A Guide to 2.5Gbe Networks – Should you Upgrade

Should you Upgrade to 2.5Gbe – An Idiots Guide

It is always an intimidating step when you upgrade from the safe and familiar territory of relying on your ISP router to make the jump towards more evolved LANs, switches and third party network equipment. The fact that the majority of routers only arrive with up to 4 ports and most of those are gone on day 1 is particularly galling, so the appeal of upgrading your network to allow more devices to communicate (for home or business use) is pretty understandable. In the last year or so, alongside the economical 1Gbe and business-targeted 10Gbe network solutions, a new middle ground has presented itself in the form of 2.5Gbe network hardware. This new tier of network protocol and bandwidth utilises identical-looking hardware to that of traditional ethernet (Copper/BASE-T/RJ45) that has been around commercially for a couple of decades, but arrives at 2.5x the potential performance, raising max speeds from 100MB/s to 250MB/s. 2.5Gbe networks are technically not new, previously referred to as 2.5GBASE-T, their inclusion in the network hardware market as a viable alternative to standard ethernet has only really existed for the last 18 months. With NAS manufacturers, PC network upgrade cards and router manufacturers starting to embrace 2.5Gbe as the network standard of their hardware, many are wondering if now is the time to make the jump to 2.5Gbe network setups in their home or business environment. Today I want to discuss the feasibility, price and suitability of 2.5Gbe as a choice for you and your data.

Upgrading to a 2.5Gbe Network – What You Need to Buy

In order to understand how much work is required when upgrading your network, it is worth knowing just how many different pieces of equipment you may need to buy when upgrading your internal bandwidth potential. The first most obvious upgrade is your switch – and you will need to look at 2.5Gbe equipped switches that allow each connected user the full potential to 250MB/s bandwidth each. Managed switches will allow you to combine these connections via link aggregation and trunking 2 or more to multiply this performance significantly, however, there are numerous affordable unmanaged 2.5Gbe switches out there too that are priced quite closely to 1Gbe counterparts.

Next, you will need to upgrade the network connectivity of your client devices, such as PCs, laptops and servers. Some 2020/2021 hardware releases have started arriving with 2.5Gbe connectivity by default and to meet this there are USB-to-2.5G and USB-to-5G adaptors out there for as little as £25. Otherwise, there are numerous 1-port and 2-port PCIe upgrades readily available to buy that are even cheaper than USB alternatives.

Finally, we can talk about routers (which are arguably optional for most in this setup and still not quite mainstream in 2.5G). Although some modern routers do feature a dedicated 2.5Gbe LAN connection, it is worth remembering that most internet connections worldwide will not really be able to saturate 250MB/s of data. When you look at the internet plan that you have with your ISP, the speed is generally provided in bits ( ie Mb = megabit, Gb = gigabit), not BYTES. Unless you are living somewhere with a decent fibre optic connection, or dedicated high-speed business line that promises speeds higher than 1 gigabit, a 2.5Gbe router will only be able to push as much internet/external packet data to a connected user as the internet service provider allows in your initial plan. so there is no need to spend money on a 2.5Gbe equipped router unless your ISP subscription is comfortably approaching 2.5 gigabits (2.5Gb). Aside from those three areas, nothing else in your typical hardware environment should require an upgrade when making the switch to a 2.5Gbe network. Remember, 2.5Gbe and typical 1Gbe use exactly the same cables for connectivity (RJ45 or Cat cables) so you can reuse your existing setup easily. So, now we know the hardware, let’s discuss the Pros and Cons of 2.5Gbe.

Upgrading to a 2.5Gbe Network – Price

The affordability of 2.5Gbe as an alternative to traditional gigabit ethernet LAN is getting better than it was at launch commercial in 2019. When hardware started embracing 2.5Gbe connections, it was priced at an arguably fair 2.5x times that of a normal 1Gb connection. However, it soon became apparent that due to demand in network use alongside data growing more rapidly in both home and business, that 1Gbe was fast becoming unsuitable for most businesses. Therefore in more recent times, the cost of 2.5Gbe has begun to arrive at simply the same as or just a pinch above that of accepted 1Gbe hardware. In fact, many hardware manufacturers consider 1Gbe dead in the water and have embraced 2.5Gbe connections as standard at no additional increase (in the NAS community, the heavy hitters on this are QNAP and Asustor).

The real cost of a 2.5Gbe setup as an upgrade to, or an alternative to a 1Gbe setup, is in the network upgrades for traditional client hardware and interfaces. I am of course talking about PCs, tower servers, Apple Macs and just general day to day devices. Upgrading a desktop device with 2.5Gbe is around £25 per connection, about £7 more than the same thing at 1Gbe. For portable and less easy to upgrade devices, such as Macbooks and laptops, a 2.5Gbe external adapter upgrade will cost you around £35, which is about £10-12 more than a 1Gbe alternative.

Upgrading to a 2.5Gbe Network – Internet Speeds

As mentioned, 2.5Gbe networks are largely concerned with internal network traffic within your home or business building. The effects of introducing 2.5Gbe into your router/modem system with the aims of improved internet speeds on your devices are hugely dependent on your ISP subscription service and in most cases will not fully saturate a 2.5Gbe connection. If you have an internet connection that surpasses 1 Gigabit bandwidth, then you can start to enjoy the benefits of 2.5Gbe connected devices exceeding 100MBs, just ensure that you are using a primary modem and router that features a 2.5Gbe port, otherwise connecting a 2.5Gbe switch or additional router via 1Gbe will create an instantaneous bottleneck. If you are using wireless devices and looking to exceed 1Gbe, then you should look into WiFi 6/6E/AX (which we will touch on later).

Upgrading to a 2.5Gbe Network – Availability

2.5Gbe hardware is a great deal more accessible and available in 2021 than ever. Alongside numerous affordable network upgrades via USB and PCIe, lots of motherboard makers, NAS server manufacturers and network switch brands have released 2.5Gbe options. Additionally, home or business users that have a 10Gbe setup that is shared by multiple 1Gbe uses can often allow connection of 2.5Gbe devices on these copper ports, as the majority of 10GBASE-T ports are backwards compatible with 5G, 2.5G and 1G (otherwise known as auto-negotiation). As mentioned earlier, a lot of hardware that would have once featured gigabit ethernet now arrives with 2.5Gbe connectivity at no additional cost, allowing a more gradual and organic upgrade into this larger bandwidth connection as you upgrade standard hardware in your environment. Lastly, the majority of plug-n-play 2.5Gbe upgrades for clients are reusable/shareable with numerous devices.

Upgrading to a 2.5Gbe Network – WiFi 6 and WiFi 6E Support?

One of the most attractive reasons that many users consider upgrading their setup to 2.5Gbe is due to the evolution in Wi-Fi connectivity, most recently in Wi-Fi 6. Otherwise known as 802.11AX, Wi-Fi 6 allows wireless connectivity that exceeds that of traditional 1Gbe LAN. Although the bandwidth and Wi-Fi coverage in Wi-Fi 6 is spread across multiple bands and frequencies (2.5Ghz and 5Ghz air communication, not to be confused with Gb data networks of measurement), it still allows bandwidths of 2.4Gigabits and greater (i,e 240MB/s). Many users who have upgraded their Wi-Fi network to Wi-Fi 6 (or holding out for Wi-Fi 6E) also want to upgrade their wired network to keep up, which is where 2.5Gbe hardware has grown in popularity noticeably. Indeed, a number of new Wi-Fi 6 solutions have arrived on the market in the last 12-months that also factor in dedicated 2.5Gbe ports and even 10Gbe in some cases (such as the QNAP QHora-301W). If you intend to set up your home or business environment wire-free, with a NAS in the centre for backups/sharing and wish to connect wirelessly to this device over Wi-Fi 6, then upgrading your NAS to at least a single 2.5Gbe connection will be hugely desirable and convenient.

Upgrading to a 2.5Gbe Network – Recommended Products in 2021

So now we have discussed at length a number of the advantages and disadvantages to upgrading to a 2.5Gbe network environment. As mentioned, there are many new 2.5Gbe pieces of hardware available as 2021 continues, making the ease of choosing the right network components evermore confusing. Below I have detailed my recommended 2.5Gbe switch, NAS, Router, Plug-n-play laptop upgrade and Desktop PCIe upgrades to ensure that you are ready to make the jump to 2.5Gbe networking.

Recommended 2.5Gbe Switches

Likely the most important part of the 2.5Gbe network upgrade, the switch is what manages traffic between your client devices.

Best Unmanaged 2.5Gbe Switch

Best Managed 2.5Gbe Switch

Best Business 2.5Gbe Switch

QNAP QSW-1105-5T

$209

QNAP QSW-M2108R-2C

$399

QNAP QGD-1602P

$999

Recommended 2.5Gbe Laptop Upgrades

If your network is populated with more compact and portable devices, then you can still use a range of USB connected devices to interact with a 2.5Gbe network. Here are the ones I recommend:

 

USB-to-2.5G Adapter

USB-to-5G Adapter

Thunderbolt3-to-10G Adapter

ASUSTOR AS-U2.5G

$40

QNAP QNA-UC5G1T

$55

Sonnet Solo 10G Adapter

$179

Recommended 2.5Gbe Desktop PC Upgrades

If you are using a desktop PC/Mac/Linux system, then you are able to consider PCIe 2.5Gbe upgrades. Although these are more expensive than the plug n play alternatives, they do allow more connections per card. Here are the 2.5Gbe PCIe cards I recommend:

 

1 Port 2.5Gbe PCIe Card

2 Port 2.5Gbe PCIe Card

Fully Featured 2.5Gbe PCIe Card

EDUP 2.5GBase-T Network Adapter

$29

QNAP QXG-2G2T-I225 2-Port

$49

QNAP QM2-2P2G2T NVMe+2-Port

$99

Recommended 2.5Gbe Routers

Once again, very much an ‘optional extra’, upgrading the router/modem in your network towards 2.5Gbe will only really be beneficial if your internet service is greater than 1Gbps. Never the less, there are some great 2.5Gbe, 5Gbe and 10Gbe routers out there, some of which even include WiFi 6 too. Here are the best 2.5Gbe routers right now in 2021:

 

Best Budget 2.5Gbe Router

Best Prosumer 2.5Gbe Router

Best Business 2.5Gbe Router

MOTOROLA MB8611 2.5G (Ant. Cable Connect)

$149

TP-Link AX6000 WiFi 6 & 2.5G Router

$269

QNAP QHora-301W 10G & WiFi 6

$329

Recommended 2.5Gbe NAS Servers

When it comes to seeing the true value of an upgraded network environment, then a NAS that features greater than gigabit connectivity is a great way to show this. Whether you are feeding this NAS into a 2.5Gbe/10Gbe network switch shared environment, or directly interfacing (i.e network connection PC-to-NAS), greater than 1Gbe speeds will be abundantly clear. There are quite a large number of 2.5Gbe NAS systems available in the server market right now, but I have narrowed it down to three below based on how you want to interact with your data:

 

Best Budget 2.5Gbe NAS

Best Prosumer 2.5Gbe NAS

Best Business 2.5Gbe NAS

Asustor Nimbustor 2

$429

QNAP TS-453D NAS

$869

QNAP TS-873A NAS

$1299

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