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Managed vs Unmanaged Switch – What are the Differences

When you want to expand your home network you are going to need a switch. The 4 LAN ports on your router are most of the time not enough to connect all your network devices. But what kind of switch do you need? A managed or unmanaged switch?

The difference in price can be substantial, so do you really need a managed switch for your home or office network? Well, it depends.

managed vs unmanaged switch

In this article, I am going to explain the differences between a managed vs unmanaged switch. And give you some guidelines to help you decided when to buy what.

What is a Managed Switch?

With a managed switch you can manage each individual ethernet port on the switch. It allows you to configure settings like the link speed, VLAN, QoS, port mirroring, etc per ethernet port.

Besides managing the ports you can also manage and monitor the switch self. Most managed switches allow you to readout throughput, port utilization, etc with the help of SNMP protocols.

Truly managed switches are designed for enterprises and data centers. They are quite expensive but come with features like serial interface, CLI, logical stacking, and network security features.

Smart Switch vs Managed Switch

Smart switches are managed switches only with fewer features. They can be managed through your browser and offer only a subset of the features of a truly managed switch. But that is more than enough for most networks.

Most managed switches that you buy as a consumer fall in the catagory of a smart switch.

What is an Unmanaged Switch?

An unmanaged switch can’t be configured at all. They are simply plug-and-play devices designed to extend the number of ethernet ports in your home or small office networks. You can’t log in on an unmanaged switch or readout any port utilization or throughput of the device. Unmanaged switches are basically dumb devices.

Managed vs Unmanaged Switch

I have created the overview below to help you with comparing the differences between a managed vs unmanaged switch:

ManagedSmartUnmanaged
ConfigurableYesPartialNo
VLANYesYesNo
QoSYesYesNo
Monitoring (SNMP)YesNoNo
Port MirroringYesNoNo
Spanning Tree ProtocolYesNoNo
Port AggregationYesNoNo
PricingExpensiveAffordableCheap

The features of the smart-managed switches may vary per brand. But most smart only support VLANs and QoS configuration.

Which switch do you need to buy?

So when it comes down to managed vs unmanaged switch, you really need to ask yourself a couple of questions:

  • Do I need VLAN support (used to create a virtual network to separated devices from each other)
  • Do I want QoS (to prioritize bandwidth)
  • Do I need full control per ethernet port (like link speed, link aggregation, security features)

The answer to these question determine which switch you need to buy. Keep in mind that most smart managed switches are really affordable, some models only cost $10 more than their unmanaged (dumb) versions.

If you don’t use VLANs and only want some extra ethernet ports to connect your computers then you can buy an unmanaged switch.

For example, this Netgear 8 port switch is perfect for home networks:

Sale
NETGEAR 8-Port Gigabit Ethernet Unmanaged Switch (GS308) - Home Network Hub, Office Ethernet Splitter, Plug-and-Play, Silent Operation, Desktop or Wall Mount
34,099 Reviews
NETGEAR 8-Port Gigabit Ethernet Unmanaged Switch (GS308) - Home Network Hub, Office Ethernet Splitter, Plug-and-Play, Silent Operation, Desktop or Wall Mount
  • 8 Gigabit Ethernet ports
  • Simple plug-and-play setup with no software to install or configuration needed
  • Supports desktop or wall mount placement
  • Energy efficient design compliant with IEEE802.3az
  • Silent operation ideal for noise sensitive environment Jumbo frame support 9,720 bytes

When you do want to use VLANs or QoS, but don’t need any of the other features, then a smart-managed switch is perfect for your network.

You can, for example, buy this Netgear Enhanced 8 port switch:

Sale
NETGEAR 8-Port Gigabit Ethernet Plus Switch (GS308E) - Desktop or Wall Mount, Home Network Hub, Office Ethernet Splitter, Silent Operation
34,100 Reviews
NETGEAR 8-Port Gigabit Ethernet Plus Switch (GS308E) - Desktop or Wall Mount, Home Network Hub, Office Ethernet Splitter, Silent Operation
  • 8 Gigabit Ethernet ports
  • Plus software with easy-to-use interface offers basic managed capabilities to configure, secure, and monitor your network
  • Supports desktop or wall mount placement
  • Energy efficient design compliant with IEEE802.3az
  • Silent operation ideal for noise sensitive environment

A fully managed switch is needed when you want to have full control over each ethernet port. With a fully managed switch you can for example enable port mirroring for troubleshooting, link aggregation (to use two ethernet links to one device), or use features like STP.

The Unifi switches from Ubiquiti are really good and affordable switches. They are available in different size and classes, and can be used in any network configuration, from home users to enterprises.

A good managed switch to start with in your home network is for example this 8 port switch. This model is also available with 4 PoE ports to power your access points.

Sale
Ubiquiti UniFi US-8 PoE Powered 8 Port Managed Gigabit Switch with PoE Passthrough
643 Reviews
Ubiquiti UniFi US-8 PoE Powered 8 Port Managed Gigabit Switch with PoE Passthrough
  • Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 8 US-8 8-Port Fully Managed Gigabit Switch
  • The UniFi Switch 8-port models feature Gigabit Ethernet ports in a compact form factor. The switches are fully manageable, delivering robust performance and intelligent switching for your networks.
  • The US-8 is a PoE Powered 8-port gigabit switch with PoE Passthrough. Perfect for cleanly adding Ethernet ports where needed, with passthrough to keep your PoE device powered.
  • The new 8-port models feature Gigabit Ethernet ports in a compact form factor. For its total, non-blocking throughput, each UniFi Switch supports up to 8 Gbps.
  • The UniFi Switch offers the forwarding capacity to simultaneously process traffic on all ports at line rate without any packet loss, with a switching capacity of 16 Gbps.

Unifi now also has a new line with smart switches, the Unifi Flex and Flex Mini switches. Make sure you check those out as well.

Wrapping Up

I hope this article helped you with comparing a managed vs unmanaged switch. For most home networks you can perfectly use an unmanaged switch. If you want to use VLANs to separate your network devices or a bit of security into your network then you will need atleast a smart switch.

Also, keep in mind to check if you need PoE (Power over Ethernet). This allows you to power your devices with only an ethernet cable. Commonly used for network cameras and access points.

If you want to know more about setting up your home network, then make sure you read this article as well.

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