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Fast Ethernet vs. Gigabit: Which network switch should I buy?

Ethernet Cable Netgear
Ethernet Cable Netgear (Image credit: Windows Central)

Figure out exactly what kind of space you're covering and how much internet you need before making a decision. Fast Ethernet switches are ideal for home or small business use where speed demands are relatively low. If you have higher speed demands for your network, you should steer towards Gigabit Ethernet.

Getting connected

Ethernet switches work a bit like train lines, with the switch directing which data goes to which device. They help keep connections separate from each other, which helps each device on the network have access to that network when needed. They help ensure that each device can transfer data through the network despite what other users on the network are doing.

Ethernet switches are designed to help devices connect directly to each other through a network and to help connect devices to the internet. For many users, the biggest difference between Fast Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet comes down to local network speeds. Many broadband connections are 100 Mbps or under, and if that's the case for you, it won't matter what switch you use. You won't get a faster internet connection than what your provider gives you.

When it comes to local networks, the more bandwidth you have, the more all of your combined users on the network can do simultaneously. For example, if you're in an office and many people are moving data through the network at once, a Gigabit Ethernet switch will lower the chances of bottlenecks that can lead to lower speeds.

It's important to note that to utilize the full bandwidth of your Gigabit Ethernet switch you need all components on your network to support Gigabit speeds. If one device in the chain is slower, it will slow down the entire setup. This is also true for a Fast Ethernet Switch but is less likely to be an issue because most hardware supports up to 100 Mbps.

Fast EthernetGigabit Ethernet
Speed10/100 Mbps10/100/1000 Mbps

If you're on a budget, or just don't expect to ever need a network speed faster than 100 Mbps, then Fast Ethernet will meet your demands and save you money. This will be the best option for most people. If you heavily use your network, have a high number of users on the network, or want to help futureproof your home or office, you should go with Gigabit Ethernet.

Sean Endicott is the news writer for Windows Central. If it runs Windows, is made by Microsoft, or has anything to do with either, he's on it. Sean's been with Windows Central since 2017 and is also our resident app expert. If you have a news tip or an app to review, hit him up at sean.endicott@futurenet.com.