Ethernet BASE-T controllers that work at 2.5G, 5G and 10G bps, called AQtion. These AQtion controllers target enterprise workstations, PCs and laptops as well as gaming PCs and SMB applications, such as all-in-one servers.

At Aquantia, we announced the AQtion chips in December and they’re now in production. ASRock, a well-known gaming PC OEM, has already announced their new line-up of gaming motherboards based on our AQtion controllers. Multi-Gigabit Ethernet on workstations, desktops and laptops promises to deliver network connectivity speeds to match the progress we’ve seen in compute power – and eliminate the network bottleneck. 


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