(Theoretical) Network Node Bottleneck

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Thread Starter
Jun 21, 2007
I'm trying to learn more about networks lately (I've begun reading a textbook on networks in my free time :rolleyes:) and as a mental exercise, I came up with the following question, and I wanted some help confirming my hunch. Consider a typical machine that would be used for gaming, music, homework, etc, acting as a network node, in which the machine takes in network information through its wireless card and sends it to a router through a cable. The machine would have to run some OS obviously, and would most likely be running a program in the background to monitor and regulate the amount of traffic going through the machine.

The idea is that the *machine* itself is acting as the wired input to the router, rather than a modem or something else, so that the router can broadcast the signal to *other* machines :eek:

The question: What component of the network/input-machine would act as the major bottleneck for this network? My first guess would be the network card, or the router, itself. If the machine were free to use the processor specifically for regulating and monitoring the traffic going through the machine, I assume that it could process information faster than it came in, and using a wired cable, send it out equally fast (or at least as fast as the information comes in). Either way, the major bottleneck would *seem* to be the speed at which the in-machine could gather information wirelessly or which the router could broadcast wirelessly :cool:

Additional details: We can assume a Unix operating system :)cool:), wireless-N card and router, and at least 3GB memory/1GHz processor speed

Any thoughts?


Trusted Advisor
Spam Fighter
Mar 30, 2008
This is a loaded question without a clear answer because as always it depends on the particular situation.

Network "bottlenecks" are not always about raw speed and processing power. There can be other constraints due to how the firmware of the particular network device is coded. There could be limitations on the actual ASIC or the overall hardware layout of the network device. An example of a limitation which has nothing to do with regular line rate speed is the whole discussion of flow tables on switches supporting software defined networking. Flow tables are used by the particular network device to keep track of distinct sessions being managed the a centralized SDN controller. In this construct, the bottleneck isn't the raw speed of the network devices but how may session flows the network device can keep track of before not accepting any more new session flows.

In the case of layer 3 routing, there's a discussion about how big a particular layer 3 device's route table is. Again this is a table the network device has that stores routing information for it to pass packets. There are circumstances where the processing power of the network device is sufficient to deal with large route tables but the device just isn't engineered to have a large enough table for certain routing requirements regardless of how fast the physical interfaces are on this network device.

One thing I can say about what you've put up there is wireless will always lag behind wired. Right from the beginning wireless is disadvantaged as it can only run in a half duplex type setup. And the more wireless devices you add to a particular wireless network, the slower it will eventually get as only one device can transmit at any given time. There is newer technology on the horizon which attempts to alleviate this performance issue called multi-user MIMO. But you certainly won't see this technology outside of the Enterprise anytime soon. RF noise and distance will also affect the ultimate performance of a wireless network. Overhead in the form of wireless encryption needed to secure the network from any unauthorized access. The list goes on an on. But with all the limitations of wireless, it is the wave of the future as it provides the maximum in mobility which is what everyone wants...not being tied to a physical location.

Don't know if any of this helps but I hope it does provide you with a glimpse of how networking is really a complicated field.
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