Networking

10 gig switch vs 2.5 gig vs 1 gig: Which do you need?

There are many choices when it comes to networking in your home lab or in the enterprise. The choices range from 1 Gig switches to multi-gigabit switches that offer speeds of 2.5 Gig and even 10 Gig. These switches are the backbone of any network, whether small businesses, large enterprises, or home labs, driving connections and managing data transmission. Selecting the right switch is not just about speedβ€”it involves balancing cost, management needs, and use cases. Let’s compare 10 gig switch vs 2.5 gig vs 1 gig and see when you choose one over the other.

What Does an Ethernet Switch Do?

Before diving further into gigabit switches, it’s crucial to grasp what an Ethernet switch does at its core. An Ethernet switch is a central hub connecting devices on a local area network (LAN). These devices can include computers, servers, printers, and more.

Patch panel uplinks to a network switch
Patch panel uplinks to a network switch

When a device sends out a data packet, the Ethernet switch acts as the postmaster. It looks at the destination MAC address embedded in the packet and then sends it directly to the intended recipient, creating a smooth, direct line of communication. This process enhances the efficiency and security of data transmission within the network.

Physical characteristics

An Ethernet switch can come in all shapes and sizes. They can be housed in a durable metal enclosure or plastic housing, depending on the type and cost of the switch. They can also come with varying numbers of total ports.

The total ports available on a switch determine how many devices it can connect. Ethernet switches come in various capacities to suit different needs, from a basic desktop switch that connects a few devices to a large stack of switches servicing a whole building.

Network rack with fiber uplinks
Network rack with fiber uplinks

Transmission speeds

Moreover, Ethernet switches also support different data transmission speeds, often measured in Gigabits per second (Gbps). These speeds are where the 1 Gig, 2.5 Gig, and 10 Gig distinctions come in. There are even faster standards, such as 25, 40, 100, and even 400 gig speeds. This capability of Ethernet switches to handle high-speed data connections makes them a core component of any modern network.

Network rack
Network rack

By managing data traffic, ensuring secure and fast connections, and providing the network’s physical foundation, an Ethernet switch is a core component of the data center and home lab environments. The choice of switch can impact a network’s capacity, performance, and quality of service it delivers to users.

Decoding Switch Configurations: Unmanaged vs. Smart Managed Switches

When considering an upgrade to your network switch, it is essential to understand the distinction between unmanaged switches and smart managed switches. An unmanaged switch, often preferred for its affordability, is a plug-and-play device with fixed configuration switches. It allows devices to be connected with no further management needed.

On the other hand, smart-managed switches offer a wealth of configuration options and advanced features. With these switches, users can control data traffic, enhance security, and effectively manage the network’s bandwidth. While they may come at a higher cost, the added management capabilities provide a clear advantage in terms of features and functionality and often means you can manage the switch from the CLI, etc.

1 Gigabit Switches

The term gigabit switch can be somewhat misleading. While it is true that a gigabit switch supports speeds of 1 Gig, multi-gigabit switches reach up to 2.5 Gig or even 10 Gig. However, these switches offer more than just high-speed connections.

Gigabit switches are versatile devices, from delivering high-quality video and voice over the network to supporting extensive cabling systems and PoE (Power over Ethernet). They can be simple plug-and-play unmanaged switches or feature-rich smart-managed switches, depending on the needs of your network.

The 1 gig standard

1 Gigabit switches support gigabit ethernet, which has long been a de facto standard in enterprise networking, especially to the edge or client connectivity. Any speeds under 1 gig are mostly unheard of today, outside of WAN connections. Arguably most WAN connections are now aligning with 1 gig speeds as well.

A great switch, featuring 1 gig connectivity via Base-T and SFP, is the Cisco-SG350. I have had one of these in the lab for a few years now, and it is a great switch. It contains most of the enterprise features you would find in Cisco solutions. However, they have become quite expensive, especially since the pandemic. You can definitely find cheaper 1 gig switches as these are a dime a dozen.

Cisco SG350 1 gig switch with SFP ports
Cisco SG350 1 gig switch with SFP ports

When to use a 1 gigabit switch

  • Normal client connectivity

  • Server connections for general file servers

  • Docker container hosts

  • Internet connections of 1 gig or slower

  • Virtualization hosts that have local storage and are only serving out VM traffic

When not to use a 1 gigabit switch

  • You want to use distributed storage between hypervisor hosts

  • You have a greater than 1 gig Internet connection

  • You are streaming lots of video and have lots of clients simultaneously on the network

  • You are uplinking lots of other edge switches

  • You need a top of rack switch

Multi-Gigabit Switches (10 gig and 2.5 gig switches)

A network’s bandwidth is a key component that determines its data handling capacity. Here is where multi-gigabit switches truly shine. With 2.5 Gig and 10 Gig options, these switches dramatically enhance the network’s bandwidth, reducing bottlenecks and ensuring smooth data transmission even with more devices connected.

The jump from a 1 Gig switch to a 10 Gig switch in data centers, where network performance is critical, can deliver significant performance enhancements. The added bandwidth allows for swift data delivery between servers, powering data-intensive operations with greater success.

10 gig switch

The 10 gig switch has long been the standard for “top of rack” type switches. Ironically, the price for 10 gig has remained at a premium, but it starting to show signs of coming down in price. 10 gig switches provide roughly 10 times the speed of 1 gig switches at their theoretical maximum transmission speed.

These switches are not traditionally meant for client connectivity uplinks, since 10 gig requires either 10G-Base-T connectors, fiber SFPs, Twinax, or other media to uplink at that speed. Most clients still come configured with 1 gig network connections.

The 10 gig switch shines with the use case of a core switch, top of rack switch, virtualization host uplinks, distributed storage connectivity, etc.

A cost-effective option if you don’t need a dense 10 gig port count is the Mikrotik CRS305-1G-4S+IN 5-port desktop switch. It is $172 on Amazon. This would be a great option if you have 4 or less virtualization hosts you want to uplink for distributed storage, etc.

Mikrotik 4 port 10 gig switch
Mikrotik 4 port 10 gig switch

If you need a much more dense solution, the Ubiquiti Networks UniFi Switch Pro USW-PRO-AGGREGATION B&H Photo (bhphotovideo.com) is cost-effective at roughly $900 for the port count. And you get (4) 25 Gbps ports.

Unifi 28 port 10 gig switch with 25 gig ports
Unifi 28 port 10 gig switch with 25 gig ports

When to use a 10 gig switch

  • You need a top of rack switch

  • You need a core switch (aggregation switch)

  • You are using distributed storage between hypervisor hosts

  • You have tons of traffic to virtual machines running on a hypervisor host

When not to use a 10 gig switch

  • You need to uplink clients directly

  • You have low bandwidth servers serving out general files, etc

  • You only have a 1 gig Internet connection

  • You have less than 10 gig switches, adapters, etc, in between the source/target of the traffic. The possible speed will only be as fast as the slowest connectivity in between

2.5 gig switch

The 2.5 gig switch is a newer-ish standard in networking working that is gaining traction among vendors, network adapters, etc. It represents a sweet spot for networking speeds for those that may need a little more than 1 gig connectivity, but may not need speeds as fast as 10 gig connectivity.

One specific use case where I think it really shines is for WAN connectivity. Many ISPs are now offering speeds beyond 1 gig, including 2.5 Gbps. So 2.5 gig switches can easily fill this need and use case.

For home labs that have virtualization hosts that need more than 1 gig but wouldn’t fully saturate 10 gig, the 2.5 Gbps space is a great fit. Also, many client adapters are now supporting 2.5 Gbps connectivity.

An 8-port 2.5 gig PoE switch on Amazon:

2.5 gig switch for the home lab
2.5 gig switch for the home lab

Another example of a 2.5 gig switch, Amazon.com: TRENDnet 8-Port Unmanaged 2.5G Switch, 8 x 2.5GBASE-T Ports, 40Gbps Switching Capacity, Backwards Compatible with 10-100-1000Mbps Devices, Fanless, Wall Mountable, Black, TEG-S380 : Electronics

Trendnet 2.5 gig network switch
Trendnet 2.5 gig network switch

When to use a 2.5 gig switch

  • You need a top of rack switch but not full 10 gig connectivity

  • You upgraded your Internet connection beyond 1 Gbps

  • You have clients that are configured with 2.5 Gbps network adapters

  • You have multiple virtualization hosts that would benefit from extra bandwidth over 1 gig

When not to use a 2.5 gig switch

  • For virtualization distributed storage – I think 10 gig should still be the connectivity for this use case

  • Main core switch – I think 10 gig is still the standard here

Analyzing the Cost Factor: Are Multi-Gigabit Switches Worth the Price?

Cost-effective solutions are always in high demand, particularly for small businesses. While it’s true that a 10 Gig switch or a 2.5 Gig switch may initially cost more than a 1 Gig switch, the long-term benefits often outweigh these costs.

Multi-gigabit switches’ increased speeds and capacities are invaluable for businesses handling substantial dataβ€”such as video, voice, large file transfers, or virtualization. These switches can future-proof your network, providing scalable solutions that will serve the evolving needs of your business.

Making the Right Choice: Matching Your Network Needs

Choosing the right network switch involves carefully balancing cost, performance, and future scalability. While unmanaged switches might be a cost-effective solution for simple networks, smart-managed switches offer greater control and advanced features for complex networks.

Likewise, while a 1 Gig switch may be sufficient for basic needs, multi-gigabit switches are a valuable investment for networks that demand high bandwidth and smooth performance. After all, in networking, the right switch can make all the difference.

Don’t assume a 10 gig switch can do 2.5 gig

One mistake that many may make is assuming a 10 gig switch can do all speeds in between. Some may be able to do, but I have found that by-in-large most don’t. Many 10 gig switches will do 10 gig and 1 gig. But they won’t negotiate speeds in between.

So be careful if you want to mix and match speeds as this comes into play when selecting specific switches to aggregate various uplinks.

How does Virtual Networking work with physical switches?

Learn more about virtual networking in the realm of VMware vSphere with my video here:

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why should I consider upgrading from a 1 Gig switch to a 2.5 Gig or 10 Gig switch?

While a 1 Gig switch provides sufficient performance for many smaller networks, a 2.5 Gig or 10 Gig switch offers increased bandwidth for data-intensive tasks. Businesses dealing with high-definition video streaming, voice over IP (VoIP), or significant file transfers would particularly benefit from the added capacity.

2. What is the advantage of a smart managed switch over an unmanaged switch?

While unmanaged switches are straightforward plug-and-play devices, smart managed switches offer increased control over your network. They allow for advanced configurations, security enhancements, and effective bandwidth management, crucial for larger networks or businesses with specific data handling needs.

3. Can multi-gigabit switches be used with my existing cabling?

Yes, most multi-gigabit switches are designed to work with existing network cabling. They can support traditional copper cabling and advanced fiber connections, ensuring they can be seamlessly integrated into most network setups.

4. What is PoE and how does it relate to network switches?

PoE, or Power over Ethernet, is a technology that allows network cables to carry electrical power. Switches equipped with PoE can provide power to connected devices, such as VoIP phones or surveillance cameras, eliminating the need for separate power sources.

5. How does a network switch contribute to the success of a business?

Network switches are the backbone of any business’s connectivity. They manage the flow of data between devices, ensuring efficient, secure, and fast communication. An appropriately chosen switch can help avoid bottlenecks, provide seamless service to customers, and support the business’s data handling needs.

6. What does “scalability” mean when talking about network switches?

Scalability refers to the ability of a network to grow and handle increased data or more devices. Switches that offer scalability can support additional connected devices or higher data volumes, making them a future-proof investment for growing businesses.

7. What does the “Gig” in 1 Gig, 2.5 Gig, and 10 Gig switches refer to?

The “Gig” in these terms refers to gigabits per second, a unit of data transfer speed. Therefore, a 1 Gig switch supports speeds up to 1 gigabit per second, while a 10 Gig switch can handle up to 10 gigabits per second.

8. What factors should I consider when looking for a cost-effective network switch?

Beyond the initial price, consider the switch’s management capabilities, supported speeds, total ports, and scalability. For instance, a more expensive smart managed switch may offer long-term cost savings through efficient bandwidth management and improved network performance.

Network switch stack
Network switch stack

The Power of the Right Switch

Whether you’re running a small business, managing a data center, or running a home lab, the right network switch is a critical component. With the array of switches available, understanding the advantages and capabilities each one brings to your network is crucial.

From the affordable 1 Gig unmanaged switch to the high-performance 10 Gig smart managed switch, there’s a switch for every need and use case. If you don’t need 10 gig, don’t buy one. However, having more bandwidth than you need can help future-proof your network for additional needs in the future.

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Brandon Lee

Brandon Lee is the Senior Writer, Engineer and owner at Virtualizationhowto.com and has over two decades of experience in Information Technology. Having worked for numerous Fortune 500 companies as well as in various industries, Brandon has extensive experience in various IT segments and is a strong advocate for open source technologies. Brandon holds many industry certifications, loves the outdoors and spending time with family.

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