The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

Does anyone make a decent, 8 port, unmanaged gigabit switch? Aka Netgear GS108 sucks…

Posted by Deliverator on February 2nd, 2008

Due to recent construction at my home, I’ve had the opportunity to wire up several areas of the house with Ethernet in a non-ghetto fashion. Up until now I’ve had to make due with a combination of wireless links and Ethernet cabling strung around baseboards and moulding and the like.  I’ve been particularly irked at the paucity of bandwidth to my home theater PC(which has also undergone significant recent improvements of which I will write in a separate entry) and associated multimedia equipment. With the walls open, I went on a shopping spree at Vetco and picked up close to a thousand feet  of cabling split between Cat 6, S-Video, Component, HDMI, RG-6 Coax and 8 gauge speaker wire, as well as associated jack plates, panel boxes and the like.  After close to a week of evening wiring marathons, all the cabling is in place and tested. I will have to pull off the cover plates temporarily when the drywall goes in, but the wiring is now electrically complete. I headed down to Fry’s to pick up a Gigabit switch and ended up picking up a Netgear GS108. After bringing it home and plugging everything in, I quickly ran into problems. One of my Gbit links would not light up and the other was not auto sensing at Gbit speeds and was falling back to 100mbit. I re-tested all my wiring and found no problems. I upgraded my NIC drivers to no avail. I tested both computers plugged directly into the switch via pre-made 3 foot Cat 6 patch cables, which further confirmed that my wiring was not the culprit. I tested each device plugged into other ports just in case a particular port on the switch was bad, also to no avail. I was able to get the NIC which would initially not link at all to work by manually setting it to associate at 100 mbit in the driver, but was unable to get either NIC to work at GB speeds. Two other Gbit Nics auto-sensed Gbit and linked properly on the first time. A couple hours of testing against every ethernet port carrying device I own (which is a lot) revealed one more device (a laptop with onboard 10/100) which would not link  at all (but which worked fine plugged directly into my router and into several 10/100 switches). All in all, exceedingly bad compatibility in a class of device that in my experience tends to work so reliably that you forget it is there.

Thankfully, the computers which are most important to me had Gbit NICs that worked with the Netgear switch (one only because it has two Gbit NICs onboard) so I didn’t feel immediately compelled to waste any more of my time in returning the switch to the store. After a week of use, I wish I had returned it. I’ve experienced periodic loss of connectivity (though the connection lights on the switch stay solid and the NIC still thinks it is working) on multiple boxes, usually in the middle of large file transfers or intensive packet activity. Disabling and re-enabling the NIC or replugging the cable “solves” the problem, but that behavior is simply unacceptable in a device that should be rock solid reliable over a span of years.  After some quick googling, it appears that quite a few other people are having identical problems with the Netgear GS108 and that warranty replacement by Netgear has not solved these issues. My own advice would be to avoid it like the plague.

So, my question to you dear Interwebs is this: Does anyone make a decent 8 port Gbit switch?

My requirements:

-Would ideally have indicator lights one front panel which indicate connection status, speed and activity for each port and has the actual ports located on the back.

-Broad compatibility at Gbit speeds with a wide range of Gbit PHYs specifically ones from Marvel, Realtek and Nvidia. If not compatible, should gracefully fail down to 100mbit.

-Mixing 100mbit and Gbit devices on the switch should not cause the switch to degrade all traffic to the slowest common speed (I’ve read that several are known to do this). i.e. Gbit devices should be able to talk to other Gbit devices at Gbit speeds, even in the presence of 100 mbit devices.

-Should support Jumbo frames for highest possible throughput. I am not just farting around here. One of the uses of this new and improved network is flinging IP HDTV around my house from Beyond TV, so I need every bit of bandwidth I can squeeze out of the network.

-Expense is not the main concern here. Reliability is paramount. I have found people with many nice things to say about any 8 port Gbit switch, so if need be, lets extend all the above requirements to a 16 or 24 port switch. I don’t really need the extra ports, but if I have to move to a enterprise class device to do what I want, so be it. Oh, I don’t really need a managed switch with VLANs and whatnot either…