Expand a small network with an Ethernet switch

Most home-office networks start with a PC, a router, and a modem

Most home-office networks start with a PC, a router, and a modem. But when a small single-user network grows into a larger multiuser network, your original Wi-Fi router can run out of free ethernet ports to connect various PCs, networkable printers, small-business servers, and other essential hardware. That's when a switch comes in handy.

An ethernet switch is a simple box that sits between your router and your networked devices to control traffic flow across your network. The devices come in two basic types: unmanaged and managed. With the former, you merely plug in your devices and get back to work. But managed switches provide advanced features that prioritize data, link ports for improved performance, and enforce se­­curity policies on your network.

An appealing middle ground for small businesses is a manageable switch like Cisco's eight-port Linksys SLM2008, which offers some of the robust trunking and data prioritization of a managed switch in a compact package with a Web-based control interface that novices can manage easily.The SLM2008 measures just over 5 inches wide by 5 inches deep. Setting up the basic features via the Web-based interface takes only minutes, but there are enough advanced security and data-routing options to satisfy nearly any small-business need. Midrange small-business switches like this one can be the perfect choice for small-office/home-office workers with robust VoIP and videoconferencing demands.

Managed and manageable switches often duplicate (or surpass) the port-forwarding and port-linking features of conventional Wi-Fi routers; you may have to disable the corresponding features in your router to avoid conflicts.

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