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Best Network Switch 2018 – Buyer’s Guide

By December 31, 2017 No Comments

best network switch
If you’re looking to streamline your office setup, you’re going to have to make sure that all of your computers and peripherals can communicate with each other effectively. For a small workspace, this isn’t a problem, but what about when you have dozens of computers all using the network at the same time?

That’s where a network switch comes in. They’re fairly complicated products, so we’ve taken the liberty of putting together a list of some of the best switches on the market so that you don’t have to.

The Top Rated Network Switches For 2018

Take a look at the table below. In it, you’ll see the name of each product we’ll be reviewing as well as its size and whether it’s managed or not (don’t worry, we’ll explain this later). Don’t just choose the biggest one, though – each has its own advantages and drawbacks.

In the following reviews, we’ll be examining each of these network switches more closely. We’ll be looking for their strengths as well as their weaknesses so that we can give you a comprehensive explanation of just how practical each would be for your needs.

At the end, we’ll be choosing our favourite product overall. With that, let’s begin by taking a look at our least expensive switch, the TP-Link TL-SF1005D.

TP-Link TL-SF1005D Fast Ethernet Desktop Switch – Best Budget Network Switch

This is a network switch aimed at a smaller office or possibly even just a single very connected room. It has five Ethernet ports and as long as there’s a router connected cable, it allows you to share an internet connection with any other device that’s plugged in.

It’s very inexpensive, retailing for around $10, and despite this, it comes with a number of features that make it an invaluable addition to your home or workspace. For example, because it’s plug and play, there’s no need to configure it, making it easier to set up in a hurry.

It has a speed of 10/100, which is a technical way of saying that your maximum network speed shared across all connections is 12.5Mbps. That’s pretty fast, but if you’re paying for a much higher speed, it might be worth spending a little more on a network switch that can handle faster networks.

This switch uses an external power adapter with a 5-foot power cable. It also has no fan to keep it cool. Whilst it can warm up slightly when in use, it’s never significant enough to warrant any kind of cooling, plus the lack of a fan keeps it silent at all times, which is great.

As well as this, it helps keep the switch’s energy usage down. TP-Link claim that it uses up to 60% less power than similar products. There are mounting holes on the base of the unit in case you’d like to attach it to a wall or other vertical surface – you probably won’t want to, but it’s nice to have the option.

The unit itself is fairly plain looking, with a white and gray color scheme. It’s ultra-small and lightweight, at 5.5” wide and 3.4” deep, weighing just 6.4 ounces. This means that it’s easy to find somewhere to put it, even in the smallest of workspaces.

All things considered, this would make a great addition to any small-scale network. Larger networks will have too many devices for this switch, but if you’re just looking to connect a home theatre system or something similar, it’d work very well indeed.

We really like how affordable this product is. For $10, you might not be expecting much, but you get a pretty solid little network switch that even comes with a two-year warranty. It’s simple to set up, simpler to use and is well worth your time.

Pros
  • Extremely affordable
  • Reasonable network speeds
  • Very small and compact
Cons
  • Too few ports for large networks

NETGEAR GS308 Gigabit Ethernet Home Switch – Best Network Switch For Media Centres

It turns out that you don’t have to spend a whole lot of money in order to get the perfect home theatre setup. In fact, you can do it for around $20 with the NETGEAR GS308.

This is another plug and play network switch, but it has eight Ethernet ports so that you can connect a wider range of devices to your network. What really makes it an attractive product, though, is the network speeds that it supports.

Essentially, there are three to choose from, but it will automatically choose the best one for each device if you don’t manually specify which to use. You can set it to use 10, 100, or 1000 megabits per second – this means that the maximum device speed is 125MB per second, which is huge.

Additionally, it has a high bandwidth (one gigabyte), so you can even have multiple devices using 125MB of data every second. This makes it perfect for streaming 4K video and even surround sound at the same time – it’s the ultimate home theatre device.

There is one small flaw, though. Unlike the last product we saw, this one can’t be mounted to a wall. This shouldn’t be too much of an issue, to be honest – it looks great when laid flat anyway and the power cable is long enough to reach an extension cable at least.

It has an attractive metal case which not only helps to protect it from bumps and shocks, but it also helps dissipate whatever small amount of heat the switch generates. It’s 8.8” wide, 7.5” deep, and just 2.3” tall, so it fits into even the smallest of spaces.

NETGEAR claim that the average lifespan of this product is around 60 years, so unless you upgrade your setup or global network technology is advanced further, you won’t need to buy another switch anytime soon.

This switch is non-blocking, which means that it can deal with a whole lot of traffic at the same time without negatively impacting your speeds or transfer times. There are also a few LEDs which let you know when activity is happening. This is good for troubleshooting and can make it significantly easier to fix any problems you might encounter.

Sure, it’s not the most advanced network switch out there. It’s unmanaged, for instance, so you can’t closely monitor traffic across the network, but if you just need something that allows for a lot of connections and high network speeds, then the NETGEAR GS308 would be a fantastic choice.

Pros
  • Decent number of Ethernet ports
  • Very high speeds
  • Very long expected lifespan
Cons
  • Can’t be mounted to a wall

TRENDnet Unmanaged Gigabit GREENnet Desktop Metal Housing Switch – Best Mid-Range Network Switch

This network switch from TRENDnet offers twice the number of Ethernet ports that the NETGEAR product does. Accordingly, it’s more expensive and retails for around $70. Is it worth its higher price tag? Let’s find out.

For a start, it has a total capacity of 32Gbps, which is significantly higher than any of the other products we’ve seen thus far. It’s another 10/100/1000 switch, offering up to 125MBps per port, so it’s more than capable of handling fairly advanced network setups, regardless of whether they’re for streaming or just connecting peripherals.

It is pretty large compared to the less expensive switches, though. It measures 11” wide, 7” deep, and 1.7” tall, and weighs 3.3 pounds. This means that you’re going to need a dedicated place for it – it’s not exactly going to fit in a desk drawer.

If you’re short on space, don’t worry. This product comes with the screw holes that you’ll need to attach a wall bracket, but unfortunately, doesn’t include the bracket itself. This isn’t a huge deal since a bracket is usually only a few dollars, but we’d have preferred if one was included.

This switch automatically adjusts the voltage provided to each port as needed to help conserve power. This is a pretty big addition – since a network switch is often kept on all day, every day, these small savings can quickly add up, showing themselves at the end of the month on your power bill.

So what else do you get for your money? Well, TRENDnet includes a lifetime limited warranty. If the switch breaks at any point through no fault of your own, it will be repaired or replaced at no additional cost to yourself. In essence, you’re paying more money for the knowledge that you’ll never be left empty-handed.

So is it worth it? We’d have to say yes. While it might not satisfy the needs of a medium to large office, 16 ports are more than enough for most home settings and allow for a wide range of different configurations.

The lack of a wall bracket is the only real disadvantage here, which tells you something about the quality of this unit. If we had to come up with another flaw, we’d say the luminous green line across the top doesn’t look great, but frankly, you don’t buy networking hardware for its appearance.

Pros
  • Enough ports for most home networks
  • Automatic power conservation
  • Lifetime limited warranty
Cons
  • Doesn’t include wall mounting bracket

CISCO SYSTEMS Gigabit Switch (SG11224NA) – Best Large Network Switch

If you’ve ever looked at network switches, you’ll almost certainly have heard of CISCO SYSTEMS. They’re one of the world’s biggest network switch manufacturers and have a reputation for high-quality products.

The SG11224NA is no exception. The first thing you’ll notice is that it’s huge. It has to be since it comes with 24 Ethernet ports. This is 14.5” wide, 11.4” deep, and 4.1” tall, and weighs a middling two pounds.

As you might expect, it’s slightly more expensive than the other products we’ve seen. It costs around $150, but there’s one thing that makes it perfect for larger offices: it’s not only wall mountable, but it’s also rack-mountable, so if you have complex needs, you can put combine several of these easily.

Now, this is an unmanaged switch, so you can’t monitor the data across the network. However, you can rest assured that your devices will be pretty quick: it offers a gigabit of throughput for every port.

Essentially, this means that each port can reach speeds of up to 100MBps. This is where a lesser switch would fail – with 24 ports, you can connect a huge range of different devices and not see any problems.

So there’s a lot to like here, but it’s not all sunshine and roses. Let’s take a look at some of this product’s shortcomings.

One of the things we’re not so keen about is the short warranty period of this product. Where some of the other products we’ve covered have provided at least a year’s coverage, this one offers just 90 days. Considering the size of CISCO and the amount they’re charging, it would have been nice to see a little more protection for the consumer.

All things considered, this is a pretty decent switch. It’s fast and there’s very little that it can’t handle in a small to medium sized business setting. On the other hand, for larger offices, a single one of these switches is unlikely to be enough.

This is where the switch’s rack mountability comes into play. Basically, if you’re buying a CISCO product, it’s likely you’ll be buying more than one. By providing a way to easily connect several of these switches together, the value of this product increases exponentially. Is it enough to justify the ~$150 price tag? Quite possibly, but only if you have complex needs and a fairly high budget.

Pros
  • Huge number of Ethernet ports
  • Quick data transfer speeds
  • Rack mountable
Cons
  • Pretty expensive
  • Poor warranty

D-Link Systems Gigabit Web Smart Switch – Best Premium Mid-Sized Network Switch

So if we’ve already seen a mid-sized network switch for a lower price, why should anyone care about this one? Well, the answer is simple: this one is far more advanced and offers greater control than any of the lower budget products.

It comes with 8 Ethernet ports and a further two SFP ports, so you can connect up to 10 devices simultaneously. Each of these ports can have a top speed of 125MBps since it’s a gigabit switch, but the real gems that are included are software-based.

It has Quality of Service functionality which allows high-priority data to be transferred first, bandwidth limiting to prevent certain devices from slowing down the others which are connected, and even the capability to manage several switches in tandem.

You can use the D-Link Network Utility to monitor traffic passing through the switch: everything from port mirroring to IGMP snooping is supported, and as a bonus, the utility allows you to use either the graphical or command line interface.

To help save you money, there are a wealth of power-saving options. When not in use, ports can shut themselves off or go into hibernation after a selected time period. Further, this switch can even detect the length of the cables you’ve attached which allows it to reduce the amount of energy it sends to short-cable connections.

If you’re still not convinced, would a lifetime limited warranty change your mind? Let’s put it simply: for under $100 you get a rack-mountable mid-sized network switch with management and power saving features. Even better, it can handle traffic from multiple switches and if it breaks, D-Link replaces it for free. That sounds like a pretty good deal.

Don’t get us wrong, there are a couple of flaws with this switch. If you’re using this to control traffic over a large network like a university campus, you’re going to want more than two SFP ports. You’re probably also going to need several of these, so having only 10 ports is a definite disadvantage.

Despite these shortcomings, we still feel that D-Link is offering a pretty good product here. Yes, it’s a little more expensive than other ten-port network switches, but you’re not paying for ports here, you’re paying for the macro scale management tools. It’s just a shame that this switch can’t handle that kind of connectivity on its own.

Pros
  • Wide array of management tools
  • Two SFP ports
  • Rack mountable
Cons
  • Designed for large areas, but doesn’t provide that level of functionality

Ubiquiti UniFi Switch – Best High-End Network Switch

If you have a very complex network, you’re probably going to need several network switches. It makes sense that you’d maximise efficiency by buying a switch would could not only handle a lot of work on its own but one which is rack mountable, like the Ubiquiti UniFi.

Of course, powerful network switches are not cheap. This one retails for around $380, but it makes up for its higher price by providing a frankly huge amount of ports: 24 Ethernet and two SFP. This means that you can connect up to 26 devices at the same time – enough for any mid-sized network.

Here’s the thing: there’s no point connecting all these devices if they’re going to be sluggish. Happily, this switch allows each port a network speed of up to 125MBps, and thanks to the SFP ports, you can even run cables for hundreds of feet without any significant slowdown.

As we mentioned, this is rack mountable, and luckily so because it’s huge. Measuring 22.4” wide, 13.2” deep and 3.2” tall, it’s not something you’d want to leave lying around. This also makes the weight less of an issue: a rack isn’t going to struggle to support 4.4 pounds.

This product is fully manageable using the UniFi Controller software. With this, you can stay on top of every aspect of your network, from limiting speeds to conserving energy during quieter periods. Since it has more work than most, it’s also louder, with an ambient noise output of 34 decibels – roughly equivalent to the noise in a library.

Given how expensive this model is, we were hoping to see a significant warranty period, however, we were disappointed. It’s covered for just a single year, assuming you didn’t do anything to damage it. Why are we so annoyed at this? It’s still better than CISCO’s warranty, but this product costs more than twice as much, so should be supported for longer.

In a nutshell, this is a network switch which has enough ports for all but the largest professional settings. Your IT team will be able to monitor traffic across your network and optimize its flow, and as a bonus, you can even fit it into a server rack.

Yes, it’s more expensive than most, but it also offers a lot of functionality that most of its competitors don’t. When you have professional needs, unfortunately, you have to pay professional prices.

Pros
  • Accepts 26 simultaneous devices
  • Includes management utility
  • Fast data speeds
Cons
  • Sub-par warranty coverage for such an expensive product

Buyer’s Guide

Network switches aren’t exactly the simplest things in the world, but they don’t have to be hard to shop for. We’ve put together a guide to some of the main considerations you’ll have to make before spending any of your money on one of these products.

Network Scale

Just how big is your network? If you’re only looking to connect a few different devices together, the good news is that you have a lot of options for low-cost network switches. On the other hand, if you have a massive area to cover with dozens of different computers and peripherals, you should be prepared to spend a considerable amount.

How far away are the devices you’d like to connect? The longer the cable, the more power the port is going to need. If it’s a considerable distance away, you might want to look into purchasing a switch with one or more SFP ports. There’s an in-depth explanation why here but the short version is that SFP degrades the data less.

Physical Considerations

This ties in closely with the size of your network as switches with more ports are usually larger. However, as a rule, a network switch can range from as small as a credit card to over a foot in length. These larger, heavier switches are usually rack mountable: that is, they fit into a dedicated storage space called a rack.

These racks can be very expensive, so it doesn’t pay to buy one unless you’re planning on buying several network switches. If so, make sure to buy switches that allow you to manage the traffic between them. Not only does this give you greater control over your network, it also helps keep things running smoothly and can save you money by re-prioritizing certain types of traffic based on server load or the time of day.

Again, the larger they are, the more power they tend to use. There’s more work for them to do after all, and some of them may even include an internal fan designed to keep the unit cool. This means that often, you’ll be able to hear the fan when it’s running, although they’re usually fairly quiet at around 30dB or so.

Conclusion

It’s never easy to choose the best product from a list of great ones. After careful consideration, though, we’ve decided that the network switch that suits most people’s needs is the TRENDnet Unmanaged Gigabit GREENnet Desktop Metal Housing Switch.

It’s priced at under $100, for a start. It has 16 Ethernet ports, which is enough for just about any size of household, plus it has quick data transfer speeds. Best of all, if it ever fails, TRENDnet will replace it for free. What more could you ask for?

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