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If I have a wireless n router with only a 10/100 LAN ports. Where does the bottleneck occur?

At the transfer speed of wireless n or the 10/100 transfer speeds?

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Makes me also wonder: can a wireless connection run at full-duplex like a LAN port can, or is it half-duplex by nature? – Chris W. Rea Jan 17 '10 at 14:55
up vote 10 down vote accepted

That may depend on the distance between WLAN adapter and router, but the wireless connection can be faster than the wired connection:

100 Mbit wired LAN offers offers speed up to 100 Mbit/sec or 12.5 megabytes per second.

With an 802.11n wireless you will get up to 300 Mbit/sec in theory. real world throughput clocks in at 160 Mbps or faster which translates to 20 megabytes per second. At greater distance 802.11n networks can still operate at up to 70 Mbbit/sec, which is not bad but slower than the wired connection.

if you want to do a site survey and map the signal strength (which is the crucial factor for wlan speed) around your location i recommend Ekahau HeatMapper:

Ekahau HeatMapper is a free software tool for quick and easy coverage mapping of Wi-Fi (802.11) networks. It's the only free, easy-to-use tool that shows, on a map, the wireless network coverage in your home or small office. HeatMapper also locates all access points.

HeatMapper also provides a real-time view to all access points and their configurations.

HeatMapper uses your built-in wireless network adapter, therefore, all you need is a Windows-based laptop with wireless. And it takes just one minute to install.

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While Wireless-N is theoretically faster, you'll be very hard pressed to get anything like the maximum speed, especially with multiple machines trying to get it at the same time. In real terms, unless both of your machines are right next to the router, you'll be getting better speeds with wires. It's also worth considering that you'll get lower ping times, less CPU overhead for decryption of WEP/WPA; and a more reliable connection with no interference from other networks.

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Great points, +1. – John T Jan 10 '10 at 10:17

It depends on distance, interference and many other factors.

If you are transferring from on machine to another via N-Wireless, and both laptops are close to the router, it is possible to get full-N transfer speed.

If you are transferring from a N wireless device to a machine connected via 10/100, if the wireless has a good connection, then the bottleneck will be at the 10/100 part - if however you have a poor wireless connection, it will be at the network card.

However, I have been using Wireless N for ages, it is rare (but not impossible) to see over 110Mb, the normal is about 80-100Mb.

Personally, I would not buy any network equipment these days that has less than Gigabit as even budget, entry level motherboards usually contain a Gigabit controller now. However, if you do want to buy this, it may be the bottleneck, but you would probably not really notice it.

The real difference when it comes to routers, quality and speed comes to down to when you are using it to the max - for example, if you have four wireless devices (a, b, c and d)and two wired (e and f)and transferring a-b, c-e and d-f...

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An extra point to consider as well as those already mentioned (distance, interference, latency, : a wireless access point essentially acts as a hub rather than a switch so once you have more than one active transfer between machines on the wireless network the total throughput will fall due to collisions.

Collisions on the wireless side of your device will not slow down anything connected to the wired side though (unless one of the machines on the wired side is talking to a machine connected via wireless, or course, or the router is very badly designed).

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The wireless and 10/100 LAN ports are independent.

The LAN ports will operate at the speed of the device plugged into them or at 100 MBit (which ever is the lower). If it's a recent PC it will have at least a 100 MBit network card - it may even have a 1 GBit card, but that will operate at 100 MBit.

The wireless operation is more variable but of a similar order to the 100 MBit connection.

Your speed at the computer will be the minimum of the connection from the computer to the router and the connection from the router to your ISP.

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Wireless n can theoretically operate at 600 Mbit/s.
If a NIC is connected at 100Mbit/s, the actual throughput could be more or less than the the what the wireless is getting.

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