Tuesday, May 15, 2012

On wired and wireless networking

I saw the following article on G+ today:


And thought I'd comment on it.  I used to be a big proponent of wired systems, sufficiently that I put effort into wiring my home with Cat 5e.  That was back in the days of 802.11g, and honestly, back then 802.11g didn't come close to its potential most of the time.

Today we live in an age of the wireless.  I use laptops that are truly portable, and iPad and iPhone and iPod touch.  I agree that there are some places where wired makes sense, but I think this article makes both valid points, and invalid points.  I'm gonna break it down here a bit, and take it one.

Backup Faster over the Network

This is mostly a valid point.  If you need to backup over a network, you're better off plugged in.  This does however assume your NAS supports gigabit ethernet, that the NAS's operating system doesn't suck, and that the drive inside can do better than 10-15MB/sec.  I've seen many cases where none of the above are true, and it's one reason I switched to Apple.
Mostly, I don't use NAS.  It's generally quirky, unreliable, expensive and slow, regardless of your network connection.  I spent a great deal of time going through NAS devices until I finally just gave up and used a directed attached device.  He also talks about remembering to keep your device turned on being a problem.  If you use a wired connection, the same issue holds, so it's not really a good argument for wired.
I think on balance, this is a poor argument, though, I think it has some validity.

Keep up with your ultra-fast network

This is a really elitist kind of point.  The number of folks who come close to having 100Mbit internet is miniscule.  I'm a programmer, and I don't have 100Mbit.  Even with 100Mbit, the number of times I'd get 100Mbit from the other end is about zero.  Even at 25Mbit, I often don't see that saturated from download sites.  This is a poor argument in my opinion.

USB 3.0 (and 2.0 Too)

Comparing wireless networking with direct attached peripherals seems a bit silly.  And it goes on and on in this article.  This is a both a valid point and an invalid point.  If the device on the other end can truly saturate 802.11n, then this is true.  Many devices just can't.  Backups are the prime candidate here, and, well, I think backups are a good use of direct attached.

Remote Control Your Camera

Very very esoteric usage here.  Firstly, it assumes you have a DSLR.  Secondly it assumes you have a need to control it wireless and view the images on a laptop.  Most folks aren't doing inside or studio shooting, even if they own a DSLR, and if they are, then why not just use USB from your computer, which is wired of course, but the need for wireless her at all seems a stretch.
This is a really crap argument.

Record High Quality Audio

Little bit of bandwidth calculation is required here.  WAV format, that which is used in CDs is 44Khz at 16bit.  This means you need 44,000 samples of 16 bits per second.  Simple multiplication shows that comes it under 1Mbit.  Lets take this up a notch and go to studio level 24 bit at 192Khz.  If you have software and devices that can do this, it still only clocks in at 4.6Mbit.  I've used 24 channel recording desks that use firewire.  They were Firewire 800, which is 80Mbit.  I'm pretty sure it wasn't saturated, and that's within the capability of 802.11n.
This is an invalid argument.  Other than the fact that audio devices don't come with wireless support.  But, let's face it, most computers don't come with Firewire 800 either.

Anything That Can Be Done with a Thumb Drive

I'm not really sure what the argument here is.  If it's speed, then it's a really bad argument.  Most thumb drives are really slow.  I had to go out of my way to buy one that was even a half-sensible speed.  This is also the reason I feel that Micro-SD slots in your Android device are pretty silly.  Most people don't know they have to buy a high-speed SD card, or USB key for it to be much use.  With wireless, it's not that hard to transfer files over the network to folks.  It take a bit of knowledge unless you have a Mac, but it's not that hard.  I haven't ever been given a USB key for a mix-tape (tapes, now we're talking modern tech) or mix-CD.

Charge your Other Gadgets

Powering USB devices.  An iPad, a pretty hungry device I believe charges at 12W.  You could reasonably charge your iPad off your unwired laptop without too much pain, and give your device some more juice at the cost of some laptop time in a pinch.  Also, power transfer without wires is still some pretty new technology, and I think comparing it with wireless networking is a bit disingenuous.
I think this argument is valid in as much as you can't charge a device wireless,  but, I think it's a silly argument given the original context of wireless being ethernet.

Audio and Video Cables

We've already covered audio.  Video was only recently able to be transmitted over a serial connection, not HDMI level, but computer monitor level.  Whilst this is true, it's also a bit silly, and see below for why.

Put Your Tablet or Smartphone On Your TV

Two words: Apple TV (maybe that's three)
Nuff said, this is an invalid argument.  It also sort of invalidates the previous point.  You can't transmit full-quality video over wireless, but you can transmit compressed high-def, and I think that satisfies the requirement in my opinion.  There have been a few articles comparing iTunes 1080 with Blu-ray and iTunes hasn't come out too badly.

Get the Highest Quality Sound

Isn't this a repeat of "Record High Quality Audio"?  In short, no.  This is invalid.

Final Score

I think out of the arguments, three out of ten have some semblance of validity, of those, I'm struggling with two of them.  There are things that need to be wired, your speakers to your stereo will still need to be wired.  There are wireless solutions but they either suck, or are very expensive.  Generally I think this article tries a bit too hard to demonstrate a need for wired in a world that is already mostly wireless.  Trying to convince people to backup over ethernet when they're already doing it wireless is gonna be a pretty hard sell.

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