So many devices use Wi-Fi these days but there are still plenty which rely on a wired internet connection. Whether it’s your Philips Hue bridge, a set-top box for your TV or your PC, you’ll have to locate it near your router or run a cable to where it is.
But that’s not the only inconvenience. Often, there aren’t enough Ethernet ports on your router for all the devices that need to connect to it. And while you might be able to upgrade your PC to use Wi-Fi instead, there’s nothing you can do for other non-Wi-Fi gadgets and on occasion you might prefer to use a network cable for reliability and speed.
For example, gamers might use an Ethernet cable for their PC, laptop or games console to reduce lag when playing online games. And a NAS drive will only really offer the fastest speeds for file transfers and streaming video around your home if you use a cable instead of Wi-Fi.
Fortunately, it’s cheap and easy to add more ports to your router with an Ethernet switch.
They’re inexpensive little boxes which work much like a mains extension lead that provides multiple power sockets from just one wall socket.
You connect one of these boxes (which are interchangeably called hubs, switched or splitters) to a single port on your router and add either four or seven extra ports. Not five or eight because, don’t forget, one of those will be used to join the box to your router.
Then, you can hook up your Xbox, TV, PC and any other wired network device and it will work as if it were connected directly to your router.
If you need to put the switch in a different room to your router then you could connect the two with a pair of powerline adapters – it will make the connection slower, but it will at least make it possible without running a long network cable.
Because these are ‘unmanaged’ it means they are plug-and-play. There’s no configuration necessary.
This means that there’s not a great deal of difference between unmanaged switches from different brands. But there are subtle differences which can make one more attractive than another, whether it’s the placement of the power connector, the orientation of the ports or even the visibility of the LEDs.
Price and warranty also come into it, as does construction and aesthetics, although the latter won’t be a high priority for many.
One point you will need to be careful of: speed. The models here are all Gigabit and full-duplex which means they can operate at 1000Mbps in both directions (i.e. sending and receiving) simultaneously.
If you see a cheaper option, it’s likely to be a 10/100Mbps version. This means the ports are limited to 100Mbps in each direction, and so are ten times slower. It’s never worth saving a few pounds or dollars for such a big compromise. Even if all the devices you need to connect are 10/100 right now, you’ll be glad you went for a Gigabit switch when you acquire a device that needs those Gigabit speeds.
None of these switches come with network cables, but we’ve taken the hassle out of choosing which ones to buy: these are the best Ethernet cables.
- Pros: Affordable;Well designed
- Cons: Shorter warranty than some
Like most manufacturers, TP-Link offers both metal- and plastic bodied switches. This plastic one is by far the most popular and it’s easy to see why.
It’s better looking, with a much less business-like design. The ports are at the back, but activity lights are at the front. So the cables can be routed away more neatly rather than emerging from the front of the device.
Unlike others here, the power socket is on the back, not the sides, again making for neater cable management.
If you need to, the SG1008D can be wall mounted and, again, the TP-Link is better designed than some as the release tabs for the cables remain accessible and not against the wall.
Don’t need eight ports? There’s a 5-port version called the SG1005D: it’s £12.99 / US$16.99 / AU$27.50 on Amazon. Both have a three-year warranty.
- Pros: Sturdy metal body;QoS on two ports
- Cons: Release tabs face mounting surface
Zyxel’s hub is slightly unusual in that it has a metal body, but unlike most rivals it keeps the ports and power connector at the rear. It’s not bad looking, either, with its silver finish and slanted grille slots on the sides.
Another reason it’s unusual is because it offers QoS on specific ports. Ports seven and eight are for high-priority devices – such as media streamers or anything that relies on low latencies – and six and five are marked for medium-priority devices. The other four are for all other devices – and the connection to your router.
There are mounts on the underneath for wall mounting – or hanging under a desk – but bear in mind that the network ports face the wall (or desk) and so it can be tricky to release the tabs if you need to remove a cable from a socket.
There are plastic versions available, and these mirror the 5- and 8-port metal versions in design and also with their low, medium and high-priority ports. Since they’re no cheaper, it makes sense to buy the metal version, and it’s great to see a five-year warranty.
- Pros: Metal body;Wall mountable
- Cons: Cables both front and rear
Netgear is another well-known networking brand which makes both plastic and metal-bodied Ethernet splitters for home use.
We’ve picked the metal version here because the GS908 – the plastic one – isn’t widely available and it tends to be considerably more expensive when you can find it. (Also, its cable management isn’t brilliant – the grooves aren’t wide enough to accommodate standard round network cable.)
The GS308, like other metal switches, has its ports on the front along with status LEDs, so isn’t going to look great if it’s on show in your living space. As the power cable plugs into the rear, you can’t simply turn it round: there will still be a cable emerging.
Tucked inside – or behind – a TV cabinet, it’s not an issue and, as you’d expect, it’s fanless for silent operation. Finally, it’s wall mountable if you need to hang it up.
Trendnet Unmanaged Gigabit Switch
- Pros: Affordable
- Cons: Side-mounted power socket
Trendnet’s unmanaged switch comes in five- and eight-port versions, but both seem to go out of stock regularly. There are both plastic- and metal-bodied versions, with prices varying accordingly.
Both are well suited to those on a budget. Remember that as with all hubs, one port will be used to connect it to your router, so there are four usable ports on five-port hubs and seven on eight-port hubs.
Note the side-mounted power connector – this can be awkward in certain situations.
Like the others here, it offers silent operation, low power consumption and plug-and-play setup.
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