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I have recently finished my new house and while redoing it I ran Cat6 throughout. The game plan is to have a gigabit switch in the central spot of the house that I ran all the lines to, and a second gigabit switch in the living room where I have a computer, xbox 360, and PS3. I have cable internet and wanted to get a new wireless router with gigabit switch also for my home office where I have a networked printer, and another desktop.

I was essentially thinking 2 8-port gigabit switches and the wireless N router should cover me. When I started looking around I started getting lost in all the options available in the switches. I had assumed I just used a cross-over cable to connect the switches and router together, and the router would do the DHCP for my connected devices.

My question is what features should I look for in switches and the router? Should I try to stick with one brand?

Is there more about linking the switches and router together that I should know before tackling this?

Update: I ended up getting two Netgear Gigabit Switches which I have set up and am very pleased with. Thanks for everyone's help. I did decide to wait to get a new router though, I couldn't make a decision, so I am just holding on to the old one for now.

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6 Answers 6

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I generally look for routers which DD-WRT supports. DD-WRT is a custom firmware which generall offers more features and better stability than the stock ones. The Linksys WRT610N seems to be the consumer level gigabit router of choice at this time (with the beta builds of DD-WRT).

The features I look for when selecting a router for DD-WRT are the amount of RAM and Flash space on the device. The WRT610N has 64 megs of ram and 8 megs of flash which means it supports the "Mega" build of DD-WRT. This is the build with all the supplemental applications such as OpenVPN included. Everything else I don't worry about because DD-WRT brings all the features as far as DHCP, Firewall and wireless configuration that I need.

Based on what you have specified in your post, I don't see any outstanding features that you need which most good routers don't have. As long as you choose a reputable brand, I think you will be able to configure the devices to fit your needs. And Cat6 has a max length of ~330 feet or so, I think that should probably be long enough for wiring a home.

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Looks like WRT610N is still a work in progress, dd-wrt.com/phpBB2/…. Maybe the WRT600N? –  hyperslug Jul 27 '09 at 16:07
    
I linked to the URL where the beta builds are for the WRT610N, even though it is beta, they are pretty stable –  Bob Jul 27 '09 at 17:19
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One feature i've looked for in the past is POE - Power Over Ethernet support. This is really handy if you ever decide to wire up ethernet powered webcams for surveillance of your property.

Jumbo Frame support is also nice to have (but all your network devices must support it)

As far as routers go, try looking into a Linksys WRT54GL. Its a perennial favorite of power users due to the ability to flash aftermarket (custom) firmwares such as DD-WRT, giving you all kinds of features.

Bob's (commented elsewhere on this thread) has some good DD-WRT info as well.

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POE sounds neat, and being a geek would probably end up adding gadgets that might use it. Thanks. –  jschoen Jul 27 '09 at 15:42
    
WRT54GL is a great router, but it lacks gigabit. The WRT610 is the best replacement for it now, however DD-WRT is still in beta (but it is pretty stable for me). –  Bob Jul 27 '09 at 16:04
    
As a side note on PoE, there are a wide range of "injectors" to add PoE functionality. Should you choose to forgo PoE for now, it is always an option in the future, by using one of these devices. Check amazon for the DWL-P50 by D-Link for one example. –  Keck Jul 27 '09 at 16:05
    
POE sounds like one of those things it would have been nice to know abuot BEFORE putting cat6 everywhere. (says the man with cat5 going to his garden shed) –  Jeremy French Jul 27 '09 at 16:08
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My preferred custom firmware is Tomato. Similar features to DD-WRT (I believe), pretty UI. Images and further discussion in this Lifehacker article

Again, only supported on certain routers. Supported equipment is listed on the home page.

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been using Tomato on my WRT54GL for long, works great –  Joakim Elofsson Jul 27 '09 at 16:20
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It's depends, how much you want to invest.

Router

  • DHCP
  • 802.11n
  • Firewall
  • MAC address restriction
  • TKIP and WPA2 encryption
  • my recommendation is one of ASUS routers

Switch

  • PoE - Power over Ethernet
  • Rack-mounted
  • Management - but it's expensive
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It is not required to get a single brand of equipment, but it is not a bad idea. These devices all adhere to a standard and they should interoperate quite well. The main reason to keep the same manufacturer is to have consistent capabilities across the board. There can be slight differences in implementations from one device to another.

I would recommend you try to find switches that have management and monitoring capabilities built in so you can have a bit more insight into what is happening on your network. These extra features can drive the price up a bit, but worth doing if you have the will and the warchest for it.

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When connecting multiple switches together it always pays to plan your spanning tree. The spanning tree protocol runs on switches to prevent loops in the network that can lead in traffic storms.

The configuration you suggest will have 3 switches. You can either connect these in a simple daisy chain configuration (e.g. sw1 -- wireless router -- sw2) in which case spanning tree won't really do much; or you could try configuring a triangular network ( e.g sw1 -- wireless router -- sw2 -- sw1). In this configuration the root of the spanning tree will be important. If sw1 is the spanning tree root then traffic from sw2 to the router will go via sw1 rather than directly; traffic will only flow from sw2 to the router directly if the link between sw1 and sw2 fails.

If you want to configure your network with loops managed switches are mandatory rather than optional. Trust me, you really don't want to see the effect of a forwarding loop first hand ;)

Many switches now include an option called Auto-MDIX. This eliminates the need for crossover cables by allowing ports to detect the configuration of the far end port.

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