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Ethernet Products

The standards and technology that have just been discussed help define the specific products that network managers use to build Ethernet networks. The following text discusses the key products needed to build an Ethernet LAN.


Transceivers are used to connect nodes to the various Ethernet media. Most computers and network interface cards contain a built-in 10BASE-T or 10BASE2 transceiver, allowing them to be connected directly to Ethernet without requiring an external transceiver. Many Ethernet devices provide an AUI connector to allow the user to connect to any media type via an external transceiver. The AUI connector consists of a 15-pin D-shell type connector, female on the computer side, male on the transceiver side. Thickwire (10BASE5) cables also use transceivers to allow connections.

For Fast Ethernet networks, a new interface called the MII (Media Independent Interface) was developed to offer a flexible way to support 100 Mbps connections. The MII is a popular way to connect 100BASE-FX links to copper-based Fast Ethernet devices.

Network Interface Cards

Network interface cards, commonly referred to as NICs, and are used to connect a PC to a network. The NIC provides a physical connection between the networking cable and the computer's internal bus. Different computers have different bus architectures; PCI bus master slots are most commonly found on

  Network Interface Cards

486/Pentium PCs and ISA expansion slots are commonly found on 386 and older PCs. NICs come in three basic varieties: 8-bit, 16-bit, and 32-bit. The larger the number of bits that can be transferred to the NIC, the faster the NIC can transfer data to the network cable.

Many NIC adapters comply with Plug-n-Play specifications. On these systems, NICs are automatically configured without user intervention, while on non-Plug-n-Play systems, configuration is done manually through a setup program and/or DIP switches.

Cards are available to support almost all networking standards, including the latest Fast Ethernet environment. Fast Ethernet NICs are often 10/100 capable, and will automatically set to the appropriate speed. Full duplex networking is another option, where a dedicated connection to a switch allows a NIC to operate at twice the speed.


Hubs/repeaters are used to connect together two or more Ethernet segments of any media type. In larger designs, signal quality begins to deteriorate as segments exceed their maximum length. Hubs provide the signal amplification required to allow a segment to be extended a greater distance. A hub takes any incoming signal and repeats it out all ports.

Ethernet hubs are necessary in star topologies such as 10BASE-T. A multi-port twisted pair hub allows several point-to-point segments to be joined into one network. One end of the point-to-point link is attached to the hub and the other is attached to the computer. If the hub is attached to a backbone, then all computers at the end of the twisted pair segments can communicate with all the hosts on the backbone. The number and type of hubs in any one-collision domain is limited by the Ethernet rules. These repeater rules are discussed in more detail later.

Network Type

Max Nodes
Per Segment

Max Distance
Per Segment




Adding Speed

While repeaters allow LANs to extend beyond normal distance limitations, they still limit the number of nodes that can be supported. Bridges and switches, however, allow LANs to grow significantly larger by virtue of their ability to support full Ethernet segments on each port. Additionally, bridges and switches selectively filter network traffic to only those packets needed on each segment - this significantly increases throughput on each segment and on the overall network. By providing better performance and more flexibility for network topologies, bridges and switches will continue to gain popularity among network managers.


The function of a bridge is to connect separate networks together. Bridges connect different networks types (such as Ethernet and Fast Ethernet) or networks of the same type. Bridges map the Ethernet addresses of the nodes residing on each network segment and allow only necessary traffic to pass through the bridge. When a packet is received by the bridge, the bridge determines the destination and source segments. If the segments are the same, the packet is dropped ("filtered"); if the segments are different, then the packet is "forwarded" to the correct segment. Additionally, bridges do not forward bad or misaligned packets. Bridges are also called "store-and-forward" devices because they look at the whole Ethernet packet before making filtering or forwarding decisions. Filtering packets, and regenerating forwarded packets enable bridging technology to split a network into separate collision domains. This allows for greater distances and more repeaters to be used in the total network design.

Ethernet Switches

Ethernet switches are an expansion of the concept in Ethernet bridging. LAN switches can link four, six, ten or more networks together, and have two basic architectures: cut-through and store-and-forward. In the past, cut-through switches were faster because they examined the packet destination address only before forwarding it on to its destination segment. A store-and-forward switch, on the other hand, accepts and analyzes the entire packet before forwarding it to its destination. It takes more time to examine the entire packet, but it allows the switch to catch certain packet errors and keep them from propagating through the network. Both cut-through and store-and-forward switches separate a network into collision domains, allowing network design rules to be extended. Each of the segments attached to an Ethernet switch has a full 10 Mbps of bandwidth shared by fewer users, which results in better performance (as opposed to hubs that only allow bandwidth sharing from a single Ethernet). Newer switches today offer high-speed links, FDDI, Fast Ethernet or ATM. These are used to link switches together or give added bandwidth to high-traffic servers. A network composed of a number of switches linked together via uplinks is termed a "collapsed backbone" network.


Routers filter out network traffic by specific protocol rather than by packet address. Routers also divide networks logically instead of physically. An IP router can divide a network into various subnets so that only traffic destined for particular IP addresses can pass between segments. Network speed often decreases due to this type of intelligent forwarding. Such filtering takes more time than that exercised in a switch or bridge, which only looks at the Ethernet address. However, in more complex networks, overall efficiency is improved by using routers.

What is a network firewall?

A firewall is a system or group of systems that enforces an access control policy between two networks. The actual means by which this is accomplished varies widely, but in principle, the firewall can be thought of as a pair of mechanisms: one which exists to block traffic, and the other which exists to permit traffic. Some firewalls place a greater emphasis on blocking traffic, while others emphasize permitting traffic. Probably the most important thing to recognize about a firewall is that it implements an access control policy. If you don't have a good idea of what kind of access you want to allow or to deny, a firewall really won't help you. It's also important to recognize that the firewall's configuration, because it is a mechanism for enforcing policy, imposes its policy on everything behind it. Administrators for firewalls managing the connectivity for a large number of hosts therefore have a heavy responsibility.

Network Design Criteria

Ethernets and Fast Ethernets have design rules that must be followed in order to function correctly. Maximum number of nodes, number of repeaters and maximum segment distances are defined by the electrical and mechanical design properties of each type of Ethernet and Fast Ethernet media. A network using repeaters, for instance, functions with the timing constraints of Ethernet. Although electrical signals on the Ethernet media travel near the speed of light, it still takes a finite time for the signal to travel from one end of a large Ethernet to another. The Ethernet standard assumes it will take roughly 50 microseconds for a signal to reach its destination.

Ethernet is subject to the "5-4-3" rule of repeater placement: the network can only have five segments connected; it can only use four repeaters; and of the five segments, only three can have users attached to them; the other two must be inter-repeater links. If the design of the network violates these repeater and placement rules, then timing guidelines will not be met and the sending station will resend that packet. This can lead to lost packets and excessive resent packets, which can slow network performance and create trouble for applications. Fast Ethernet has modified repeater rules, since the minimum packet size takes less time to transmit than regular Ethernet. The length of the network links allows for a fewer number of repeaters. In Fast Ethernet networks, there are two classes of repeaters. Class I repeaters have a latency of 0.7 microseconds or less and are limited to one repeater per network. Class II repeaters have a latency of 0.46 microseconds or less and are limited to two repeaters per network. The following are the distance (diameter) characteristics for these types of Fast Ethernet repeater combinations:

Fast Ethernet



No Repeaters
One Class I Repeater
One Class II Repeater
Two Class II Repeaters



* Full Duplex Mode 2 km


When conditions require greater distances or an increase in the number of nodes/repeaters, then a bridge, router or switch can be used to connect multiple networks together. These devices join two or more separate networks, allowing network design criteria to be restored. Switches allow network designers to build large networks that function well. The reduction in costs of bridges and switches reduces the impact of repeater rules on network design. Each network connected via one of these devices is referred to as a separate collision domain in the overall network.

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