|At a Glance|
Switches are a product category that I've historically declined to review, primarily because they long ago reached commodity status - they differ mainly in terms of warranty details, pricing and physical port arrangement. I also can't do performance benchmarking on switches, since meaningful testing requires equipment that is beyond the meager budget of the TomsNetworking labs.
That said, the recent slew of more affordable "smart" switches has made me rethink this stance (though I still won't be doing any performance testing.) The main reason is that these products aren't yet commodities, and have varying feature sets that you, the consumer, need to know about to make an informed buying decision.
The other reason why I felt it was worth looking at these units is that the marketeers are up to their usual tricks, starting with the creation of the term "smart switch". This phrase is an attempt to once again confuse consumers into thinking that a product is different, when it really isn't. The goal is primarily to protect manufacturers' margins on their existing catalog (and inventory) of higher-priced products. The more expensive products in this case are "managed switches", which have been used for many years to build large business-class networks.
The easy way to keep clear of vendor hype is to understand that there are two main types of switches. The first is the unmanaged switch, which has no user interface, and therefore provides no way for the user to change its functions. The second is the managed, smart or intelligent switch, which has a user interface and features that can be modified. "Smart" switches are usually managed switches with more limited feature sets; they are "dumbed down", as it were (though that wouldn't be a very attractive moniker, would it?) Still, even with fewer bells and whistles, these products can still be mighty useful, even for modestly-sized networks.
This review will take a look at Netgear's FS728TS ProSafe 24 Port 10/100 Stackable Smart Switch + 4 Gigabit Ports, which is representative of what's available in low-end managed switches today.