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Gigabit LAN performance on Linux

It would appear that gigabit LAN is not! In fact it often runs at the same speed as 100Mbps LAN. Let's look at why exactly.

After configuring your network you can use the ifconfig command to see what speeds the LAN is connected. Even though 1000Mbps is reported by the card, the reality is that the overall throughtput may well be ~100Mpbs. You can try copying a large file using scp to demonstrate this.

As it turns out, in order to use a gigabit LAN you need to use CAT6 cables. CAT5 and CAT5E are not good enough. End result, the ethernet cards throttle back the speed to reduce dropped packets and errors.

You can find a good article here titled Squeeze Your Gigabit NIC for Top Performance. After tuning up the TCP parameters i found that it made no dfifference. The principal reasons behind low gigabit ethernet performance can be summed up as follows.

  1. Need to use CAT6 cables
  2. Slow Disk speed
  3. Limitations of the PCI bus which the gigabit ethernet cards use

You can get an idea about the disk speed using the hdparm command:

Display the disk partitions and choose the main linux partition which has the / filesystem.

# fdisk -l

Then get disk cache and disk read statistics:

# hdparm -Tt /dev/sda0

On my desktop system the sata disk perfomance is a limiting factor. These were the results:

Timing cached reads:   9984 MB in  2.00 seconds = 4996.41 MB/sec
Timing buffered disk reads:   84 MB in  3.13 seconds =  58.49 MB/sec

Well, that equates to a raw disk read speed of 58.49 * 8 = 467Mbps which is half the speed of a gigabit LAN.

So.. NAS storage with lots of memory looks to be the way to go... If you use the right cables!


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