Every year, homeowners and businesses alike become more dependent on electronic devices.
Ten years ago, hardly anyone had heard of VoIP, and smart home devices were still a twinkle in Jeff Bezos’ eye. Nowadays, it seems like everyone has Alexa or Siri on their kitchen counter.
Businesses are using networks to control everything from security cameras to lighting.
If your current Ethernet switch is too old, too slow, or doesn’t have enough ports for your needs, you’ve come to the right place.
We’re about to look at the 10 most popular Ethernet switches. We’ll talk about the pros and cons of each one and explain what they can do to improve your local network.
Best Ethernet Switch – Overview
When purchasing an Ethernet switch, the most important factor is how many ports it has. If you absolutely need 16 ports, even the world’s best gigabit switch isn’t going to do much good if it only has 8 ports. That said, there are many other factors you should consider, including how fast the switch is, whether it provides power over Ethernet, and what kind of management options you have.
Below, we’ve listed the 10 Ethernet switches we’ve reviewed. All of these get high ratings from current users, and all of them are currently available.
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Many of these switches allow you to connect to modern, fast machines while still providing legacy support. We were also surprised to find that all ten of them have auto-MDI/MDI-X included, which is quite a change from the days – not too long ago – when crossover cables were fairly common. A nice thing about this change is that you can mix and match standards without a lot of fuss.
In these reviews, you’ll learn the ins and outs of each product. We’ll talk about speed, compatibility with other devices, and any bells and whistles the switch comes with. If you’re looking specifically for a gigabit switch review, fret not. 9 of our 10 switches support gigabit Ethernet.
Keep in mind that we’re talking about switches here, not routers. A router is required for connecting from one network to another – for example, connecting your home or business to the internet. A switch, on the other hand, is used to connect devices within the same network. They provide more ports for more devices, but you’ll still need to plug them into a router if you want your local network to connect to the internet.
Best Ethernet Switch 2020
1. TP-Link 5-Port Gigabit Ethernet Network Switch – Best Half Duplex Mode Switch
- 1 MB buffer. This isn’t all that impressive in the grand scheme of things, but it’s fantastic for such an inexpensive switch. You’ll be able to use all five ports at once without losing performance.
- Automatic traffic optimization. While this isn’t as customizable as a switch with real traffic management options, it improves network performance without requiring you to know much about computers.
- VLAN support. This is another feature that’s geared towards small businesses. Larger companies have more efficient ways of creating a virtual LAN, but smaller companies can now run their own VLAN in house.
The TP-Link 5-Port Gigabit Ethernet Network Switch is a great choice for homes or small businesses that need to add a few devices to their network. It has a tough metal case, so you don’t have to worry about it getting knocked off a desk, and it’s a gigabit switch, which means it’s not going to slow you down.
This switch doesn’t offer the most customization, but it’s a great choice for home users or for small businesses who don’t have a dedicated IT person.
2. TP-Link TL-SG1005D 5-Port Unmanaged Gigabit Desktop Switch – Most Inexpensive Gigabit Switch
- Inexpensive. If you need to increase your local network capacity and you’re on a budget, this switch will get the job done.
- Automatic power-saving mode. You’ll only power the ports that are actually running. No need to run up your utility bill powering ports that aren’t in use.
- Plug and play. Just plug it in, hook up your devices, and you’re ready to go. No further configuration needed.
The TP-Link TL-SG1005D is a budget switch for people who need no-frills connectivity at a low price. This is a great for small businesses or for people who want to connect a few more devices in their home. The gigabit speed is fast enough for any modern electronics. The automatic power-saving feature will keep you from wasting money when the switch isn’t being used, and the 1 MB buffer is enough for most household uses.
That said, you’re not going to get a ton of other options with this switch. It doesn’t provide power over Ethernet, and it doesn’t let you manage your network traffic. It also doesn’t support half duplex mode, so you’ll either need to replace legacy hardware or get a switch with half duplex support.
This switch doesn’t do everything, but it does enough. Homeowners will love how easy it is to use, but businesses may want to look elsewhere.
3. TP-Link 8-Port Gigabit Ethernet Network Switch – Best Power Saving Switch
- Network management. With this switch, you can monitor your network’s traffic, and prioritize certain types of traffic over others. You can also give special permission or special restrictions to individual users.
- Optional half duplex support. This is great for small businesses with old security systems or older POS systems. No need to upgrade the rest of your hardware just to make the switch work.
- Power saving features. This switch only powers ports that are currently active. If you’re only using four ports, you won’t end up paying for eight of them.
On the downside, it’s not the best switch for smart home devices or industrial controllers, because it doesn’t provide power over Ethernet. It also has limited VLAN support, so users who need a high-security switch will probably want something with more options.
This is a fantastic switch for the price. If you need network management and you’re not worried about support for legacy options, consider this switch.
4. TP-Link 5-Port Fast Ethernet Switch – Most Inexpensive Switch
- Very inexpensive. This is the cheapest you’re going to find a well-reviewed switch. If you’re looking for something comparable at a lower price, get off the internet and start going to garage sales.
- Power saving mode. This switch doesn’t just deactivate empty ports; it also keeps track of signal demand and how long your cables are. You won’t pay a penny more than absolutely necessary for operation.
- Small and stylish. This isn’t a company switch, it’s a home switch. As such, it’s easy on the eyes. If you have to set this on a shelf in your living room for everyone to see, it will look just fine.
The TP-Link 5-Port Fast Ethernet Switch is the most budget-friendly switch we’ve looked at. It costs about the same as a small pizza, and offers five Fast Ethernet ports to quickly add new devices to your home network.
This is a home network switch. It’s not designed for businesses, and it’s not suitable for them. But if you’re looking for a cheap way to add a couple more devices to your home network, it’s a good choice.
5. NETGEAR 16-Port Gigabit Ethernet Unmanaged Switch – Best 16-port Gigabit Switch
- 16 gigabit ports. Quality, high-capacity switches are hard to find at a reasonable price. This switch supports more devices than you’ll find anywhere near this price range.
- Plug and play. Just hook it up and go. There’s no need to fuss with settings or change the ports on your PC. Everything is ready to rock.
- Full and half duplex support. This switch was made with small businesses in mind. You can upgrade your switch without upgrading your security cameras and POS system.
The NETGEAR 16-Port Gigabit Ethernet Unmanaged Switch was designed specifically for small businesses. It connects as many devices as possible without requiring you to engage in advanced network management or daisy-chaining switches. The price is extremely reasonable for a switch this big.
On the other hand, this switch comes with a few limitations. The buffer is very small, only 768 KB. This makes it unsuitable for streaming or gaming or for businesses that require a lot of media transfer. It also doesn’t have any network management options, so larger companies will probably want to look elsewhere.
6. NETGEAR 8-Port Gigabit Ethernet Unmanaged Switch (GS108) – Best Warranty (Tie)
- Lifetime warranty. No matter how good your device is, things are liable to go wrong at some point. If and when they do, NETGEAR backs this switch with a lifetime warranty.
- Network management. No need to worry about piracy on your network. For that matter, no need to worry about people wasting your bandwidth on YouTube. This switch has plenty of administrative options to keep your people productive.
- Half duplex support. Homeowners won’t care about this, but small businesses will rejoice. Upgrade your switch while keeping your 1900s CCTV system.
The NETGEAR GS108 will add 8 gigabit ports to your network, no matter what the devices are. It supports old, half duplex systems as well as cutting-edge devices. Business owners will appreciate the network management options, and everyone loves a lifetime warranty. Catastrophic device failure? No problem! Call NETGEAR and they’ll fix it.
This is a great switch for small businesses or for corporate offices that don’t need lots of audio or video transferred. It has a small buffer, but it supports most legacy devices and provides plenty of management options for your IT administrator.
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7. NETGEAR 8-Port Gigabit Ethernet Unmanaged Switch (GS308) – Best Value For The Price
- Reasonable price. Is this the cheapest switch out there? No. Is it close? No. Is it a fantastic value for the money? Absolutely!
- 1 MB buffer. If you’re tired of your Netflix movie getting pixelated when your significant other hops on their laptop, you’ll be pleased. This switch has enough buffer space for any home application.
- Full and half duplex support. Although this switch wasn’t designed for businesses, you can use it for your small business without replacing your old hardware. Combine that with the multiple ports, and you have a great switch for running a new POS system while keeping your old CCTVs.
The NETGEAR GS308 was designed specifically for homeowners. It’s plug and play, and has a 1 MB buffer that will make even the most avid gamer happy. The case is tough enough to withstand a drop, and the eight ports should be sufficient for almost all homes.
That said, this device has some drawbacks. It provides no power, so smart home device users will need a beefier switch. It also doesn’t allow any network management, which makes it a no-go for most businesses.
This is the homeowner version of the GS108. It won’t power any smart home devices, but it’s the best deal around for gamers or avid Netflix users.
8. NETGEAR 5-Port Gigabit Ethernet Unmanaged Switch – Best Warranty (Tie)
- Power over Ethernet. Run your IP cameras or smart home devices through this device. You can also use it to power intercoms, industrial controllers, and smart light controls.
- Lifetime warranty. Like the GS108, this switch has a lifetime warranty. You may never need to buy another Ethernet switch again.
- Half duplex support. Not running any new devices with POE? No worries! This switch will support old hardware as well.
This is the second switch on our list that comes with NETGEAR’s lifetime warranty. It shouldn’t fail. It probably won’t. But if it does, you’re covered. It also supports legacy devices with an optional half duplex connection and provides power over Ethernet for newer devices. In addition, the metal case makes it virtually drop-proof.
Unfortunately, it only has a 128 KB buffer. It also doesn’t offer any network management capabilities, so business users may want to steer clear.
This switch is a bit of a mixed bag. It can’t seem to decide whether it’s made for homeowners or small businesses. That said, it’s a great design and it’s high quality. If it meets your needs, we highly recommend it.
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9. D-Link 8-Port Gigabit Unmanaged Metal Desktop Switch – Best Energy Efficiency
- Energy efficiency mode. Not only does this switch only provide power to ports when a device is plugged it, it also monitors whether your devices are turned on. If they’re off, it shuts off power, saving you money.
- Network management. If you’re running a business, customize your switch to optimize the traffic that’s most important.
- Half duplex support. This is another switch that doesn’t require you to ditch all your old devices. A great feature for small businesses that don’t want to spend a fortune upgrading their network.
The D-Link 8-Port Gigabit Unmanaged Metal Desktop Switch is somewhat badly named; while it’s unmanaged by default, it allows network management through a simple web user interface. It supports both full duplex and half duplex devices and has an energy efficiency mode to save power. It’s also extremely durable.
On the downside, this switch provides no power over Ethernet. People with newer interconnected devices or people who are thinking of getting a smart home hub may want a more modern switch. It also only has an 128 KB buffer, so gamers will also want an upgrade.
This is an energy-efficient, no-frills switch that’s great for small businesses and individuals. If you want a low-power solution for your multiple devices, this is it.
10. Ubiquiti UniFi Switch US-8-60W – Best Overall Quality
- 4 MB buffer. If you’re a gamer or watch lots of streaming media, you’ll love this switch. Businesses that process a lot of audio or video will also appreciate the large buffer size.
- 4 watt and 60 watt POE ports. You can power any smart home or industrial device with this switch. Keyless entry systems, PA speakers, intercoms, and light controllers will all run just fine.
- Network management software. This is more powerful than a simple web UI. Limit users’ bandwidth, prioritize certain types of traffic, or prioritize some ports over others.
If you’re looking for a premium switch, you’ve found it. The Ubiquiti UniFi Switch is a metal-cased beast that supports new and old devices alike. You can also manage network traffic with the included software, giving you ultimate control over your LAN. It also has a 4 MB buffer, so you can load it up with gaming machines or streaming media, and it will still run smoothly.
No bones about it, this is an expensive switch that draws a lot of power. It’s not for everybody. But if you’re looking for maximum performance at maximum speed, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better switch.
This isn’t a cheap switch. It’s expensive. But it does everything you can ask for and more. Commercial and residential users will be future-proof for a decade or more.
Ethernet Switch Buying Guide
Now that we’ve reviewed the top 10 Ethernet switches on the market, let’s go over the features you should be looking for. This list isn’t exhaustive. You may need different features depending on your application. Still, these are the most important things to keep in mind.
At a bare minimum, you’ll want an Ethernet switch that supports Fast Ethernet (100 Mbps). You’ll also want one that has AUTO-MDI/MDI-X, unless you like wasting ports on crossover cables. An unmanaged, plug-and-play switch is going to be useful for virtually all circumstances, and you’ll want full duplex for faster connections.
If you’re looking for better performance, there are more features you’ll want to look for. A gigabit Ethernet switch allows for faster speeds, and Power Over Ethernet allows you to operate a wider variety of devices. Managed switches offer more control, and a switch with half duplex mode available will be compatible with older hardware. A larger buffer (over 4 MB) and monitoring capabilities can also be significant upgrades.
To be at all useful for modern devices, a switch will need to support Fast Ethernet, which means a speed of 100 Mbps. All the switches we reviewed meet this requirement, as will any modern switch. If the switch you’re looking at only supports 10 Mbps, it’s an antique. Buying it would make about as much sense as buying a computer with Windows 3.1.
100 Mbps is fast enough for streaming standard-definition video, email, listening to music, and many other “basic” functions you might perform online. However, this can start to fall apart if you’re using multiple devices simultaneously through the same switch, because the connection to the router or hub will be limited by that same 100 Mbps limit.
Of course, if you’re using your local network for relatively low-demand applications like email or simple document storage, a fast Ethernet switch may be fast enough. If you’re doing anything more demanding, though, you’re going to need a gigabit Ethernet switch.
MDI and MDI-X are two different standards for sending and receiving data over Ethernet. Without getting too far into the weeds, these two standards use different pins on the cable connector for different purposes. For instance, some of the pins that are used for sending data in MDI are used for receiving data in MDI-X.
Older switches required pairs of crossover cables to connect to each other if they used different standards. To connect an MDI switch A to an MDI-X switch B, you would have to connect a cable from a transmitting port on switch A to a receiving port on switch B and another cable from a transmitting port on switch B to a receiving port on Switch A.
Auto-MDI/MDI-X switches will automatically sense what kind of device they’re connected to and change standards accordingly. Not only does this save you time and cables, it also leaves more available ports on your switch. Every switch we’ve reviewed supports Auto-MDI/MDI-X.
An unmanaged switch, or plug-and-play switch, is an Ethernet switch that requires no configuration. Like a standard USB mouse or a set of desktop speakers, you just plug it in, and it works. Some users may want – or even need – a managed switch. We’ll talk about those shortly, and many of the switches we reviewed have management options.
However, for most applications, you’re going to want an unmanaged switch. Even if you need management features like traffic management or remote monitoring, you’ll probably want to configure those later. Setup is easier and faster if the switch is unmanaged by default, because you can at least verify that your network configuration works before you start changing settings.
For that reason, all the switches we reviewed are plug-and-play.
If you find a switch that only works as a managed switch, consider your needs. Unless you’re an experienced IT professional, you should probably buy a plug-and-play switch.
All modern devices are designed to use full duplex connections. What this means is that the cable is sending data in both directions simultaneously. This is more than twice as fast as an older, half duplex connection. Since this has been the standard for many years, you won’t see any modern switches that only operate in half duplex mode.
That said, depending on your exact needs, you may also want to be able to use half duplex mode. We’ll talk about this in a bit, but this is only ever really the case for business users. If you’re setting up a home network, full duplex will do everything you need without adding extra cost to your switch.
Buffer Size of at Least 1 MB
Since a switch can only send and receive so much data at once, it can get bottlenecked during times of high network activity. This doesn’t always happen when you might expect. For example, it can happen at 2 in the morning if all your office’s PCs start downloading Windows updates simultaneously.
To keep things running as smoothly as possible, switches have small memory buffers where they can temporarily store data before sending it. The larger this buffer is, the more congestion they can handle before they start rejecting packets. Packet rejections can lead to lags in downloads and even slow down your devices by forcing them to re-send data.
While everyone’s needs are different, we recommend buying a switch with at least a 1 MB buffer. This will be enough for most people but can still be insufficient for larger networks.
Gigabit Ethernet, meaning Ethernet that supports speeds of up to 1024 Mbps, has been available since 1999. Early on, it was only used for heavy commercial applications, but as with all things technological, prices have dropped considerably over the years. As prices have dropped, more and more people have been able to afford Gigabit speeds. Since 2010, most consumer devices have supported Gigabit Ethernet.
All but one of the switches we reviewed supports gigabit Ethernet, and we recommend a gigabit switch for most users. Strictly speaking, it won’t be necessary for most day-to-day use, but it’s necessary if you have more than one streaming device in your home or if you have a company network that covers more than a small office.
“Even if you can get away with Fast Ethernet for now, keep in mind that connected devices are getting faster all the time. What’s good enough today may not be good enough in a few years. For this reason, a gigabit Ethernet switch will be useful for far longer than a Fast Ethernet switch.”
Power Over Ethernet
Power Over Internet (POE), means using an Ethernet cable not only for network traffic, but also for electrical power. Whether or not you need this feature depends entirely on what kinds of devices you have connected to your network. POE isn’t necessary for PCs, laptops, game systems, or for any other device that has its own power cord.
On the other hand, you’ll need POE to operate IP cameras, VoIP phones, many industrial controllers, some wireless access points, and small remote Ethernet switches that don’t have their own power cords. You’ll also need POE for a lot of smart home gadgets. These include intercoms, keyless entry systems, smart lighting controls, and Ethernet public address speakers.
We’ve already discussed unmanaged systems and why it’s important to have a plug-and-play switch. But let’s say you’ve gotten your network set up, and you need more control. What can you do with your switch’s network management settings? Your exact capabilities will differ from model to model, but virtually all managed switches will allow you to set data and speed caps on individual devices, as well as prioritize certain traffic types or sources.
For example, you may have an 8-port switch in your office. Ports 1-7 have PCs plugged into them, while Port 8 has another 8-port switch plugged into it, which in turn has 8 PCs plugged into it. In this case, you would have seven PCs each with their own port, with 8 other PCs effectively sharing the 8th port. To keep everyone’s speed as high as possible, you’d want to prioritize traffic from Port 8 so those users wouldn’t all get bottlenecked.
Full and Half Duplex
We’ve already talked about the advantages of full duplex, so you might be asking yourself why anyone would want to use an older, slower connection type. The reason is because some older devices are only capable of half duplex connections. If you plug one of these devices into a switch that only operates in full duplex mode, the switch will try to send signals both ways at the same time. Because half duplex devices can only send one way at once, signals will collide en-route and get lost. This, in turn, will cause your device to have a bad connection.
Homeowners don’t really have to worry about this, but it’s a common concern for businesses. An old half duplex security camera system, for example, can cost thousands of dollars to replace. In this case, it’s a lot cheaper to run that port on your switch in half duplex mode instead of replacing the entire system.
Note that this isn’t a case of either/or. The half duplex switches we reviewed will all work in full duplex mode whenever possible. Having the half duplex option just gives you more compatibility with legacy hardware.
Buffer Size of 4 MB or More
While small households or low-traffic businesses will be fine with a 1 MB buffer, larger offices or houses with multiple streaming devices will need a bigger buffer. Buffers on modern switches can be as large as 16 MB, so a 4 MB isn’t really that big. That said, it’s going to be sufficient for almost everybody.
An exception to this would be industrial users. In these cases, a single dropped packet might lead to a mistake in a production line. That’s a lot more expensive than a better network switch. Large residential networks, like apartment buildings or dorms, can also benefit from a larger buffer due to the sheer volume of traffic on those kinds of networks.
Not everyone wants or needs to monitor traffic on their network. That said, monitoring capabilities can be useful for businesses to keep tabs on their employees’ internet use. It’s also useful for people running large residential networks who want to identify users who are using their connections for piracy.
When many people buy an Ethernet switch, their first consideration is how many ports it has or what brand it is. We’re not saying these things aren’t important – they are – but they can overshadow many of the other features we’ve discussed. Other people seem to have a fetish for machines that can withstand being dropped off a cliff. Again, durability is nice, but unless you’re in a war zone, you’d be better served keeping your equipment safe to begin with than by purchasing a bulletproof switch.
We’ve talked about the importance of speed, Auto-MDI/MDI-X connections, managed and unmanaged switches, full and half duplex switches, buffer sizes, and power requirements. And of course, we’ve reviewed our top 10 picks for best Ethernet switch in detail.
Whether you’re buying for yourself or a corporation, whether you’ll have one or a hundred people on your network, we hope you’ve learned that an Ethernet switch is a lot more than just an interchangeable dumb box. It’s a complex piece of equipment. With all of our tips in mind, we believe you’ll make a better purchasing decision. As always, if you think we missed anything, please let us know in the comments!
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Last update on 2023-09-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API