Gigabit internet? Feh, this is for suckers. At least that’s what I thought when the technician was driving away after “plugging” our modern home to multi-gigabit internet.
In my case, I had drained the last bit of service life from Ma Bell’s twisted-pair copper wire at 100Mbps down and 20Mbps down. I swapped that for the remainder of the 19th century for Sonic’s new Fiber To The Home service, which rewarded me with “up to 10Gbps speed” and “up to 10Gbps speed.” Although the technician didn’t quite reach that speed, I was happy to see about 9Gbps from my tech ThinkPad laptop using a 10Gbps Thunderbolt 3 Ethernet adapter on my modem, error, and optical network terminal.
But instead of enjoying high-speed internet, I realized I had a major problem: None of my consumer network devices were about to fall off.
Serious search for a router worth
My Sonic ONT delivers packets over a 10Gb Ethernet port that plugs into my home network. But like 99 percent of consumer routers, this means plugging a 10 gigabit connection into a 1 gigabit port on my router. This is a hard bottleneck which means I will never enjoy anything more than the 1GB of internet I have been paying for. Ugh.
Worse, my primary router—now an aging Wi-Fi 5-based Asus RT-AC88U with an additional Asus Blue Cove Wi-Fi 5 network node connected via Gigabit Ethernet—was unable to reach speeds higher than 500 Mbps in my test. Sure, I could have been happy with 5x increase in download speeds and 25x increase in upload speeds over my previous ISP, but my “miss” instinct sparked many sleepless nights trying to figure out the cheapest way to squeeze everything I could from the multifunctional internet . Do I need it? No, of course not, but if I’m going to be able to brag about 10G internet, I need at least one computer that can reach those speeds.
When looking for a router that can input 10 Gigabit and output 10 Gigabit, I was surprised to find a dearth of actual consumer level (aka consumer price) and consumer style networking equipment that worked. When I mean consumer-style, I mean something that looks like it belongs in your home, not a rack mount you stole from a data center. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Unifi Dream Machine Pro.)
Netgear’s new AXE11000 quad-band looked promising but even with limitations. The new mesh routing system features a single 10Gb WAN connection that can be used to feed Wi-Fi 6 clients, but wired clients are limited to its single 2.5Gb connections plus three 1Gb connections. Add their exorbitant $1,500 price tag for the three-pack (I only needed two but no option for that) and I had to keep looking.
The ROG Rapture GT-AXE1100 from Asus and other advanced Wi-Fi 6E routers also looked attractive as I could maintain the existing Asus AI Mesh network, but interestingly enough, all of Asus’ current Wi-Fi 6E routers are up to 2.5Gb.
My answer came from a viewer of the Full Nerd podcast, who told me a configuration that would work without ruining the bank: the slightly older Asus RT-AX89X router.
Gordon Mah Ong
The RT-AX89X is limited to Wi-Fi 6 and is “dual band only”, meaning that its use of a mesh network in wireless mode will limit network speeds. Although I would miss Wi-Fi 6E, dual band didn’t bother me because I still used Gigabit Ethernet to connect to the mesh. But it was worth it for the capabilities of the RT-AX89X’s features that make it somewhat unique among consumer devices: two 10Gbps ports, one using Ethernet and one using SFP+. SFP+ is an optics-based technology that is very rare in consumer level networking devices.
The router sells for $400 on Amazon, but I bought a unit on eBay for cheap and bought $329. Although it was listed as used, it was actually a sealed unit and seemed to have never been used or opened.
More hardware headache
Unfortunately, getting 10GB in the router was only half the problem. Although many high-end modern PCs feature 2.5Gb Ethernet ports, I didn’t and I was left with a corrupt Gigabit Ethernet. I have a spare 10Gb Ethernet card but that won’t help me. why? Remember that the remaining 10Gb port of the Asus router uses SFP+ over optical Ethernet, not old school.
That brought me back to the drawing board if I wanted my PC to access that great multifunctional service (and I did). Answer: Buy a 10G SFP+ network card on Amazon ($99.99) with a two-meter 10G SFP+ cable ($16.99). This will finally get my internet desktop the multifunctional it deserves when it arrives.
But what about other devices on the network? Obviously everyone else in my family would have to isolate it with 1GB internet connections, but moving to the new router opened up some real perks for everyone. While my old router couldn’t break 500Mbps even over Gigabit Ethernet, the newer Asus RT-AX89X had no problems connecting all of my wired computers at 1Gbps speeds. Wi-Fi 6 wireless connectivity is also significantly improved to around 800Mbps versus the 400Mbps – 500Mbps for the older Wi-Fi 5 router. Perhaps most importantly, all the computers on the router will also share from a larger 10Gbps tube instead of the 1Gbps tube as well, meaning multiple computers can download at maximum gigabit speeds simultaneously rather than crashing.
I’ve considered taking the 10G SFP+ connection from the router and connecting it to a 10G SFP+ switch such as the NetGear Multi-Gigabit Switch. This will give me an extra 10Gb port, along with a few 2.5GbE and 5GbE ports to share between other wired computers, and allow me to run 2.5Gbps to my Asus AI Mesh node (which itself must be updated to support 10Gbps). Also) but at $390, it’s too rich for my blood again. There are also more devices that are powered from the uninterruptible power supply, which means more limited uptime during a power outage. Yes, I could also upgrade my UPS, but this would go into the King, Mice and Cheese children’s story area.
This, frankly, is the hidden cost of the multifunctional Internet that no one is talking about. We’re used to one router (or one network router package) that gives you everything you need out of the box. With Gigabit Ethernet, this is generally true, but in the multifunctional world of the Internet, we are now at the point where the initial speed from your Internet provider can exceed current consumer networking devices.
Obviously, if you can live with “only” gigabit speeds, your existing hardware (if fairly new) will mostly be fine. But if you jump on your ISP’s offer of 2Gig, 5Gig, or 10Gig Internet, prepare to ditch most of your existing network equipment to get the most out of that high-speed connection you’re paying for.