If you want to expand your network in your home or place of business, an Ethernet switch is an easy and affordable solution. When it comes to finding the right Ethernet switch, it is essential to look not only at the overall list of features but Gigabit speed, energy efficiency and ease of use. Taking all of these factors into consideration, we rated the Netgear ProSAFE GS208 as the best overall Ethernet switch available today. We spent hours rating and comparing different Ethernet switches to determine which available devices are the best for every type of user, no matter what you are looking for in your new switch.
Ethernet Switch Buying Guide
An Ethernet switch is the central hub that keeps all of your computers and devices connected through your network. This allows you to connect printers, servers, computers and other devices through your network and send data between them. The key difference between a switch and a hub is that with a switch, data is only sent to the devices that are meant to receive that information. This improves speed, efficiency and throughput of your network which is why these switches have become so popular in homes and small businesses.
Before you can decide which ethernet switch is right for you, it is important to understand some of the key considerations when buying these switches. There are a number of different types of Ethernet switches, as well as a number of different features that may come with different products. The more you understand these differences, the easier it will be to find the right switch.
Managed Vs. Unmanaged Switches
One of the main differences you will find with Ethernet switches is managed vs. unmanaged options. There is no one better type of switch, but there are some key differences between these two options.
A managed switch is one that can be configured. The settings can be tailored to fit the needs of the individual user and to help better monitor the network and control traffic. There are typically smart switches that have a limited number of configuration options, or fully-managed switches that are much more customizable. Smart switches are typically best for home or small offices, while full-managed are geared more towards servers and enterprises.
If you have a large amount of traffic or intense workloads, managed switches can be a great option. However, you also need to have the tech experience necessary to know how to handle these customizations.
If you don’t have a great deal of tech experience and are worried that a managed switch may be too much for your expertise, then an unmanaged switch is a great alternative. These switches work without any input from you. The configurations are set and locked, which means no options for customization, but they are easy to use and great for homes and small office settings. You can plug this switch in and it is ready to go and ready to be used. It is truly that simple.
While you don’t have as much control with the unmanaged switch, if you are a beginner new to switches, this is a great option to still take advantage of all of the benefits that Ethernet switches have to offer.
Features to Look For in Ethernet Switches
Not all Ethernet switches are created equal. Depending on the type of network you have, you may benefit from different types of switches or different features. However, in general these are some of the must-have features to always look for in any Ethernet switch.
High Port Density
One of the first things you will see when reading about any Ethernet switch is the number of ports that these products offer. Remember that once you run out of ports, your switch has reached its capacity, and you’re gong to need to purchase another device to handle all of your ports.
So, even if you currently have 5-6 devices that are going to be connected to your Ethernet switch, make sure you think about the future. You may want to add a streaming box, game console or IP phone in the future. If you do, you are going to need those extra ports.
Size and Design
Switches come in all different shapes and sizes and in all different housing options. Think about where you want to put your switch. Are you going to mount it on the wall? Do you have a lot of extra space for it to be housed in? Typically, the more ports you have, the bigger the switch will be. However, that doesn’t mean that all switches with a large number of ports are going to be massive.
A lot of this has to do with the casing. Some switches come in metal casing, and others in plastic. There are benefits to both. Metal is generally more durable, but plastic tends to be quieter during operation and easier to mount. Think about where you are putting this switch and these considerations before you purchase so you know it will fit in with your current setup.
Of course, when it comes to shopping for Ethernet switches, speed is one of the biggest facts that consumers will look for. Speed and reliability are the two biggest “must haves” for the average consumer. Typically, home and small office users are going to be looking for speeds of 10/100/1000 Mb/s. Of course, 1000 is the fastest of these options and the most preferred. In fact, if you look at our list of top Ethernet switches, you will find all of them at least have 1000 MB/s speeds.
However, switches with lower speeds are generally more affordable and even a 10 or 100 MB/s switch can still vastly improve your network’s performance.
Quality of Service
People invest in Ethernet switches because they want to be able to connect multiple devices directly to their network and enjoy a consistent, fast and reliable level of performance from those devices. This is why it is important to look for Ethernet switches that have the Quality of Service functionality. It helps the switches dedicate more bandwidth to your more active devices in real-time. This means the devices that really need the extra dedicated speed will get the bandwidth they need, and the devices that aren’t being used won’t take up any extra bandwidth.
The right Ethernet switch can make all of the difference in how your network operates. With a basic understanding of the types of switches available and what each can offer, you can make sure that you are investing in the right switch for your home or office setting. Remember, it is essential to find a switch that meets your individual network needs. A home user and a large enterprise aren’t going to have the same needs from their Ethernet switch, so finding one that you can manage on your own is always of the utmost importance.