Modern computers have become almost synonymous with the internet. With the rise of cloud computing and online everything, if you want to get a desktop PC, it needs to have network connectivity to do virtually anything these days. LAN (Local Area Network) has been the underlying network framework for computers for ages now.
But what are LAN ports exactly? What types are available? Most importantly, how many do you need? It’s essential to consider these variables to build your custom desktop PC. Understanding how it works allows you to pick the right motherboard for work and gaming, depending on its LAN connectivity options. This article highlights some of the key features you need to know about motherboard LAN ports.
Local Area Network (LAN) is a protocol that connects several localized computers on Ethernet technology. As computing technology developed over the years, network dependencies for PCs have changed.
Traditionally, LAN connections didn’t live on the motherboard directly. Instead, you needed a NIC (Network Interface Chip) for it to work. However, you can have an onboard LAN on your motherboard in modern systems, known as LAN-on-motherboard, or LOM for short.
Onboard LANs came about as a result of rapid motherboard development over the years. Newer processes allowed developers to include sound and network functions in the motherboard directly. This design allowed for more efficiency, as you wouldn’t need expansion slots and interface chips for internet connectivity, as it is almost a baseline prerequisite to any PC nowadays.
However, since the network chips are onboard, they share the processing power of the chipset. Ultimately, that might affect the power supply, and it’s essential that you consider this, especially if you want to be doing network-intensive tasks like server duties on your computer. In such a case, getting an external network card may be more efficient for you.
Other than intensive enterprise network tasks, onboard LANs are much suitable for quick internet connectivity and automated network detection and configurations.
Due to their inexpensive nature, manufacturers can include multiple onboard LANs in their motherboard, such as the MSI MAG B550 TOMAHAWK detailed here. This enables you to connect with multiple ethernet cables. However, these LANs may need to communicate with one another for maximum efficiency.
The primary way that the motherboard handles that is by teaming. Teaming is when two or more LAN ports combine to act as one. One clear benefit to onboard LAN teaming is that you get higher bandwidth, almost the sum total of the individual LAN port bandwidths — but not quite the sum. It allows for faster internet access overall.
Some high-end motherboards include onboard LAN Teaming to introduce much faster network transfer speeds at a lower cost, and this is especially common in high-end motherboards.
Ethernet ports are an application of LAN technology. These days, people use both terms interchangeably, but they have different definitions.
LAN has witnessed changes over several decades, and with the advent of the modern internet, it’s gotten better upgrades. The technology is a cluster of connected computers that share data and bandwidth over a small geographical area.
Over the years, scientists have developed different LAN connections that allow a computer to connect to the network physically. One of such connections is the Token Ring from many years ago. However, the early LAN connections had massive limitations in speed and reliability, necessitating a more effective model.
Hence, the Ethernet connection was developed. It has much faster data transfer speeds and lasts for much longer. These days, you can find different Ethernet versions, which you can include in your motherboard requirements.
The first Ethernet standard brought unprecedented speeds to LAN connections. It can handle up to 10Mbps (Megabytes per seconds) and support light to medium internet access without errors. However, there was room for improvement, and the Fast Ethernet standard came into existence.
It bumped up the original Ethernet speeds to 100Mbps and offered better error detection and correction. More importantly, it was fast enough to handle large video and multimedia downloads from the internet.
Fast Ethernet connections often use the Cat-5 grade copper cables and fiber optic cable connections.
The Gigabit Ethernet came into existence to fill the gap in a world with extensive network-heavy server and router connections. It’s ten times the speed of Fast Ethernet, and one of its most popular applications is the VoIP (Voice over IP) technology.
Furthermore, Gigabit Ethernet is technically more advanced than fast Ethernet as the former takes full advantage of its MAC layer on the OSI model. It can handle full-duplex operations and utilize all its twisted pairs on the cable.
Even more, Gigabit Ethernet can reach further into the network. For example, when used with a 1000BASE-LX fiber optic cable, Gigabit Ethernet can cover up to 5000 meters on the web. As the technology gets cheaper, more industries are looking to adopt Gigabit Ethernet as the new network standard.
Some notable examples of Gigabit Ethernet ports on your motherboard are the Realtek PCIe FE ports and network controllers.
10 Gigabit Ethernet
The 10 Gigabit Ethernet is the latest development in LAN connections. It reaches ten times faster than Gigabit Ethernet and can go as far as 6 miles when using a fiber optic cable.
Only LAN networks with a high throughput rate can use 10 Gigabit Ethernet. You can find it in use on large LAN server setups with multiple routers and other network add-ons.
What Ethernet Port Do you Need?
Modern motherboards come with standard Ethernet ports that can handle 1Gbps. However, you can find 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports on higher-end boards as well.
Generally, you wouldn’t need more than a 1Gbps network connection on your day-to-day PC use. Most home network setups can’t handle faster speeds in the first place, so 10 Gigabit Ethernet can make less economic sense to you.
However, if you intend to transfer large file volumes to your local network, a 10 Gigabit Ethernet connection is necessary. Regular Ethernet port can only manage 125MBps for such tasks, which is much less tolerable than offline SSD file transfers.
Also, 10 Gigabit Ethernet can provide enough bandwidth to handle peripherals such as NAS drives and routers.
Dual Ethernet Motherboards
Manufacturers try to include two Ethernet ports in their motherboards. The idea is to use one of them if the other one fails. However, there’s very little chance that you’d need them in the real world. Typically, it’s cheaper to get PCIe network cards or WiFi dongles if an Ethernet port fails.
Plus, most home networks can’t go beyond 100Mbps, making the overpowered ports on the motherboard a waste for the average user.
We must note that dual Ethernet ports on motherboards aren’t all pointless. Thanks to the NIC (Network Interface Controllers) Teaming technology, some motherboards can combine their Ethernet bandwidth into one value. For instance, two 1Gbps ports can use the NIC tech to output 2Gbps through one cable. Therefore, you can get dual Ethernet motherboards if you need the teaming function.
You must understand that accompanying drivers allow it to function correctly for every port you get on your motherboard. These drivers are updatable, and their absence can cause a failure in your LAN connections.
You’ll have to download drivers for each network controller manually. The process can be cumbersome, but Ethernet port manufacturers like Realtek make their network drivers available as freeware.
It’s worth mentioning that significant OS upgrades can interfere with whatever network drivers you already have installed. You may have to check them through the driver control suite provided by the manufacturer. Then, you’ll manually reinstall those that are out of place.
Also, LAN and Ethernet connections are wired technology, and you can combine them with wireless network connections for a fuller PC network experience.
Internet connectivity has become a key part of the PC experience. As a result, it can be a big deal for you if you intend to do heavy online gaming on your desktop computer when making a motherboard purchase decision.
Motherboard LAN ports have improved to give you excellent network speeds, so it’s only a matter of how well you can utilize them for your use case. Onboard LANs are available to save you the cost of getting network expansion cards, and this is pretty much seen with every motherboard nowadays.
If you want faster network speeds without spending too much, you might want to check out motherboards that have two ethernet ports and support LAN teaming. They allow you to combine the power of two or more ethernet ports into one faster output.
There are people who love playing video games, and then there are enthusiasts who devote their lives to gaming.
Corey has been playing games since The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy III were still young.
Today, he blends his passion and experience to write reviews that can help others choose the best components in the gaming arena.