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Realtek Previews Platform for Sub-0 5GbE Network Switches

Realtek Previews Platform for Sub-$100 5GbE Network Switches

One of the more subtle trends at this year's Computex was that the majority of high-end motherboards are now equipped with a 5GbE network controller. Currently, this can be considered a limited benefit as 5GbE and 10GbE switches and routers are still quite expensive. But Realtek is planning to tackle the problem from both sides, as the company develops a hardware platform for sub-$100 5GbE switches.

Realtek's quad-port 5GbE switch platform consists of five key chips: an RTL9303 switch system-on-chip, and four RTL8251B 5GbE physical interfaces (PHYs). Chips are accompanied by various other components, such as power management ICs, but usually rely entirely on in-house components, which is why they can be made so cheaply.

RealTek's platform is aimed at home and small offices, which is reflected in the Switch's feature set. It's a simple, unstructured switch with a handful of ports, making it ideal for connecting some systems, while enterprise users will find it a bit too basic.

Segmenting the market in this way is ultimately important in order to drive down the cost of hardware. Most 5GbE/10GbE switches on the market today are more enterprise-focused managed switches, with more features and a price premium to match. So developing a stripped-down platform for inexpensive consumer switches is a huge advance that will finally make it economical for consumers to adopt faster networking hardware, like 2.5GbE a few years ago.

Right now, 2.5GbE switches are running around $20/port, so RealTek's sub-$100 target for a 4-port switch aims to bring 5GbE to the slightly higher price of $25/port. Or, compared to the handful of unmanaged 10GbE switches on the market, which average $60/port, it would be even less expensive (albeit at half the bandwidth).

The proliferation of inexpensive 5GbE network switches will also mark a notable inflection point in Ethernet hardware design, as it is the fastest standard rated to operate over the ubiquitous Cat 5e cable. The NBASE-T standard was written nearly a decade ago to bridge the missing middle between 1GbE and 10GbE, while achieving greater bandwidth than existing, widely deployed Cat 5e cabling. So with the release of consumer 5GbE gear, the standard's goals are finally being met – even if it means we're finally reaching the end of the road for the oldest network cabling that's still widely used. is in use.

For now, Realtek is only talking about a customer offering a sub-$100 5GbE switch this September, but something tells me the company's other partners will be coming out with similar devices soon. As a result of competition, prices can be even lower, which is always good for buyers.

These benefits should also extend to Wi-Fi 7 routers to a limited extent. Wired backhaul speeds need to keep pace with faster Wi-Fi standards to keep these new radios fed, so it's no coincidence that cheaper 5GbE is finally coming with the launch of Wi-Fi 7.

Overall, the company's 5GbE switch platform is part of a larger ecosystem of 5GbE hardware that Realtek was showing at Computex. In addition to RTL8251B 5GbE PHYs and RTL9303 switch SoC, the company is also developing its RTL8126 PCIe 3.1 network controller, and RTL8157 NIC for USB dongles.

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