There’s a tendency with any well-designed network for someone to go and do something the designer didn’t expect. A single desk with a couple of wall ports suddenly needs three network printers and a couple of PCs and an IP camera, and you’ve run out of sockets. The easy answer is to bung in a desktop switch, but once you’ve done this you’ve lost control, and visibility, about what exactly is going on downstream of your managed switch port.
In recent years a few desktop managed switches have appeared, and I’ve been looking at a reasonably priced TP-Link 8-port Gigabit Easy Smart Switch (model TL-SG108E to be precise). TP-Link have an “Easy” smart switch, and a non-easy versions (such as the TL-SG2008). I’ve yet to get my hand on the latter. They also make a JetStream range of layer 2 “Light” Managed Switch, which have a couple of SPF slots even in the 8-port models. Confusingly, the “light” versions are actually the top-of-range models.
TP-Link kit started turning up in the UK several years ago, with appalling technical support and documentation. It did tend to work, and was keenly price. I’m happy to say that TP-Link has got its act together, with proper English documentation and apparent backup, although I have to say I’ve yet to invest in anything expensive enough to make calling on their customer service worthwhile.
Unpacking the Easy Smart Switch you find a the neatly made metal boxed switch, with a good quality feel about it. The PSU is the normal quality wall-wort type, delivering just under 1A. Cooling is by convection away from the metal box; there is no fan and no apparent need for one.
You can use this switch as self-configuring switch straight out of the box and it just works. Testing it unscientifically as a desktop switch, I’ve no complaints about the performance. I didn’t try aggregating the lines for an uplink or anything fancy, as chances are on a desktop you’ll only have one port talking to another at any one time.
After that it was time to manage it, and this is where I hit a snag. In spite of the box saying it was compatible with Windoze, Mac, Linux and so on, it turns out that you need to run some Windows-based software to do anything with it. Although it had port 80 open, the is no web management interface; and port 22 was there but lacked an SSH interface. In other words, it’s useless unless you are a Windows shop. According to TP-Link there is a version 2 of this switch which does sport proper web and SSH interfaces, but version 2 isn’t on sale in the UK at time of writing.
If you find a Windows PC to run it, you can set the IP address over Ethernet or set it up for DHCP. Once it’s on the IP network the configuration utility can be used to configure various options and run diagnostics – and upgrade the firmware, which you may want to do immediately looking at the release notes on the TP-Link web site.
Useful features are port mirroring, rate setting and (if you can figure it out), various VLAN options in including port-based. You can throttle ports, view port statistics and run a cable diagnostic. One serious omission is that there is no way I could see to control the layer 2 routing – i.e. statically assign a MAC address to a particular port. Only dynamically learned MAC addresses are supported, which is what you get a dumb switch for.
There are a number of security and QoS options, such as storm control for ports. Whether this is going to be used on a small unstacked desktop switch is debatable. The VLAN options could be very useful as part of a more complex multi-switch network, giving granularity down to the desktop.
Another feature inherited from it’s larger siblings is link aggregation. You can bond up to four ports together for a high-speed uplink; but on a a 5 or 8-port switch, this really can’t be that useful, can it?
If you can live without the access control and incompatibility with anything non-Windows, the price of this switch makes it an excellent choice net to a dumb switch at about the same price. However, for a few pounds more you a get a TP-Link SG2008, which doesn’t seem to suffer these limitations – or indeed a D-Link model of similar specification. D-Link switches tend to be fast and trouble-free in my experience.
Pros: Have a managed switch at the same price as an unmanaged one.
Cons: Management features provided are less use on a small switch, especially as access control is missing. The management can only be done using a Windows utility – no web or SSH interface.
Conclusion: Spend a bit more on a better TP-Link model, or look at D-Link or Netgear.