We get asked quite often what is the best Cisco switch I can get for my CCNA lab.  That can be somewhat of a tricky question as there are a lot of variables that can come into play.  At the surface it seems like an easy, very straightforward question.  But as you dig into it, there are a lot of factors that go into how you build your Cisco CCNA lab and what Cisco switches you will use in the lab.

We will cover the major considerations which are price, features and then number of switches for your CCNA lab.

So probably the biggest consideration on what type of Cisco switch(es) you will have in your CCNA lab is what your budget is.  Cisco CCNA lab switches can run the gamut from about $35 at the time of this writing for a Cisco 2950 switch to roughly $230 for a Cisco 3560 switch.  So let’s take a look at each switch you will probably consider for your CCNA lab from a price perspective.

As I already mentioned, we have the standard Cisco 2950 switch which runs about $35.  This switch is a basic staple of most CCNA labs.  It is a low cost switch that runs the 12.1.x Standard Image IOS.  Now many students will say something along the lines of “But I want a switch that runs IOS 15.x, why would you recommend a switch that only runs 12.1.x.  That is so old, I don’t want it.”.  Ok, we get the IOS revision is a bit older.  But the reality is there are not a whole lot of additional commands or features that were added to the 15.x IOS feature set that are covered on the CCNA exam.  So I would not stress about the switch having to be a 15.x switch for your Cisco CCNA lab.  However, we will cover later in this article where it may make sense to have such a switch in your lab.  So just hold on and let us get there!

Cisco 2950 CCNA Lab Switch
Cisco 2950 CCNA Lab Switch

So back to the Cisco 2950 Standard Image switch.  This is a Layer 2 switch that runs basically 98% of the commands that are covered on both the CCENT and CCNA exams.  So it is a great, low cost switch that probably has some sort of place in your lab.  Next we have the Cisco 2950-T, the 2950-G, the 2950-C and any other 2950 that runs the EI (Enhanced Image) IOS.  This is a little different than Standard Image 2950 and costs on average $10 to $15 more than the standard switch.  So what do you get for the extra $10 to $15 in additional features?  I am glad you asked!  You will then be able to run RSTP, MISTP and Enhanced QoS commands on your switch.

In numerical order the next Cisco lab switch we have is the Cisco 2960 series.  This is the switch Cisco recommends for the CCENT or CCNA certification studies.  It will cover pretty much all the commands on the CCENT or CCNA exam.  But we honestly don’t think it is the switch that provides you the best bang for the buck.  You see, Cisco is only going to recommend a switch that they have not made in 5 years for you to go out and buy and study on.  They won’t make any money if you are not buying their newer products.  Thus because the 2960 is a bit newer and has not come down in price as much as the other Layer 2 switches (this switch runs about $99 currently), you might consider passing on this switch for your CCENT or CCNA lab.  However, there is one big advantage to getting this switch in your CCNA lab.  Since it is a current Cisco switch, you will be getting practice on a switch you are very likely to see in the real world.

Cisco 2960 CCNA Lab Switch
Cisco 2960 CCNA Lab Switch

The next switch we will talk about is the Cisco 3550 Layer 3 switch.  Being it is a Layer 3 switch, you can do routing on your switch!  This is a super cool feature.  Now this is just touched on really at a high level in your CCNA studies and Cisco CCNA lab.  It can do all the things the 2950 and 2960 switches can do and more.  Another thing is these switches also run a SI or EI IOS.  Again Standard Image or Enhanced Image.  You will want to make sure you get one with the Enhanced Image for your Cisco certification lab studies.  Finally, the Cisco 3550 is something you must have in your CCNP lab.  So if you are planning on continuing to the Cisco CCNP track, you might want to start to build out your CCNA lab to match the CCNP lab blueprint.  In that case, you are going to want some 3550 or better switches in your lab.  I almost forgot.  The Cisco 3550 is actually one of the best value switches for your CCENT and CCNA labs as currently they are running about $80 which for that price provides a lot of bang for the buck!

Cisco 3550 CCNA Lab Switch
Cisco 3550 CCNA Lab Switch

Now we will talk about another Layer 3 switch that is just beginning to pop in up in many CCNA labs.  The Cisco 3560 switch.  The 3560 has been in the CCNP labs and Cisco CCIE labs for a few years now.  Since they are coming down in price quite a bit (they are roughly $230 each currently).  The do support one major feature set that the other switches do not which is PVLANs.  It is touched on the CCNA exam, but if your budget cannot afford $230 for a single switch (and we definitely understand that), that may be a concept you will want to memorize and use your money elsewhere in your CCNA lab to get more bang for the buck.

Cisco 3560 CCNA Lab Switch
Cisco 3560 CCNA Lab Switch

Wow, we covered a lot of ground in this article and it was a lot longer than we thought it would be.  We did not actually cover how many switches should be used in your lab and how to have them compliment each other while saving you money.  So we are going to break this into a two part series on what is the best CCNA lab switch.  So please don’t forget to read part two of this series as the next part will get into a lot more detail on the features so you can build the best CCENT and CCNA lab possible!