When we talk about large local networks it is not possible to rely on a simple modem or router to connect all the devices, given that the LAN ports are limited. To expand the number of ports (and consequently of devices) that we can connect to a single modem we will have to use switches, devices designed precisely to multiply the connected devices quickly and easily.
In the following guide we will show you what is a network switch and how to connect it to our network home or business, so you can offer connection ports for all the devices in the room or office.
At the end of the guide we will also show you the best switches we can buy for every need, choosing small and cheap ones for home use or for small offices or choosing huge switches for business use right away.
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What is a network switch
The network switch is designed to manage data traffic when there are multiple devices connected to the same network port (or which refer to a single network port of the modem, router or gateway in general).
This is essential to be able to correctly route network packets: if many different devices operate on the same port it may be impossible to receive the right packets assigned only to a certain device.
We can therefore imagine the switch as a postman: it takes the packets from the “postal center” (the router or the modem) and sends them to the right device, even though they are all present on the same “path” (in this case the network cable that connects the switch to the modem). Obviously, the reverse is also true, with packets that always end up from the device to the post office and not to another device (unless the exchange of packets takes place voluntarily between two devices on the same network).
How to connect a network switch
Network switches are very simple devices to configure, even though we’re not computer scientists and didn’t study networking in college. First we will have to connect the switch to the modem, router or gateway that provides access to the Internet: we use a simple Ethernet cable to connect any LAN port to one of the LAN ports on the modem. It is not important which port we use: as long as it is not the WAN port (often dedicated to network connections via router).
After making the primary connection we connect the devices that need to connect to the network to the switch, using additional Ethernet cables (plug into the remaining LAN ports on the switch). We can also connect multiple switches cascaded together: each switch can multiply the ports of the previous oneso you can connect many devices to a single modem LAN port.
In fact we have finished the configuration: now all we have to do is connect the switch’s electricity socket and wait for the modem (or other device with router and gateway function) to detect the devices connected via the switch.
Switches hardly have configuration panels, since the management of IP addresses (and associated functions such as DHCP, NAT and firewall) is the responsibility of the modem/router; only high-end models can provide configuration panels for managing advanced features (Power Over Ethernet, connection protocol and the like).
For more information, read our guide to differences between modem and router and different types.
Best network switches for home or small office
After seeing what a switch is and how to connect it, let’s see which models to choose for home use or to expand the connection ports in small offices (up to 20-30 devices). The first switch that we advise you to view is the TP-Link TL-SG105E.
This switch provides 5 Gigabit LAN ports (10/100/1000 Mbps), network status monitoring system, traffic priority system, VLAN mode, steel shell and compatibility with multiple cascades with the same device.
The best alternatives to this switch are the TP-Link TL-SG108E Switch 8 Porte, Tenda Switch 8 Porte Gigabit SG108 and the NETGEAR Switch Ethernet Plus 5 Porte GS305E.
Best network switches for business or large networks
For large corporate networks (more than 30 devices) we will have to focus immediately on switch professionali, large enough to fit them in a rack dedicated to connections. The best switch for large networks is the TP-Link TL-SG1016.
With this switch we will get 16 10/100/1000 Mbps Gigabit ports, rack mounting system, Plug & Play technology, support for the 802.1p / DSCP QoS protocol, resistant metal casing and Green Ethernet technology.
The best alternatives are the D-Link GO-SW-16G Gigabit Easy Ethernet Gigabitil D-Link DGS-1210-26 26-Port Layer2 Smart Managed Gigabit Switch e il costoso Cisco SX550X-24 con 24 porte 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE).
Using network switches will allow you not to be tied to the number of LAN ports on your modem or router, thus being able create a large LAN using only the 4 or 5 modem portsto which we will connect as many switches (also present in rooms other than the room in which the modem is present).
To learn more we can read our guides on how create a LAN network of computers at home or in the office and about how solve connection problems between PC and file sharing in LAN.