Why You Should Keep Your Old Ethernet Switches

You have way too much IT equipment as it is – time to throw out that crufty old 10/100 switch, right? Hold on a second – you might want to hold on to it after all!

Old ethernet switches are pretty basic, and were churned out cheaply by the thousands in the mid-late 90s internet bubble. Their claim to fame was replacement of ‘dumb’ hubs which simply rebroadcast packets on all ports, or upping throughput from the original 10mbit Ethernet standard to the ‘Fast Ethernet’ 100mbit standard. Power saving features are essentially nonexistent on this equipment, and link negotiation is pretty basic as well.

It is precisely this lack of complex auto-negotiation and power-saving features that makes these switches so great – for patching together ailing networks! More than a few times I have been bitten by newer gigabit switches which have failed to recognise any link on long or damaged cable runs.

When the UofT Engineering Society servers had their uplink cable damaged,  I dug out an old switch which allowed the internet connection to limp along until repairs could be made.  The fancy new managed switch wasn’t detecting any link – but the ancient box pumped out a steady 100mbit link.

EngSoc IT/Server closet: an old switch kept the system running (circled in red)

The setup shown above lasted a solid 2 months until contractors finally replaced the damaged in-wall wiring.

In my parents’ home, the ethernet installation leaves much to be desired. For appearance sake, tight turns around crown mouldings and corners were  in order – not exactly best for signal quality.  Three long wire runs span the basement, main floor, and 2nd floor. Neither a DLink rack switch, nor two variants of  TrendNet “Greennet” switches were able to receive stable links.  Only one network switch cut the mustard:

This well-past-its-prime Asante Friendlynet switch maintained consistent uplink between all three network legs, in large part due to the fact that it always transmits frames at full strength (no power saving here, folks!).  The power consumption penalty? About 3.7W, compared to 1.3W for the TrendNet switch. It’s not gigabit fast, but it works well enough to allow MythTV streaming to multiple TVs throughout the house at the same time.

So before you throw out your old switches, consider holding on to one or two. When your network gets flakey, you might be thankful you did.

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