Networking

Buying the best switch: Linksys vs. Cisco

You may think of Linksys as the consumer-grade switch vendor, but the company boasts a line of Business Series switches as well. How do they stack up against Cisco switches? David Davis offers a point-by-point comparison.

When it comes to routers and switches, most IT pros associate Cisco with professional-grade quality and Linksys with low-end, consumer-grade routers and wireless equipment. While there's nothing wrong with this distinction—Linksys (a division of Cisco) addresses the consumer market very well—the comparison may be a bit basic.

Would you buy an access-layer switch for your organization's wiring closet from Linksys? This is a somewhat controversial question. In this article, I'll offer my take, and you can chime in with your opinion in the article's discussion. Let's find out how Linksys switches stack up to their Cisco counterparts.

Did you know that Linksys makes "business" switches? I'll be honest—I didn't know that Linksys made any products targeted toward businesses. And I'm willing to bet I'm not the only one.

One reason for this is the general perception of Linksys products: Most expect Linksys to offer a good integrated router/switch/firewall/wireless AP that you buy at your local electronics store for about $40. But when you need a switch for a new remote office that has 35 PCs and printers and that needs Gb Ethernet uplinks, QoS, VLAN, 802.1x RADIUS, and a Web-based management interface, most people aren't going to think Linksys will be in the running. Most likely, you'll think of Cisco, Nortel, or HP ProCurve—but not Linksys.

However, Linksys offers a switch that can do all of these things for you—for about 75 percent less than what you'll spend on a comparable Cisco switch (even with discounts). Let's find out how two similar switches from the same parent company with drastically different costs stack up.

Before I begin the comparison, a disclaimer: I'm not trying to sell anyone on Linksys business switches; I'm not even saying I would personally choose a Linksys business switch over a Cisco switch. But it's never a bad idea to know your various options, and you never know when you'll be in a situation where cost is the defining factor.

For this comparison, I'm using one of the highest level switches in the Linksys Business Series lineup with the new Cisco Catalyst 2960. (The 2960 recently replaced the 2950 line of switches.)

Linksys switch

Part number SRW248G4, this is a 48-port Ethernet switch that will run you about $300 to $350.

Specifications:

  • 48 10/100 Mb Ethernet ports and four 10/100/1000 Gb uplinks
  • 2 shared mini-GBIC ports for optical or copper interconnect (not on Cisco)
  • 17.6-Gb switching capacity

Pros:

  • QoS with 802.1p, diffserv, or ToS
  • Web browser interface
  • SSH remote management with menu-driven text console (not the Cisco IOS)
  • VLAN support with 802.1q
  • 802.1x authentication and MAC address filtering
  • Supports up to 256 VLANs
  • SNMP management
  • Firmware upgradeable through TFTP or Web interface
  • Port mirroring
  • SNTP for time synchronization
  • Syslog
  • ACLs are configurable in menu and Web interface
  • IGMP snooping for multicast
  • Dynamic VLAN registration with GVRP
  • Link aggregation (LACP) (Similar to EtherChannel in the Cisco IOS world, this is a different protocol.)
  • Rack mountable
  • Five-year warranty

Cons:

  • No Cisco IOS
  • Not as many advanced features as Cisco IOS
  • Not as much grass-roots support
  • Supported by different technical support than the well-known Cisco TAC

Cisco switch

Part number WS-C2960-48TT-L, the Cisco Catalyst 2960 is also a 48-port Ethernet switch, but this switch will set you back about $1,250 to $1,500.

Specifications:

  • 48 10/100 Mb Ethernet ports and two 10/100/1000 Gb uplinks
  • 16-Gbps switching fabric
  • 10.1-Mpps forwarding rate for 64-byte packet

Pros:

  • For the most part, the Cisco switch offers the same software features as the Linksys switch.
  • The Cisco IOS command line includes many advanced features, including Advanced QoS, classic Cisco IOS ACLs, Smartports macros, Network Admissions Control, and a time-domain reflectometer (TDR) to diagnose and resolve cabling problems on copper ports.
  • Incredible grass-roots support, including how-to resources, books, forums, and videos
  • Cisco Network Assistant (CNA)
  • CiscoWorks support
  • Optional redundant power supply (RPS) connector
  • Limited lifetime warranty

Cons:

  • Cost

Still confused? Here's another way to look at it: Ford Motor Co. owns Land Rover and Jaguar. So if you buy a Jaguar or a Land Rover, are you really getting a Ford? If you buy a Ford, are you really getting a Jaguar? While the money flow may all go back to same company, the end product just isn't the same, is it?

In my opinion, the same concept applies when deciding between a Linksys and a Cisco switch. The Linksys is definitely a better value and offers most of the same features as the Cisco version. However, the Cisco is much better quality with a much higher degree of advanced features.

As the saying goes, you get what you pay for. And if you want luxury features, you must be willing to pay significantly for them.

What grade of switches does your organization buy? From which vendors? What do you think about Linksys Business Series switches? Share your thoughts in this article's discussion.

Miss a column?

Check out the Cisco Routers and Switches Archive, and catch up on David Davis' most recent columns.

Want to learn more about router and switch management? Automatically sign up for our free Cisco Routers and Switches newsletter, delivered each Friday!

David Davis has worked in the IT industry for 12 years and holds several certifications, including CCIE, MCSE+I, CISSP, CCNA, CCDA, and CCNP. He currently manages a group of systems/network administrators for a privately owned retail company and performs networking/systems consulting on a part-time basis.

33 comments
dts_dts
dts_dts

Hello everyone, could you tell me how to make port-security on Linksys SRW248G4?

janivy
janivy

my main problem is that i cant controll the linksys switches with my main managment tool. "Cisco Network Assistant" Is there any Patch or Update to support linksys in network assistant? thanks.

chaka
chaka

i think cisco is more world renouned.

rose
rose

what about when you add POE into the equation? I'm finding there are big differences in the amount of power offered per port. ie: HP2626-PWR has up to 15.4W per port. I'm comparing it to a LinkSys SRW224P, but have not yet determined what the power per port is on the LinkSys. It looks like the power rating is a significant issue if you are deploying an IP PBX.

mkhurramkhurshid
mkhurramkhurshid

So we can use CISCO as core and Linksys for client sides.... Cost issues are cosidered first by the managemant. To reduce cost its the best solotion.. the only problem is pointed by the Justin James we cannot use CNA for linksys :-(

ddavis
ddavis

Thank you to everyone who posted. To answer George's question about the Layer 2 features - the Linksys has a number of these Layer 2 features but not all. For example, the Linksys can do SSH, lock down SNMP with a password, do MAC-based port security, 802.1x authentication. However, at least half of the layer 2 features you list the Linksys does not have. So, that may be a cost justification to spend more on the Cisco. I liked the comment about the 3rd option being that you could alway buy used Cisco switches. In fact, that is how we got Cisco in the door at my company - leasing all used equipment. When the lease was up on the gear, we had shown how reliable it was, and they agreed to buy out some of the used equipment and replace some more of the used equipment with NEW Cisco gear. It was a good way to get the equipment we wanted - Cisco. We replaced our Dell switches with the Cisco because the Dells were unreliable. They would periodically lock up and have to be rebooted. Dell was "working on a fix in their overseas developement group". That didn't sit too well with us. However, depending on the size and demands of the business, I would certainly consider the Linksys as well. Thanks for all your comments! David

Jaqui
Jaqui

so it's a consumer level hardware or a commercial level hardware choice, it is the same company. Don't beleive me? http://linksys.com and look at the bottom of the page, "A Cisco Company"

dsmith
dsmith

Buying prior generation used Cisco equipment on ebay for about the same price as new Linksys.

darrell
darrell

If Cisco is a better performing product, how can you say that ?Linksys is definitely a better value?? I think that you have to consider the environment where you intend to use the product, and the TOC.

justin
justin

I'm a big fan of being able to walk up to any [Cisco] switch with my laptop, plug in a console cable and configure whatever I want to in a command line interface. If there's one thing I can't stand about "Wallmart" switches is assigning myself a static IP address in a subnet I don't use just so I can get to the web interface on a switch. This is especially annoying when you?re making changes to the IP address, or subnet that the switch is in, and you have to configure your network adapter to communicate with the switch just long enough to make a change, get disconnected, re-configure your network adapter, and then try to reconnect to the switch again? Try rolling out a couple dozen switches on a campus network that way! - Big Cisco Fan

rphewklieng
rphewklieng

We replaced our old switches with Linksys SRW224. They work fine for the most part. However, once in a blue moon, some of them would choke up for no reason. I have to reboot them and the network would flow fine again. We also had one that died (of course, it's just have to be the one in the server room on Monday morning right before we got in). Since then, we replaced all of the Linksys switches in our server room with CISCO switches. The rest of them are still running, but I sure hate to have another one of that hectic Monday. I have not had any problem with CISCO swtiches at all (knock on wood). If it's up to me, they'll all be CISCO switches, but you know how budget and politics work. Ryan

darren.hillmann
darren.hillmann

We own several great Cisco switches, but when I found out about the Linksys I decided it was definitely worth a try for the money. The Linksys works, but there are two issues: 1) The internal fan went bad very fast. 2) NO RESET BUTTON on the linksys, so if you loose your password you are out of luck. The fan died within the warranty period. The replacement shipped quickly and without any hassles.

Irishsam
Irishsam

I am an engineer for a medium sized school district. Many of my lab environements could probably benefit from a Lynksys switch without being a threat to my overall network performance. Cost is a big factor for public school districts. So thanks for the article.

heybahler
heybahler

an HP Pro-curve 2650 (J4899B) @ $850 may still be luxury for less, unless you need more that 2 Gigabit ports.

Justin James
Justin James

At my last company, we chose to purchase a Linksys switch instead of a Cisco switch. We got 24 GigE ports, at a cost ($400 - $500, if I recall) of what a basic, 10/100 switch would have cost if it was a Cisco switch. It supported more features than we needed, and we were perfectly satisfied with it. At the switch level, it was really hard for me to think of why we woould want or need the Cisco IOS and the related management headaches that come along with it for the basic network that we had. J.Ja

jeremyneedle
jeremyneedle

I'm assuming both use spanning tree? What about Rapid Spanning Tree [802.1s I believe, but don't quote me on the number]. And 802.1q VLAN Trunking? Can I have my VLANS propagate to other Linksys switches? If so what mechanism do they use; do they have a client/server/pass-thru mode? This last one is ESPECIALLY important. If the Linksys has a way to propagate VLAN info, then I'm completely sold.

georgeou
georgeou

There's a good reason the Cisco 2500 was and probably still is the most popular router in the world. You plugged it in and you forgot about it. It just keeps working and working. I can?t ever imagine a switch breaking down and if what you say about Dell is true, that?s alarming. I?ve tried some of the VLAN features in these cheap switches 2 years ago and I wasn?t impressed. It seemed to be a very buggy implementation at the time. Maybe they?ve gotten better at it by now, I need to try it out. The downside is that people assume they don't need to patch the software on their switches. As switches gain new features and become more sophisticated, they're susceptible to more and more security threats. People need to realize that they do need to patch their Cisco gear and that the philosophy of don't fix what isn't broken doesn't fly. It is broken and you just don't realize it until you get hacked badly.

Justin James
Justin James

Yeah, but the question is, are they as similar as Ford and Murcury? Or Ford and Jaguar? The author also mentioned that fact in the article, but did not dwell on it, for some reason. The fact that Linksys is owned by Cisco makes me wonder just how much different the hardware is; I suspect not different at all. J.Ja

IT_Juggler
IT_Juggler

I just added another WS-C3750G-24 to our stack. (Adding iSCSI really eats up the gigabit ports, don't ya know.) Purchased a Cisco-certified refurb and 24x7x4hr SmartNet through a reseller. Saved more than $2K off list price for a new unit but I still have the same support as on my new gear. Be aware that buying Cisco off e-bay et. al. can cost a lot more in the long run if you want to have a maintainable environment. If it can't be patched/updated it can't be secured. (Be sure to read George's excellent security article.)

jphoeke
jphoeke

The layer 2 options depend on which version of the IOS that is purchased with the switch: standard vs. enhanced. It also depends which features are purchased with the IOS. The more features that are purchased, the higher the cost. As copied from the Cisco site as well as the URL to the full page. http://www.cisco.com/en/US/products/ps6406/index.html Cisco Catalyst 2960 Series Intelligent Ethernet Switches enable entry-level enterprise, medium-sized, and branch office networks to provide enhanced LAN services. This family of fixed-configuration, standalone devices provide desktop 10/100 Fast Ethernet and 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet connectivity. The series offers: * Integrated security, including network admission control (NAC) * Advanced quality of service (QoS) and resiliency * Intelligent services for the network edge * Limited Lifetime Warranty

paul.cardelli
paul.cardelli

I agree with you that setting up Linksys equipment takes some time. The Linksys switches (at least the 24, and 48 port Business class) have console ports to hook up to. The web interface is not to bad. Linksys products are perfect for the K-12 School District I work for, and if we decide to go Cisco one day, there is a Trade up program, where Cisco will give a discount for any Linksys hardware you trade in. Either way it is good to have two classes of products, as new Technologies come out, they eventually funnel down to the second class of products.

rfaass
rfaass

Having the $40 linksys wap @home, upgraded to the latest version of the firmware leads to wireless reconnects (running SAP front-end leads to a re-log-in) and lock ups requiring reset. Skype phone calls have low quality if other network activity is going on... tech support is filled with people who barely know the wap. Changed to Dlink 624 and never rebooted, no re-connects and Skype quality is not dependent on amount of traffic (family of 6 on laptops); Dlink's throughput and reliability is way better. For me? No Linksys and never look back.

Justin James
Justin James

... due to poor decisions, instead of dumping the data to a central DB and querying against it, they did everything based on FoxPro and Excel spreadsheets that would be transferring hundreds of MB of data back and forth constantly; even worse, we would be developing these items, so it wasn't like it was a one time hold up, it was a constant, all day long hold up. Moving everyone to GigE (that's why we had the 24 port GigE switch) sped up the execution speed on the report execution by over 50%. That is not too bad! But very few employees within a standard company ever move enough data to fill a 10 Mbps link, let alone GigE. A switch with only 2 GigE ports for uplink purposes is more than enough for most companies. J.Ja

poopka4
poopka4

Edited Message was edited by: beth.blakely@...

mpasaa
mpasaa

Cisco definitely has the top support...period. However, I would bet most of us probably never use all of the "advanced" features found on the Cisco switches. That said, maybe a good alternative would be to use Cisco for the most critical switch points and use Linksys for the non-critical devices/systems on the network. I know most shops (including mine) don't like mixing vendor products simply for ease of management and to maintain some continuity. I think for small shops mixing vendors may be a good compromise but for larger shops I suspect they NEED the support from Cisco to be in place. If you are only using VLANS and some small access lists either switch vendor would do. I have yet to see any company actually using the FULL capabilities of any of the network equipment--why?--because most of it is just like many Window's & Office components--useless and/or fluff. Good article though...really does make you remember there are other vendors out there besides Cisco for networking equipment. Peace!

carsso82
carsso82

Hello Everybody,for me the type of switches we would use on a network it's depend of the budget and the type of network we need, in my network we have cisco switches (like core equipments and to secure some sections of the network)and linksys switches (for some end user with lower privilages), the performance is ok and also the compabilities between them. Regards

dmarston
dmarston

To me, Cisco products are way to overpriced for the few "advanced" features you get. There are lots of good switches out there at a fraction of the cost. HP Procurve, BlackBox, 3Com, Netgear.. Unless you need some of the very high end features, save the money.

georgeou
georgeou

Linksys runs as a very separate division and has maintained its own culture. The software is completely different compared to IOS.

sdrury
sdrury

carsso82@... has hit the nail on th head, linksys products are really aimed at the lower end of the technology market, but Cisco kit is for medium - larger size requirement. Linksys is a division of Cisco.

jonnysnakes
jonnysnakes

If there are two reasons NOT to buy a consumer-grade switch for a business, it is reliability and support. I also thought that Linksys = Cisco quality (heck, it says Cisco on the box), but I learned the hard way that this was not the case. I bought a new Linksys SRW224P POE switch for my company's new office. Everything worked great for the first 5 minutes, but then the switch kept crashing. I called Linksys for support, and discovered the following: 1) Linksys Techs are of little / no use - Their support is outsourced, and their "engineers" have very limited knowledge about networks or networking in general. They insisted that the switch was working fine since it was new and I had the latest firmware. This was NOT the case. 2) Your time is not valuable to Linksys - Their tech INSISTED I spend FOUR hours troubleshooting the switch before issuing me an RMA. Time is money, but not to Linksys. 3) We'll ship it when we ship it - After a WEEK of waiting for my new switch, I found out that Linksys had not sent my switch due to a goof up on their end. Mind you, I had to call THEM to find this out. So I lost a week for absolutely nothing. Absurd. After four follow-up calls and THREE weeks later, I received a new switch, and thankfully it worked. I understand that any BRAND NEW switch can fail on day one, but the hassle of dealing with Linksys support and their faulty hardware was enough to convince me to go with HP Procurve. HP has a next-day service guarantee, and their support is MUCH better. My takeaway? If you are installing switches for a business, saving a few bucks in the front may actually cost you MUCH more in downtime. Plus, spending four hours with a script tech is not worth your time. If you buy Linksys, Netgear or any other consumer-grade product, caveat emptor. As far as Linksys goes, it is NOT CISCO INSIDE!!! The switching fabric, software, support, etc. are all different!!! So when somebody tells you that Linksys switches are the same as Cisco since they have the same parent company, offer to take a shit in their bathtub since everything ultimately ends up in the sewer.

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

Linksys was a fully function and profitable company before Cisco bought them out. Cisco bought them out so they could tap into the low end retail market, a place that they had no real success with. Bill