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Ethernet networking interface refers to a circuit board or card installed in a personal computer or workstation, as a network client. A networking interface allows a computer or mobile device to connect to a local area network (LAN) using Ethernet as the transmission mechanism.
There are many Ethernet standards that an Ethernet networking interface must comply with with varying transmission speeds and error correction types/rates available. Ethernet is a standard for the transmission of binary data and although the hardware characteristics are defined, it is hardware independent so an Ethernet networking interface can use all manner of transmission hardware from fiber optic, to co-axial copper to wireless, depending on the capabilities of the hardware that the interface is sending to/receiving from and the network transfer rates required.
Ethernet is the most widely used LAN technology. Using the IEEE 802.3 standard, it was originated by Xerox in the early 1970s with later development help by DEC and Intel. However, transmission rates were only about 10 Mbps.
Fast Ethernet increased speeds to 100 Mbps, with the next iteration moving to 1000 Mbps or 1.0 Gbps in 1998. Many enterprise networks use a transmission technology known as Gigabit Ethernet now using the IEEE 802.3z standard, requiring optical fiber. This standard is commonly referenced as 1000Base-X.
The next standard in 1999 was IEEE 802.ab and became known as 1000Base-T.
In 2000, two computers - the Apple's Power Mac G4 and the PowerBook G4 - were mass produced and capable of connecting to 1000Base-T Ethernet network connections. This feature was soon available in many other mass produced desktop computers. By 2009 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE or 1 GigE) Network Interface Controllers (NICs) were included in nearly all desktop computers and server systems.
Also by 2009, higher bandwidth 10 Gbps standards had been developed and 10Gb Ethernet was replacing 1Gb as the backbone of most networks.
There is a still newer (circa 2011) standard by the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) called 1000BASE-T and 1000BASE-TX (Gigabit Ethernet) and 10GBASE-T (10Gb Ethernet).
the 1000BASE-TX standard is a simplified design requiring less costly electronics (NICs in network terminal computers). However, 1000BASE-TX requires CAT 6 cable and commercially has been a failure to date due to the limited advantage of this standard and the potentially huge cost of re-cabling.
The latest specifications being discussed for release are for 100 Gigabit/s Ethernet standards.