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CNet Technology Jumps on the Ethernet Bandwidth Wagon

by ServerWatch Staff

With a line of switches aimed at large enterprises, CNet Technology has jumped on the Ethernet bandwidth wagon. The company's switch offerings boast all of the functionality of high-end switches at a substantially lower cost.

As computers have taken over communications, and with that the Internet, connecting them has taken over closets, crawl spaces, and tunnels. Until a few months ago, the only way to get a fast and reliable connection between two computers was via wire or a million-dollar NASA satellite.

The protocol that has emerged over this communication is Ethernet. Ethernet basically travels across different types of media, from fiber-optic cable to enlarged phone cable. As the distance between computers (and the number of them) has grown, the length, number, and reliability of the cable has also increased. And along with the cable, the hardware that manages the cables has grown.

For many office buildings, it's now almost unheard of not to have a large network switch somewhere in the building, if not somewhere on each floor. Such switches typically have 24 or 32 ports but are seldom any larger. They are about the size of the first eight port hubs ever made thanks to increases in the technology that deals with their internal structure.

In an attempt to meet this burgeoning need, CNet Technology has jumped on the Ethernet bandwidth wagon with its large corporate switches. The company hopes that this focus will enable it to take a chunk of market share away from leading switch vendors, such as Cisco and Linksys.

Switches are typically priced based on the number of ports they have: The more ports, the higher the price. Thus, you're paying for the expansion capability in addition to more hardware and more technology. CNet's switches seem to defy this pattern, and thus they are its key selling point.

On Tigerdirect.com, the standard Linksys 100/TX N-Way 24-port switch costs $529.99, while a CNet switch with the same features costs only $399.99, a difference of $120 dollars. The CNet switch costs nearly 25 percent less than the Linksys alternative yet has the same features, which makes it a viable alternative for enterprises looking for places to cut costs but not functionality.

Like most decent switches today, the CNet switch has all the basic features. It supports Full Duplex, which enables Full Duplex Network Cards to send and receive data at 100 MBps simultaneously -- theoretically. CNet's 32- and 24-port switches also support 10/T or 100/TX NICs via Auto Negotiation. Factory options for the 24-, 16-, and 32-port models include an FX, or fiber, uplink to connect directly to a corporate or educational Ethernet backbone. The versions of the switches we were provided with for testing did not include this feature, so we are unable to comment on how well it works.

It is standard for switches to provide a separate crossover port for interfacing with hubs, other switches, and some types of routers. CNet's crossover port doubles as the last port on the switch (i.e., port 16, 24, or 32, depending on the version in use). Thus, the above-mentioned ports have two physical connections of which only one can be used at a time.

As with the vast majority of switches on the market, the CNet 32-, 24-, and 16-port switches come with rack mounting kits. Administrators can simply attach the switch to a rack in a closet and forget about it.

Bandwidthwise, these switches are no different from any other switch on the market, as shown in tests using 100/TX Full Duplex Intel Pro/100 Network Interface Cards. As noted previously, price is what really differentiates them and makes them a great deal for most enterprises.

We cannot, however, recommend these switches for use on a super-high-traffic backbone, such as that of an ISP, because we were unable to test them under those conditions. For use on a server farm or a corporate office, these switches are a great deal because their price far undercuts that of other products in their space.

This article was originally published on Thursday Feb 8th 2001
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