How To Buy The Right Network Switch - Ethernet Switch Buying Guide
If you’re in the market for a new Ethernet switch and didn’t know which one to purchase, read this blog for all the info that you require. In this article I discuss all the important things to consider when buying a new network switch, including how many ports it has, what speed it connects at, best manufacturers of networking gear and whether you will need advanced administrative computer networking functions or not. Let’s begin.
Why Do I Need A Network Switch?
The most common reason for buying a network switch is to provide additional network ports when your internet router is full up or if you wanted to install a wired internet connection for improved internet speeds or reliability. Although if you’re installing a very large computer network it’s likely that you will need data cabling and Ethernet switches as wireless signals are unlikely to able to service your requirements.
Amount of Ports
Perhaps the most important thing to consider when buying Ethernet network switches is how many ports that this has. You will want to buy one that has enough wired Ethernet RJ45 connections for as many wired internet connections that you require and perhaps a few spare to allow for expansion of your computer data network.
Ethernet switches can commonly be purchased with 5, 8, 16 & 24 ports from most electrical shops, but higher outputs models can also be purchased like 48 ports for large networks and various ports in between like 12 ports, but 5, 8, 16 & 24 are the most common.
Don’t Forget To Include The Uplink!
When counting the number of devices that you want to attach to your wired network, it’s important to include the uplink to the network switch also and the vast majority of network switches do not have a separate inputs/outputs unlike TV amplifiers. On the other hand some of the larger Network switches will additional managed functions will have separate and/ or multiple uplink connections, so check this before you buy.
Additional Ethernet Switches Can Provide Additional Network Ports
If you have a network switch that is full up, you do not necessarily need to replace the entire switch with one which has more output ports. You could “daisy chain” these so that a wired internet connection goes from one switch and into another. This is very common with large networks where you may want your switches to provide routing functions also. You may want to do this as well to help speed up/ reduce the amount of data wiring that you need to install. Rather than “home running” all you data cabling to a single location you could bring half the cables to one zone and the other half to another zone, install separate switches and a link between the two. This could be extended to however many zones that you wanted.
Ethernet Switch Speed
There are various types of speeds available for network switches. The most common are:
10 Mbps Switches (I wouldn’t bother with these)
100 Mbps Switches
1 Gbps Switches (Gigabit, 1000 Mbps)
10 Gbps Switches (10,000 Mbps)
One you get to the speeds of the 10 Gbps switches these are only really ever going to be installed on very large computer networks like those required for schools, offices etc. 100 mbps network switches are fine for most homes but if you wanted to install a gigabit network and are installing Cat6 cabling throughout you don’t want your connection speeds being throttled by the switches that you’re installing. For the additional price, I would always install 1 Gbps network switches as standard over 100 Mpps switches as this future proofs the system as much as possible, for most domestic network installations you’re never going to get anywhere near exceeding this.
Also, it’s important to remember that, although your network might be “gigabit” compatible it doesn’t mean that your internet speed will get anywhere near that. Most home networks will only have one broadcast domain so you will be limited by your internet speed. You will be very, very fortunate to get an internet connection that is anywhere near 1 Gbps. Super-fast broadband is considered to be anything above 30 Mbps to give you some sort of idea of the comparison.
A desktop switch is something that is designed to be sited on a desktop or another flat surface. A desktop could be installed inside of a data cabinet but it will need to be installed on the bottom or would need to be install on a shelf within the cabinet.
Rack-mountable Network Switches
A Rack-mountable switch has fixings on the side that allow the network switch to be secured into the side columns of the data cabinet direct giving great flexibility as to where the switch can be sited within a data cabinet/enclosure. If you’re not going to be installing a data cabinet for your networking gear there would not be much of a point in deliberately purchasing a switch that is Rackmount compatible.
Unmanaged Ethernet Switches
An unmanaged network switch is the type that is most commonly installed in small networks. An unmanaged switch behaves a lot like the installation of a four way mains electrical strip, it’s just plug in and go. There is no complicated installation to go through and you will not be able to access the user interface of the switch as it would not have it’s own IP address. The downside of unmanaged switches is that they are not compatible with advanced networking functions which you may require for additional security or things like bandwidth control, which if you need you would need to buy a managed network switch if you needed this function at your switch position.
Managed Ethernet/ Network Switches
A managed Ethernet switch has an accessible user interface which is usually accessed and configured via a web browser or something similar which can often be accessed when away from site. If you’re a network professional or an administrator of a large network, you may require network switches with additional networking functions such as the following:
Quality of Service (QoS) & Bandwidth Control
Simple Network Management Protocol (SMTP)
POE Network Switches
POE stands for Power over Ethernet which can be used to power compatible POE networking equipment like ceiling mounted access points, IP CCTV Cameras or externally mounted point to point wireless antennas. POE switches will send a 48V DC connection from the network switch which itself has a direct connection to an electrical socket to the POE compatible networking equipment (usually wireless devices) through the existing RJ45 input/ outputs and existing data cables.
The vast amount of POE Ethernet switches on the market which can be purchased are for using the switch itself to power other equipment on the network. If you wanted to install a network switch in a location where there are Cat 5/6/7 cables to be terminated but no mains electrical connections there are switches on the market which allow the switch itself to be powered over POE, either from a separate POE injector or another POE network switch. You will need to check this beforehand as the vast majority are not compatible with this and they are quite hard to find.
Passive vs Active POE
You might find that when you’re looking to buy POE compatible Ethernet switches that you’re given the option of buying one that is active or passive POE. Active PoE uses various standards that communicate between each other to establish the correct power connection whereas a passive POE switch will just provide the power down the cable regardless. This could cause problems with the over/ under powering of equipment which could damage the equipment. Think of it like plugging a 110V electrical device into a 240V connection.
Some POE switches like the Ubiquiti equipment I install, require you to login the User Interface (UI) of the network switch and turn on the POE outputs that you require to provide DC power. This makes the switch also a managed switch and is good as you know that any network devices connected to the switch are not receiving a voltage down the data cable that it shouldn’t be. The downside of this is that it doesn’t work out the box and some understanding of networking is required.
Best Manufacturers of Ethernet & Network Switches
You can see from the above that networking switches can vary greatly, if you’re just after a simple desktop switch to provide you with a few extra ports that your existing broadband router does not have for wired internet connections, you will be fine choosing something like a Netgear or TP-Link switch which are available in most supermarkets and electrical stores. If you’re looking for a manufacturer of advanced networking gear you might want to choose something like a Cisco, Zyxel, Draytek or Linksys switches, but there are loads of other reputable manufactures of networking gear. Typically the likes of Cisco/ Draytek will cost considerable more than TP-Link or Netgear so you should filter cost into your consideration when buying an Ethernet switch. As I already mentioned I like Ubiquiti kit who make network switches, gateways, access points, IP CCTV cameras and so on.
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