I am starting this thread for those that want to build a network from the ground up or want to improve their existing infrastructure. As I post there will be places that I try to steer you away from wastes of money. Having designed a number of large networks from servers to finished drops and run well over 4,000,000 feet of wire with termination of over 20,000 drops, the IT managers would say I have a fair handle on things.
First thing is the wire. Most of you will not know this but CAT5e is more than enough for a gigabit network. You do not need CAT6 for gigabit speed What is important is that it's quality wire that is tested to 350MHz. This will be far cheaper with a good box of CAT5e generally at about $100-125 dollars per 1000 feet, CAT6 will be upwards of $300.00 per 1000 feet at the time of this writing.
The place to be spending the money is on good gigabit rated RJ45 jacks. Leviton, Siemons, ICC, Amp, etc... all make good jacks. Stay away from Krone as these are total crap. Also don't buy cheap knock offs as they WILL cause problems.
Termination is a place where allot of mistakes are made. It isn't a very hard skill to acquire but it takes experience and must be done properly to assure you get the full performance of the cables and jacks. If you don't know what you are doing you are best to call an expert after you pull the cables to where you want them and have them terminate them for you. It takes about 1 minute to terminate a cable end. The one advantage to having a pro do this is that they will test the terminations to assure that there are no errors.
About pulling, network wire should never run next to power lines and should only cross at a 90 degree angles. There are times when you just have no choice in the matter though. If this is the case be sure and minimize the distance that they run together. Also make sure that there are no tight bends in the wire, That means do not pull it tight around those corners. Remember that the wires in the cable are small and can be delicate, they will break if you pull on them to hard. If a wire becomes stuck or starts to pull hard, go and solve the problem before continuing the pull. Water based pull lube is your friend here, any home depot or lowes will have this stuff.
Yet another option that most do not think of is that of fibre. Believe it or not there is allot of surplus fibre cables, NICs, and Switches out there for cheap. The price premium will be in the range of about 10-25%. For this you get a much more robust connection to your server and switch. In short runs the optical energy coupled into the fibre is more than enough to overcome a bit of dust or slight misalignment of the couplers. Another thing to keep in mind is that a fibre connection is rated up to 550 Meters 850nM multi mode and 10KM to over 80KM for 1310nM single mode. The energy used is more than enough for any run in the home.
WARNING If you do go fibre for some portion of your network do not ever look into a fibre, you WILL suffer eye damage. The energy is in the infra-red range and you can't see it. Always assume that the fibre is energized and emitting. This is especially true in the case of single mode fiber and transceivers. DON'T EVER DO IT!!!!!
The patch cables are another place where money is wasted, ALLOT!!! As long as they are CAT5e rated cables you are good. Again you do not need CAT6 patch cables, save your money.
Switches, gigabit switches are cheap now with 8 port switches going for less than $50.00. The manufacturer is of little importance since for the most part they all use but a hand full of switch chips at their core. This does not apply to switches by companies like HP, Cisco, 3Com, and others in the enterprise class of managed switches/ routers. There are allot of switches on Ebay that are gigabit with one or two fibre ports. These are perfect for your NAS box and a server connection. In addition these switches are generally managed allowing for greater control of your network.
The same is also true of network cards unless you are talking about Intel or older 3Com cards. These are based on Intel chips for the Intel cards and 3Com or Broadcom chips for the 3Com cards. Cards based on the older Realtek chips had performance issues but the newer chips seem to perform just fine. I upgraded a friends home network and NASLite to gigabit using cards based on realtek chips and the performance was limited by the drives. The cards were no name brand at Fry's and cost only $9.99 each. Here is a place that you can really save money. The cards I got for him were using the same Realtek chips as the Netgear and Dlink cards that sold for $25.00 each. There is no difference in the three but name and layout of the chips on the card. Other than that they are all based on the same reference design from Realtek. Unless you are trying to eek out the very last bit of performance from your network these seem to work just fine. Keep in mind the option of fibre for at least the NAS box and the server if you have one.
NICs I have used in the past and had great performance and reliability from.
NetGear GA621 Rev A1 This is a Gigabit SC Fibre card, it has a PCI interface that works in both 64bit and 32bit buses at 33/66MHz. Based on the National Semiconductor DP83820
3Com 3C985SX, the present card in my NASLite box. Has been up for over a year with not one dropped or error packet. Also a 32/64bit and 33/66MHz buses. This card does not support giant packets, I.E. 9K. The largest is 1.5K. It is a solid performer though and supports dual DMA channels for simultaneous reads and writes.
Feel free to interject your thoughts or ask questions and I and others will try to answer.
I will update this thread as time goes on. Tony and Ralph should also feel free to edit this thread with their thoughts as well.
Last edited by mikeiver1 on Sun Mar 22, 2009 11:52 pm, edited 6 times in total.