Switches are basically smart boxes that connect a number of other devices together over a local area network (LAN) and use something called packet switching to transfer data to and from those connections. The easiest way to think of a switch is to watch a LAN event where PCs or game consoles are connected to switches and hubs to connect to each other.
In this case, the PCs are connected via Ethernet cabling. The actual size of a switch can range from a handful of ports up to 48 (or more). The switches themselves can be used at home, in a small office, or anywhere where multiple machines need to be connected. There are two basic types of switches, managed and unmanaged, and which one is best for you depends on your needs.
Managed Ethernet Switches
A managed switch is a device that can be configured and managed correctly to provide a more personalized experience for those who will be using the box. These not only offer tools and means to monitor the network, but also to control the traffic. Managed switches are a lot like virtual private servers where you will be responsible for setting everything up, managing the device, and taking responsibility for any configurations that cause downtime.
Managed switches can be administered through any supported method, whether it is a command line interface (accessed through a secure shell, etc.), a web interface loaded in your web browser, or the SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol) for remote access. This access will unlock various options including port speed, VLANs, redundancy, port mirroring, and Quality of Service (QoS) for traffic prioritization. All of this means that you can prioritize traffic for specified ports – you stream Netflix 4K to your Xbox One, you will want maximum speed and bandwidth quality on the Xbox, the rest of your network will be slowed down to limit setting. buffer memory.
When you look at managed switches, two types are available. Smart switches have a limited number of configuration options and are more affordable than their fully managed siblings – ideal for home and office use. The fully managed solutions are aimed at servers and enterprises, offering a wide range of tools and features to better manage the immediate network.
Managed switches are designed for intense workloads, high volumes of traffic, and deployments where custom configurations are a necessity.
Unmanaged Ethernet Switches
Where a managed switch requires, well, some management in return for keeping your network running exactly the way you want it to, an unmanaged switch works without any intervention on your part. These network devices will work in the most basic form, allowing your devices to connect to each other. The setup is locked to OEM specs and gives consumers the peace of mind to plug everything in and get started.
Think of unmanaged switches as adding additional Ethernet ports to your network. If you have a limited number of outlets available on routers and access points, unmanaged switches are great for connecting additional equipment. Unmanaged switches are best suited for home and small business use.
A managed switch gives you more control over the network as well as all traffic that passes through the device. An unmanaged switch removes this control and manages everything automatically. The former is for advanced users, and the latter is designed specifically for beginners and those who just want to network and let technology take care of the oversight.
We’ve covered the basics of switches – managed and unmanaged – but which route you’ll take is completely up to you. If you are comfortable with managing a local area network and configuring everything, a managed switch is a powerful option. Those who want to keep things simple at home should go for an unmanaged solution.
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