Things to Consider Before Adding a Network Switch

A brand-new network switch might seem like the easiest piece of networking hardware to set up. And in many ways, it is. Connect one network device, connect another networked device, and voila — both devices are connected to each other. And they, in turn, will be connected to the third network device you plug into the switch. And the fourth. Get my drift?

The background work behind adding a switch to an existing network comes not from the physical act of connecting devices to the switch. Rather, it’s in the planning. Without thinking it through, you might find yourself running around your abode, cables in hand, changing your configuration with each new use you dream up.

So before installing a switch, consider this: Which room or device is most in need of increased network access? Where can you place a switch so that Ethernet cables traveling to and from the device can be minimized or concealed? Do you need constant access to the switch to plug and unplug devices? Or, instead, could you hide it behind a wall or in a closet?

And don’t forget about your switch’s theoretical speed. If you have a switch that only supports fast Ethernet, you’ll want to isolate fast Ethernet devices on a separate setup from gigabit Ethernet devices. Why’s that? Because gigabit Ethernet delivers 10 times the performance of fast Ethernet: It’s a must-have for speedy backups and file transfers.

If you want to reap the benefits of a Gigabit-equipped network storage device like the D-Link DNS-325-110, it does you no good to use a fast Ethernet switch to connect the NAS device to the rest of your network. You’ll immediately sacrifice Gigabit speed. If you intend to use a Gigabit switch to connect computers only — say, you want to throw a LAN party — know that you’ll also need to run through a few more configuration steps within Windows to optimize your setup for gaming.

As handy as a switch is, it’s still a simple device. Unlike a router, for example it can’t assign IP addresses. In the case of your switch-based LAN party, you’ll have to manually set IP addresses within Windows if you expect to have any gaming success. I’ll cover these nuances in a future post. Right now, know that a router-and-switch combination makes for an excellent, multipurpose network setup. And if you’re a gamer, start getting the LAN party invites ready.

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