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NETGEAR XS708E ProSAFE Plus
10GbE Switch Review
Manufacturer: NETGEAR, Inc.
Model Number: XS708E-100NES
Price As Tested: $936.99 (NewEgg | Amazon)
Full Disclosure: The product sample used in this article has been supplied by NETGEAR.
The first public cell phone call was placed on April 3rd 1973 by Marty Cooper, who championed the development of the first truly portable device while he was with Motorola. Something else happened that same year which has arguably had the same level of impact on society. Ethernet is also 40 years old this year (2013) and has established itself in almost every facet of our digital lives. Like many ubiquitous elements of modern consumer technology, it was developed at XEROX PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) and then commercialized elsewhere. Ethernet came to the PC in 1982, with inexpensive twisted-pair network cabling as a bonus, and the rest is history. The original bandwidth cap was 10 Megabits per second, the current top spec is 100 Gigabits per second, and the IEEE 802.3 Ethernet Study Group is currently finalizing the standards for 400 Gb/s. Most consumers and small businesses are operating at single GbE speeds (1Gb/s), but that will change in the next few years to 10GbE, based on trends I'm seeing in the market. The server market is already there, it's just a question of when the consumer product lines adopt the latest NIC-on-a-chip solutions from the major suppliers. The next piece in the puzzle is 10GbE switches and routers to link the networks together.
Network switches are not reviewed by the press that often, but they are a necessary part of many home or small business networks, so we need to be aware of what's available and what works well. NETGEAR is a long-established player in the networking market, and they have many different product lines to choose from. Today, Benchmark Reviews is looking the NETGEAR XS708E, a break-out offering in their ProSAFE Plus Switch line that brings eight ports of 10GbE connectivity down to the masses. 10GbE switches are a critical part of the infrastructure that needs to be in place before adoption of this faster networking standard can spread.
First, let's clarify what a network switch is. It is strictly a wired device, and is most often designed to switch Ethernet traffic. There are telco switches, and video switchers, and fiber optic switches, but the vast majority of network switches you and I will encounter handle Ethernet. In Wireless networks, routers and adapters generally communicate directly with one another, but wireless media bridges are starting to make that distinction a little fuzzy. You could use the couple of ports on the back of your router to connect a few devices together, but switches still have some advantages:
Switches allow dozens of devices to connect
Switches keep traffic between two devices from getting in the way of your other devices using the same network
Switches allow control of who has access to various parts of the network
Switches allow you to monitor usage
High-end switches have pluggable modules to tailor them to network needs
Until recently, there were only two types of switches, un-managed and managed. The first type is truly plug-and-play, there are no settings to make, no configurations to set, and they always work the same way, for every device plugged into one of its ports. This was the only kind of switch available to the average consumer, and they served their purpose well. The managed switches were strictly for the corporate LANs and data centers. They were configured by the high holy priests of corporate IT, called "LAN Administrators". No one could make a change in the network unless they logged into one or more switches and made it, usually with cryptic command-line instructions. Nowadays, they can log in to a GUI via a web browser, but I know some of them still use command line arguments.
Today, there are some new classes of switches sandwiched between these two extremes. The most common type is usually called a "Smart Switch". It has a number of features that come straight from the managed switch play book, and is targeted to both corporate users and what the industry politely calls "ProSumers". That's you and me, in case you didn't recognize your new title. The NETGEAR GS110T that was featured in a recent Benchmark Reviews article is a good example of a Smart Switch. The XS708E we are investigating today is part of the ProSAFE Plus line, with a feature set somewhere between the unmanaged and Smart Switch products. The Plus line management tools include VLAN support, QoS, IGMP snooping, port trunking, rate limiting, and traffic monitoring. That's enough for most SMB users, especially those who are willing to trade some high-end features for pure speed.
The XS708E is the lowest cost model in the new NETGEAR family of ProSAFE Plus 10GbE Switches. It's got eight 100/1000/10000 Mbps RJ45 ports, with one combo port supporting 10 Gigabit speed on an SFP+ connector. This type of port is commonly used to support fiber optic cables, but lower cost direct-connect copper cables are available for short haul applications. For now, the most likely application of the XS708E is simple and affordable 10GE connectivity for 10G-capable servers and storage devices employed by smaller organizations. If you've followed some of my NAS reviews, it should come as no surprise that the first thing I did after I powered up the XS708E, was to connect it to one of the 10GbE capable NAS models on my test bench. The sense of relief was palpable - THAT'S the way a NAS ought to run...
Let's take a closer look at the XS708E, and see what it offers in both features and performance.