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I have an old laptop (PIII 800MHz, with 256 RAM) that I wish to use as my home server: it'll have to serve just two people, so I think that I'll be more than ok as for the RAM and the CPU.

The issue is about data, because the internal hard disk is a 12GB, that is...ridicolous! I have more than 60GB of mixed storage and counting (images, videos and music) in an external usb hd. I could put the hd in my desktop pc just to serve the big files through ethernet or let it inside its usb box attached to the laptop.

The question is: which of these solutions will be the fastest? USB 1.0 attached to the server (laptop) or internal hard disk serving files via 10/100 ethernet to the laptop on demand?

EDIT: what about your experience? Is the difference based on a human notable scale?

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

A USB 1.0 device has a max throughput of 12Mbps, while Ethernet has a throughput of 10Mbps/100Mbps, depending on what kind of LAN card & wires that you have. Assuming its a 100Mbps LAN, the Ethernet option is faster.

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@Dag729: YES, MUCH FASTER. – Shiki Jun 14 '10 at 19:52
I see, I'll go by network then! :D – dag729 Jun 15 '10 at 13:43

Ethernet 10BaseT is about the same 100BaseT is significantly faster.

Here are the speed comparisons of USB vs Ethernet vs Wireless:

Note: MegaBytes are not equal to MegaBits so I've included the conversions.

  • USB 1.0
    • 12 MegaBits/sec
    • 1.5 MegaBytes/sec
  • USB 2.0
    • 480 MegaBits/sec
    • 60 MegaBytes/sec
  • Ethernet 10BaseT
    • 10 MegaBits/sec
    • 1.25 MegaBytes/sec
  • Ethernet 100BaseT
    • 100 MegaBits/sec
    • 12.5 MegaBytes/sec
  • Ethernet 1000BaseT
    • 1 GigaBits/sec
    • 125 MegaBytes/sec
  • 802.11 Wireless a
    • 54 MegaBits/sec
    • 6.75 MegaBytes/sec
  • 802.11 Wireless b
    • 11 MegaBits/sec
    • 1.375 MegaBytes/sec
  • 802.11 Wireless g
    • 54 MegaBits/sec
    • 6.75 MegaBytes/sec
  • 802.11 Wireless n
    • 72.2 or 150 MegaBits/sec
    • 9.025 or 18.75 MegaBytes/sec

The important thing to note about these numbers is they are considered the 'theoretical maximum' meaning that they represent the highest speed under ideal/perfect conditions. Users will typically around 2/3 of these speeds.

For ethernet, even though many people have gigabit (1000BaseT) capable cards in their computers, you would only see anything close to those speeds if you were connected directly to another computer.

The connection between your computer and the internet represents a huge bottleneck. Average internet speeds in the US are somewhere between 20-40 MegaBits/sec or 2.5 MegaBytes/sec. That's why you would typically see little measurable difference between an internet connection across an ethernet cable and an internet connection across wireless.

Here are the references used in this answer:

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Thanks a lot! I thought about bottlenecks, and I'll surely make more than one: if just the laptop had at least a good network card, it would be even better, but it isn't so and I can't go USB...thanks again for the infos! – dag729 Jun 15 '10 at 13:47

According to Wikipedia the transfer speeds for USB (including 2.0) are:

The actual throughput currently (2006) of USB 2.0 high bandwidth attained with real-world devices is about two thirds of the maximum theoretical bulk data transfer rate of 53.248 MiB/s, a typical observation being around 28-29 MiB/s. For USB 1.1, an average transfer speed of 880 KiB/s has been observed. Typical high bandwidth USB devices operate at lower data rates, often about 3 MiB/s overall, sometimes up to 10–20 MiB/s

Which is a lot slower than ethernet, which typically gets 1.2/12 MiB/s transfer rates for 10/100 LAN.

So theoretically while a non USB 2.0 device could be faster than a 10MB network, it's unlikely and if you've got a 100MB network it's a lot slower. I'd go with LAN everytime.

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Typical values are 1.2/12 MiB/s, after overhead. – Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Jun 14 '10 at 19:29
@Ignacio - Cheers – ChrisF Jun 14 '10 at 19:33
I'll go with LAN then! Waiting for a better machine...maybe with a USB 3.0 port and a gigabyte ethernet card! – dag729 Jun 15 '10 at 13:49

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