How to Buy a Network Switch

In order to create even a moderately sized computer network, a network switch will be a required piece of equipment. Switches can range in price anywhere from $10 for a no-name budget switch to well over $10,000 for a high-end Cisco switch. For most people's needs, however, a switch is a fairly inexpensive piece of equipment.


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    Consider the number of users that your network will have to support. If you only have 5 or 6 users, then a small 8-port switch will probably be enough for your needs. Number of ports is one of the biggest factors in the cost of a switch, so if you buy a switch that only supports the number of users that you will have, you will likely save a fair amount of money. Common numbers of ports on ethernet switches are 5, 8, 10, 24, and 48 ports.
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    Consider your basic network infrastructure. For a small network, up to around 40 to 50 users, one switch might be sufficient, whereas if your network will need to support more people, you may have to invest in additional switches.
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    Determine the network needs of the users. Do your users need a fast network with low latency, or do they need to transfer large volumes of data? If so, then a switch supporting Gigabit Ethernet might be appropriate. If the network is more for Internet and network resource access, 100 megabit ports probably will be sufficient..
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    Choose the role of the switch. If you are planning on building a large network, you may have one or more switches acting as a "core" -- these switches will need to be fast, and able to handle a fairly heavy traffic load. Usually, a gigabit switch will work for a core switch. Access switches, where the individual users connect, will probably be slower than a core switch would be. If you are just looking to connect a small number of computers, a single access switch will be all that is necessary.
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    Choose any other features that you may desire. There are many other features that switches often have that may need to be factored into your decision: whether the switch is managed or unmanaged, how to access its configuration interface (if it is managed), whether it is a layer 3 capable switch or not, and many others. These features are mostly only useful in larger enterprise networks; if you are building a large network, it's a good idea to research what some of these additional features can do for you.
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    Pick a vendor and/or company. Chances are that you will not be buying directly from a manufacturer of network switches, however you may prefer one brand over another. Popular brands of networking equipment include Cisco, 3com, Linksys, and D-Link. Smaller switches can often be found at major retailers such as Wal-Mart, Radio Shack, and Best Buy, while larger ones are more often found online. Best Buy does sometimes stock up to 24 port switches, but for larger switches online retailers may be a better choice. and are excellent websites for researching and buying network hardware.
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    Factor in the price. For many people, price will be a higher priority, but sometimes it makes more sense to consider features over price. Companies like Linksys (a subsidiary of Cisco) and D-Link make affordable, lower-end switches for homes and small businesses. These switches can work very well for a small network, but they are often lacking the features found in more expensive switches. 3com offers moderately priced hardware in the medium range -- while their switches won't have the features that Cisco switches will, they are more than adequate for a medium to medium-large network. Cisco switches are top of the line, offering the most functionality, but with the highest price tag. Cisco switches can also be very difficult to configure.
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    For an even greater price cut, look for used switches. Sometimes companies may throw out perfectly good switches that simply don't meet their needs anymore -- but they may meet yours. If a company is not willing to give them away, you may still be able to purchase them for much less than a brand new switch with similar capabilities.


  • If you buy a used managed switch, make sure to check it for an old configuration, or clear the configuration: an improperly configured switch can bring down your whole network, and can be difficult to troubleshoot.
  • If you buy Cisco equipment, make sure you know how to configure it, are willing to learn, or you know someone who does -- Cisco equipment can be very hard to configure if you don't know what you're doing!

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Categories: External Components | Networking