Retro Future Electrics

A page about retro electronics, from the introduction of electricity until 1970-something. We refit old gadgets with new tech, and wonder at the makers who came before us.

Managed vs Unmanged ethernet Switches

About 2 years ago I started running out of ports on my 8 port switch fairly regularly. It has connections for my main desktop computer, a hookup to the downstairs switch, phillips hue hub, ooma VoIP service, and any number of Rasperry Pis or Pine 64s (or sometimes both). When I searched for a replacement at the time 24 port switches were only a little more than 16 port. The best reviewed for a reasonable price (Under $200) was the TP-link  24 portTL-SG1024DE managed switch (Amazon link).  As of this writing they are about $125. This came with the added bonus of being a managed switch. Once the domain of big money switches designed for complicated business needs, they are now quite reasonable. This switch is not nearly as flexible as a Cisco switch costing 10 times as much, but then again it doesn’t cost $2,000.

 

So what does a managed switch buy you, the home user? The biggest bennefit to me has been the web interface with built in port monitoring. Twice in the last year it has detected a problem in my network hardware that I wouldn’t have been aware of. Lets look at the output:

Port stats from the 24 port switch.

Port 18 was my old wired adapter for the Nintendo Switch game console. I had re-used a Wii one that is rated for 10/100 Mbit. I hadn’t paid much attention to these stats in a while, when one day I logged in and noticed a port had about 5% error rate. That port was the switch. Now I had noticed some choppy online play in Splatoon, and in fact I had noticed it being better when I was on wifi out and about, but I attributed that to not being on a small island in the pacific. The internet uses a suite of protocols, most common is TCP/IP and UDP/IP for gaming (there are lots of good resources about these on Wiki and elsewhere). The TCP protocol can recover from 5% packet loss, but it means a lot of retransmission.  I replaced the generic 10/100 adapted I had with a licensed Nintendo one made by Hori (Amazon Link)  and my problems went away.

 

Previously about a year ago I had a similar incidence with a bad cable to my desktop computer. The internet was fine, but would sometimes seem spoty, the only thing that identified the problem was the managed switch telling me there was errors.

 

Reporting on errors isn’t the only reason to get a managed switch, as they have come down in price the benefits become more worth it(as of this writing, and 8-port unmanaged TP-link switch is $25, and the managed version is $15 more at $40 from Amazon.) The main secondary feature I use on the switch is the Link Aggregation Group (LAG) feature. Despite sharing the same name with a network delay, this LAG means that you can dedicate up to 4 ports to another switch, and increase your bandwidth to full duplex 4Gbit/sec between those switches. I use 2 ports (port 1&2 in the above image) to link between my two switches (one upstairs by my office, and one downstairs by by entertainment center). Honestly in my house going to 2 Gbit/sec doesn’t show a lot of improvement in network functions, which rarely stress 1Gbit/sec in a home setting. The bonus is that these links fail over, so that if one goes down, the second one will stay up and take all the traffic.

 

The last bonus to managed switch is Virtual Local Area Networks (VLANs). VLANs allow you to partition your network into different walled off sections, so that those in one can’t talk to ones in another. Why would you want to do this? At home the main reason is security (Broadcast and collision domains are outside the scope of this blog for home tinkerers, but feel free to look them up if you want more meat). So if you are like a lot of folks these days you probably have some “Internet of Things” (IoT) devices around your house. Do you trust those companies with complete access to every other computing device on your network? If not you may want to put your internet cameras, speakers, assistants, clocks, fridges, etc, on their own VLAN. This will ensure at the switch hardware level that they don’t even see your other computers. There is no way (outside a second switch hack) that they could ever communicate or hack you other devices. I don’t need to reinvent the wheel here, you can google for VLAN benefits and look into them yourself.

 

Conclusion: Managed switches are worth the now small premium to be able to detect hardware and cable faults, provide redundancy, and improve security in your home network.

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