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I work at a small engineering company and we run simulations on 3 different computers, which read and write a large number of files onto a 4th computer. I hadn't run the simulations in a while, and I noticed that the script that kicks off all the simulations was running very slowly (15 minutes for a simulation to finish, instead of the expected 1-2 minutes). The computers were all downstream from an old Netgear switch, and when a co-worker loaned me a high-end newer switch, the script ran at its expected faster speed. So we need to replace it. Some considerations: we only need 8 ports, and our IT support is limited.

Based on these needs, what features should I look for when buying a replacement switch?

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For a high rate a transfer, don't settle for anything less than gigabit speed. Basic math tells us it is 10x faster than a 100Mbs switch, and you can certainly feel the difference in a LAN setting.

Other than that, there's probably not too much. Your environment is so small VLANs would be pointless, and you probably don't own any devices that use Power over Ethernet (IPv phones, cameras, etc). You didn't specify how you connect to the internet, or how IP addresses are assigned so I'll assume you don't need a router which saves you a few bucks and some setup time. double-check this though, if your current one is a router and you replace it with a switch, your network will not function.

I prefer these style of netgear switches for simple setups like this. All metal construction, low profile, cheap cost, and highly visible lights are all winners for me. Also since it is a switch, you can just plug all your PCs into it and your finished. No setup time involved.

GS108:enter image description here

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If you transfer a lot of information between computers on the network (and really, anytime), you will want to ensure that it is labeled as a gigabit switch. It will say either 10/100 or 10/100/1000, where 10/100/1000 is gigabit and 10/100 is not. This is the transfer rate, so the larger of the two can transfer data much faster.

To give you an idea of the difference this can make, in my office we image computers every day using images located on a server in the network. If I image the computer on a 10/100 port on a switch, it takes about 45 minutes to complete. If I do the same image on 10/100/1000, it takes 90 seconds on average.

Keep in mind as well that you are only as fast as your slowest connection. So, if you expand and need to add another switch or the like, you will need to make sure it is as fast, or you will bottleneck and run at slower speed. I hope this makes sense, I sometimes have a hard time explaining what I mean.

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