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I have a network containing 802.11 N Wi-Fi Devices and gigabit ethernet devices but only using Cat5e wiring. I know that if I used Cat6, the ethernet would be much faster, however if I need to transfer a large file between a device that is connected normally via the Ethernet connection and a device that's normally connected via the Wi-Fi. I'm looking to see if it is advantageous, in terms of speed, to plug the Wi-Fi device using the Ethernet or switch the Ethernet device to Wi-Fi.

The question I'm asking is whether or not using a N Wi-Fi connection or Cat5e backbone Ethernet connection will produce different speeds for large files?

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

Cat 5e does gigabit ethernet fine - its the minimum standard for it in fact, and if you have the wiring, would probably a heck of a lot faster than 802.11N. You'd want cat 6 for 10GBASE-T primarily. That said, Both cat 5e and 6 have identical maximum lengths (100m) for gigabit ethernet. If you decided for some reason to go for 10GBASE-T over cat 6, you'd need a different type of ethernet adaptor. It would be a lot faster though.

Also, according to Wikipedia, Gigabit ethernet should be almost twice as fast as 802.11n (Maximum speed is 600 Mbit/s for 802.11n - but this is assuming that you're able to take advantage of multiple streams - in this case 4 channels. Practically you'd be using only 2-3 channels), but also would not be subject to wireless interference/distance issues.

For reliable bulk transfers, wired ethernet is a significantly better choice.

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In my experience wired cat5 or cat 6 is "dozens" of times faster than Wifi - whatever theoritical speed it can do, local conditions such as other networks in the vicininty normaly trash Wifi expected performance. I've got a dual channel N router that should be capable of really fast downloads (from my NAS). But using the cables makes things scary fast, whereas using wifi is unbearable.

As a practicle example... - I keep my ripped DVDs on a NAS so I can watch them in any room, and normally copy them to the desktop before watching so I don't get jumpy playback. Last night I forgot to plug the cable in my laptop and after 5 minutes the Wifi connection was telling me there were 20 hours left to transfer the file. Stopped the transfer, plugged in the cable, recopied and 90 seconds later it had transferred a 1.7GB file! That's what I meant by scary! There are about 20 other wifi networks that have at least 1 bar signal my laptop can detect. MI'm using a time capsule which has selected the least congested frequency (and is on a different channel to all the other networks) but there's still overlaps in the specturm. The cable is CAT5e running connected to gigabit ports. I'm about to move from a rented flat to an owned house - and will be CAT 6 cabling the new house based on my Wifi experiences.

So the answer - forget WIfi and use the cables. Wifi is fine for a bit of browsing and background backups, but if you've got lots of data to transfer, plug in the ports.

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