One thing just leads to another around here. My search for a decent VoIP ATA (basically, an Ethernet to analog telephone interface box) led me to discover that I’m all out of ports on my current Ethernet switch that holds together my home-office network. Oops. Guess this VoIP project just got a little bigger.

It’s been a while since I’ve bought much home networking gear, and I was impressed when I fired up NewEgg to discover how far prices on Gigabit switches have fallen. But looking at the specs on them convinced me that not all are made equal — and some of them seem downright trashy. I’ve done battle in the past with crummy, low-quality “consumer” networking gear in the past, and swore never to buy hardware purely (or even mostly) based on price again.

My absolute requirements are:

  • 8 ports
  • Gigabit Ethernet (802.3ab) on all ports and uplink
  • Jumbo frames (>9000B payload)

The major ‘nice to haves’ in a new switch are:

  • 12+ ports
  • Support for Spanning Tree Protocol
  • VLAN
  • Link aggregation
  • 802.1p ‘Priority Queuing’
  • Power Over Ethernet (PoE) injection

My requirements aren’t that stringent — pretty much any run-of-the-mill 8-port switch satisfies them — so really it’s an exercise in balancing cost against which of the ‘nice to haves’ I can get.

  • Rosewill RC-410

    • $50 from NewEgg
    • 8 ports
    • Jumbo frames
    • “802.1p flow control” (means priority tagging?)
    • 802.3ad - Link aggregation
    • Limited QoS (per-port QoS bit flagging?)
    • Rosewill seems to be NewEgg’s house brand. It got mostly positive reviews, with the main complaints being about the heat, and that there’s no 12 or 16-port version available.
  • Netgear GS108

    • $55 after rebate from NewEgg
    • 8 ports
    • Jumbo frames (9000B max.)
    • 802.3x - Flow control
    • 802.1p - Priority tags
    • Steel case
    • Looks decent, one of Netgear’s “ProSafe” series. Doesn’t do link aggregation, though, and the price before rebate is $70. However, the higher-end Netgear kit has performed well for me in the past, so that’s something it has going for it.
  • HP J9077A

    • $80 from NewEgg
    • 8 ports
    • Jumbo frames (9216B max.)
    • 802.3x - Flow control
    • 802.1p - Priority tags
    • Full specs on HP site
    • Starting to get into “real” networking gear, rather than the consumer/home-oriented stuff, here. Only downsides to this unit are the lack of VLAN and link aggregation. HP has a similar unit, the J9079A, which does both and a lot of other tricks besides, but only has 10/100 on the client ports and a GigE uplink.
  • Netgear GS108T

    • $105 from NewEgg
    • 8 ports
    • Jumbo frames
    • 802.3x - Flow control
    • 802.1p - “Class of Service” (aka ‘Priority tags’)
    • Port-based VLAN
    • Port and DSCP-based QoS
    • 802.3ad - Link aggregation
    • LACP - Automatic link aggregation
    • 802.1w - Rapid Spanning Tree protocol
    • Now we’ve moved from unmanaged switches into “smart” switches, and we bought ourselves VLANs, QoS, LACP, RSTP, Syslog/SNMP support, port mirroring, and tons of other fun stuff. For what you get, this seems like a good price — the question is just whether it’s necessary.
  • HP J9029A

    • $156
    • This one seems to take the J9077’s feature set and add to it many of the “smart switch” features in the Netgear above, including LACP aggregation, 802.1Q VLANs, and QoS. One major feature it doesn’t seem to support is RSTP/STP.

Decisions, decisions. The J9029A is pretty tempting, but it’s leaning distinctly towards overkill for a home LAN. However, I really like the idea of being able to set up VLANs at some point in the future; say, to take all the VoIP devices and put them on a separate VLAN and subnet, and then put that whole subnet behind a separate NAT router and give it a separate internet-facing IP address. (Obviously this would cost money and require purchasing a second public IP from Comcast.) I’m not sure if this will ever be necessary, but it seems like SIP+NAT is just a bad combination, and the glacial pace of IPv6 means it’s a problem that’s not going to go away any time soon. Being able to just segment off all the telephone stuff from data (and maybe making SAN stuff separate from that) seems like a nice feature.