Should I Buy a Gigabit Ethernet Switch or Router?

As your home fills with more Wi-Fi-enabled devices and gadgets, your networking needs will likely expand beyond the capacity of the basic Wi-Fi router provided by your Internet Service Provider (ISP). With more gadgets come increased traffic and bandwidth needs, which is a difficult load for a basic router to withstand. If left unaddressed, your overloaded router may ultimately fail to deliver connectivity throughout your home.

The good news is solutions to the lag and intermittent connectivity exist. You can upgrade your Wi-Fi router—a necessity if it’s several years old or is incompatible with your higher-speed internet plan—or you can purchase a pair of Wi-Fi extenders.

Problem: Extenders come with a challenge. The limited number of Ethernet ports on the router. And if those Ethernet ports are already in use, you have to find a workaround.
Solution: Gigabit Ethernet switches. Simply unplug a device from the router and plug in the Ethernet switch to increase the number of ports. These ports can then be used to connect almost anything, such as a Wi-Fi extender to a printer, or a high-end gaming system to a 4K HDTV.


Best Gigabit Ethernet Switches

NETGEAR ProSAFE 16-Port Gigabit Desktop Web Managed (Plus) D-Link 16-Port Gigabit Ethernet TP-Link 24-Port Gigabit Ethernet Rack Mount
Dimensions/Weight 11.3 x 4 x 1 inches/1.9 pounds 9.8 x 11.3 x 3.2 inches/2.2 pounds 7.1 x 1.7 x 17.3 inches/2 pounds
Ethernet Ports 16 16 24
Switching Capacity 32 Gbps 32 Gbps 48 Gbps
Form Factor Desktop Desktop Rack mount
IEEE 802.3 Yes Yes Yes
Reviews 4.6 stars 4.4 stars 4.6 stars
Price $164.44 $78.99 $69.99

Data effective 3/1/2017

Best Wi-Fi Gigabit Routers

Linksys AC3200 Dual-Band NETGEAR Nighthawk AC1900 TP-Link AC1900 Wireless Wi-Fi
Dimensions/Weight 2 x 9.7 x 7.6 inches/2 pounds 10.1 x 13.7 x 3.1 inches/3.5 pounds 3.9 x 13.2 x 9.5 inches/3 pounds
Speed 3.2 Gbps 1.9 Gbps 1.9 Gbps
Ethernet Ports 4 4 4
USB Ports 2 2 2
Antennas 4 3 3
Reviews 4.4 stars 4.3 stars 4.1 stars
Price $249.99 $179.99 $119.95

Data effective 3/1/2017

Gigabit Ethernet Switches

What Is a Gigabit Ethernet Switch?

A gigabit Ethernet switch enables devices like computers and printers or 4K HDTVs and DVRs to connect directly to the internet instead of relying on Wi-Fi. It can speed up data transfers, resulting in faster response times and better frame rates. Additionally, a gigabit Ethernet switch expands network capacity via the extra ports.

Many people prefer gigabit Ethernet switches to hubs because the switches are better at interpreting and sending data to connected devices. The switches have come down in price, too, making them an attractive and affordable option for your home.

How Does a Gigabit Ethernet Switch Work?

You can think of a gigabit Ethernet switch as a power strip for Ethernet ports. To get it to work, you plug the switch into an Ethernet port on the router. Switches come with as few as eight ports and as many as fifty.

Will a Gigabit Ethernet Switch Improve My Home Network?

Yes, a gigabit Ethernet switch often improves speed and reliability. You may see better performance, too, if you hardwire a 4K streaming device or gaming system into the switch.

If I Buy a Gigabit Ethernet Switch, Do I Still Need a Router?

Yes, you will still need a router. A gigabit Ethernet switch cannot connect to the internet by itself. Its task is to extend home network capacity, not home network connectivity.

What Else Do I Need to Know about Gigabit Ethernet Switches?

  1. Most switches have a store-and-forward mode capability, meaning they check the data packets for errors and filter them before forwarding the information to the appropriate device. You will want to buy an Ethernet switch with this functionality.
  1. Ethernet switches employ “switching capacity.” This term refers to the maximum load capacity of the switches. This feature is important because it essentially caps the switch so the circuits don’t fry.
  1. Ethernet switches are either managed or unmanaged. Unmanaged switches are plug-and-play, but feature little customizability. Managed gigabit Ethernet switches, by contrast, allow you to change network settings and other functions.
  1. Ethernet switches use different form factors. Most are designed for the desktop, meaning they sit as pretty on the desk as your sleek router does. Others use a rack-mountable design, which offers more versatility than a desktop design since it can be mounted on a wall or other location.
  1. Many gigabit Ethernet switches focus on various special capacities, depending on their intended use. Some focus on energy efficiency, as denoted by an IEEE 802.3 energy rating. Other switches offer benefits to gamers, such as Quality of Service (QoS) settings. Still others offer backwards compatibility, providing basic Ethernet, fast Ethernet, and gigabit Ethernet connections.


Gigabit Routers

What Is a Wi-Fi Router, and What Does It Do?

A Wi-Fi router creates wireless networks in the home. It connects to your ISP, either on its own or with the aid of a wired modem, and shares the connection with your wireless devices. The router, like a switch, performs a secondary, critical function. It acts as traffic control, attempting to manage bandwidth needs and congestion among devices.

Do I Need a Wi-Fi Router?

If you want to connect to the internet wirelessly, you will need to purchase a router. Most modern modems integrate the router component so that you only purchase one piece of equipment rather than two. Keep in mind that not all Wi-Fi routers are created equal; if you own a large home, for example, you will need a long-range router with capabilities like MU-MIMO, beamforming, and dual-band frequencies.

How Will a Wi-Fi Router Impact My Internet?

Depending on your internet service plan and router, you should see increased speed, reliability, throughput, and coverage from a gigabit router. Some routers offer other useful features, such as parental controls, data backups, and remote access via a mobile application.

How Are Gigabit Ethernet Switches and Routers Different?

Wi-Fi routers and gigabit Ethernet switches both enhance your home network, allowing multiple devices to connect to it. While the two share a common goal — creating a useful, streamlined network — they operate differently.

  • A router receives and transmits signals. As such, it primarily connects to your internet service, then supplies that internet connection to tablets, smartphones, DVRs, gaming systems, and other devices.
  • A switch cannot connect to the internet on its own. It requires a Wi-Fi router in order to work. Once plugged in, the gigabit Ethernet switch creates more opportunities to hardwire devices. The increased number of ports often proves helpful when building out your home office, entertainment center, or smart home system.


Do Gigabit Ethernet Switches and Routers Work Well Together?

Ethernet switches and routers work well together when they are both capable of reaching gigabit speeds. This challenge can get a little confusing since Ethernet and Wi-Fi use different speed designations. A gigabit Ethernet switch offers speeds of 10/100/1,000 Mbps, meaning data can transfer up to 1,000 megabits per second.

Letters rather than numbers specify Wi-Fi speeds. The earliest standard was 802.11b. You won’t see it around anymore because it’s slow and prone to interference and security issues. The latest standard, 802.11ac, offers speeds up to one gigabit per second. Either this standard or the previous 802.11n coordinate well with gigabit Ethernet switches.

Your Complete Guide to Gigabit Technology

Top 3 Gigabit Ethernet Switches


NETGEAR ProSAFE 16-Port Gigabit Desktop Web Managed (Plus) Switch

(4.6 / 5)

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NETGEAR’s Ethernet switch may be more expensive than the other two listed here, but it allows end users to customize network settings. These settings ensure better traffic control, resulting in less latency while gaming or streaming 4K content.

Ethernet Ports: 16
Switching Capacity: 3.2 Gbps
Form Factor: Desktop
IEEE 802.3: Yes
Dimensions: 11.3 x 4 x 1 inches
Weight: 1.9 pounds
Notable Features: Quality of Service (QoS) settings, VLAN support, Denial of Service (DpS) prevention, and IGMP snooping


D-Link 16-Port Gigabit Ethernet Switch

(4.4 / 5)

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The D-Link switch offers the best future-proofing bang for your buck, featuring backward compatibility. It also comes with its IEEE 802.3 energy efficiency rating, D-Link Green Ethernet technology, and RoHS compliance.


Ethernet Ports: 16
Switching Capacity: 32 Gbps
Form Factor: Desktop
IEEE 802.3: Yes
Dimensions: 9.8 x 11.3 x 3.2 inches
Weight: 2.2 pounds
Notable Features: Backward compatibility, plug-and-play installation, D-Link Green Ethernet technology, RoHS compliant, and fanless desktop design


TP-Link 24-Port Gigabit Ethernet Rack Mount Switch

(4.4 / 5)

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The TP-Link switch uses a rack mount design, meaning it features a steel, rather than plastic, chassis. As such, it might not look as pretty as the other gigabit Ethernet switches, but it’s not really meant to sit on a desk—it performs best when mounted to a wall.

Ethernet Ports: 24
Switching Capacity: 48 Gbps
Form Factor: Rack mount
IEEE 802.3: Yes
Dimensions: 7.1 x 1.7 x 17.3 inches
Weight: 2 pounds
Notable Features: Backward compatibility, MAC address auto-learning, LED diagnostic lights, and fanless rack mount design


Top 3 Wi-Fi Gigabit Routers


Linksys AC3200 Dual-Band Gigabit Router

(4.4 / 5)

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To see exceptional data transfer speeds, you may want to combine this router with one of the gigabit Ethernet switches. The Linksys offers an extra 256 MB of flash memory and 512 MB of RAM (random-access memory) to ensure seamless, fast speeds. You can also customize the router via Open Source Support.

Speed: 3.2 Gbps
Ethernet Ports: 4
USB Ports: 2
Antennas: 4
Dimensions: 2 x 9.7 x 7.6 inches
Weight: 2 pounds
Notable Features: MU-MIMO technology, dual-band Wi-Fi, Open Source Support, enhanced flash memory and RAM, and smart Wi-Fi app


NETGEAR Nighthawk AC1900 Gigabit Router

(4.3 / 5)

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If you’re a diehard Mac user, you should give the NETGEAR Nighthawk some consideration. This router features compatibility with Time Machine, as well as a built-in iTunes server. Not to worry, PC fans—NETGEAR’s router works equally well with PC products.

Speed: 1.9 Gbps
Ethernet Ports: 4
USB Ports: 2
Antennas: 3
Dimensions: 10.1 x 13.7 x 3.1 inches
Weight: 3.5 pounds
Notable Features: Quality of Service (QoS) settings, dual-core processor, beamforming technology, built-in iTunes server, and automatic backups


TP-Link AC1900 Wireless Wi-Fi Gigabit Router

(4.1 / 5)

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For a more budget-friendly gigabit router, give the TP-Link a look. This wireless router delivers strong speeds and reliable performance with its dual-core processor, dual-band Wi-Fi, and Quality of Service settings.

Speed: 1.9 Mbps
Ethernet Ports: 4
USB Ports: 2
Antennas: 3
Dimensions: 3.9 x 13.2 x 9.5 inches
Weight: 3 pounds
Notable Features: Dual-band Wi-Fi, beamforming technology, dual-core processor, Quality of Service (QoS) settings, and TP-Link Tether mobile app
You can’t use a gigabit Ethernet switch in lieu of a gigabit router, but you can use them together to power up your home network to be faster and more reliable. In that regard, think of gigabit Ethernet switches as the cavalry, supporting the general (your router) and its army of connected devices.

Also See:

The 5 Best Wi-Fi Routers for Streaming and Gaming

2017’s Best Long-Range Routers

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