Aquantia, a manufacturer of high-speed transceivers and general proponent of high-speed network controllers above and beyond the gigabit-class NICs that are included on just about every motherboard these days, wants to push wired PC connectivity to the next level. To that end, they’ve announced a new pair of add-in cards that would move ethernet support off of the motherboard and back on to separate PCI Express cards — albeit at much faster transfer rates than anything you can buy in the consumer market today.
Aquantia’s new AQtion single-port network cards come in two flavors: AQN107 and AQN108. They use the AQC107 and AQC108 controllers respectively, just to keep things simple. The chief difference between them is that the AQN-108 tops out at 5GBASE-T (5 gigabit) while the AQN-107 offers support for 10GBASE-T (10 gigabit).
The AQN107 offers an x4 PCI Express Gen 3 connector while the AQN108 is limited to a single x1 connector. Both cards are backwards compatible with older PCI Express slots, though you’ll see a commensurate fall-off in bandwidth. Aquantia is advertising that it can support 10GbE with CAT6a cable and 5GGbE via Cat5e.
There’s just one problem…
Let me say this up front: I think it’s kind of ridiculous that home networks basically hit gigabit ethernet and stopped, as if nobody ever had a reason for or an interest in higher speed home networks. But the elephant in the room for Aquantia isn’t its NIC price, even though some customers may balk at $100 for the AQN108 and $130 for the AQN107: It’s the cost of the network hardware you need to make your dream of a 5-10GbE home network a reality.
A dirt-cheap switch on Newegg can be had for $10-$20. A Netgear XS708Ev2 8-port 10-gigabit managed switch is a $700 piece of equipment. Now, before anyone argues that this represents an absurd piece of gear to stuff into a home or small home office, I agree. But the fact is, as of this writing, there’s no consumer products in this segment at all. No one has built the “bare bones” 5GbE or 10GbE switch or router you would want to buy for gaming or a centralized 4K streaming media / backup server. There’s a dizzying array of consumer routers and switches on the market, with varying standard support and their own feature sets, and nothing remotely equivalent when it comes to building home infrastructure at speeds above gigabit.
Back when individual hard drives were the limiting factor on consumer storage performance, this made a certain amount of sense. Consumers, after all, mostly don’t use fancy storage arrays that might need more than gigabit ethernet. But the advent of SSDs means we now have storage devices that can sustain extremely high transfer rates. The corresponding improvement in home network performance never materialized, possibly because wireless companies are pouring more energy into finding ways to build gigabit wireless networks that can’t be defeated by atmospheric humidity and tissue paper rather, than building “boring” wired infrastructure that’s 10x faster than what consumers can buy today.
Anyone considering an Aquantia NIC should buy with this reality in mind. Unless you’ve picked up some 5-10GbE hardware from business fire sales or when your own company cleaned out its racks, you’ll have to pay top dollar for networking hardware to take advantage of these speeds.
Now read: How do SSDs work?