Not your normal splitter.
A switch, is a switch, is a switch. These boring beige boxes generally do one thing, and one thing only – split a single Ethernet connection into multiple Ethernet connections. There’s been basically zero innovation of the field of these devices for many years, but Netgear is trying to change that with the S8000. Rather than a box that equally distributes your bandwidth amongst all of the connected devices, they’ve endowed it with Quality of Service (QoS) features to ensure that your most important traffic gets through first. But does it actually make a difference?
Considering most routers these days already have QoS built into them, the S8000 isn’t really necessary unless you’ve got a multitude of Ethernet-connected devices. It’s an 8-port switch; so you’ll be able to hook up seven discrete devices, as one of the ports will be used for your input connection. Even just looking at the design of this device shows that Netgear is trying to do something different. Where most switches are a simple little box, Netgear has instead gone for the styling of a stealth fighter. It’s surprisingly heavy as well; where most switches are built from basic plastic, Netgear has gone for a full metal jacket on this product.
Unlike most switches, this one includes software to control the various settings that are included. We have to say that it’s not the most intuitive interface around; most network novices won’t understand the terms that it bandies about, such as flow control, IGMPv3 IP header support or multicasting. It’d be nice if the interface explained each of these terms in detail. However, it does make it simple to assign priorities to certain ports for gaming or media use. The Gaming pre-set mode allows the first port to be given the fastest access for gaming, while the Media Streaming option enables the second port to prioritise media streaming. But to configure the remaining five ports (port 8 is used as the uplink port to your main Internet connection), you’re going to have to dig deeper into the configuration options, where things get a little more complex.
This software can also be accessed via a Smartphone app, but digging into the more advanced options is far more complicated than necessary. For example, to give a certain port a boost in the priority list is not easy to figure out how to do at all. Apparently the built-in QoS support should do this automatically, but it’d be nice to be able to assign priority manually to each port, so that you can be sure you’re main PC is getting priority, while other devices are secondary. To do so you’ll need to dig into the Prioritisation menu, where you’re asked whether or not you’d like to use 802.1P/DSCP mode, or do it manually. Like we said, the terminology in use here is well above what most home users will be comfortable with. If you know what you’re doing though, it’s possible to limit the bandwidth per port, which means Mum and Dad can hog 90Mbps of their NBN connection, while leaving the little ones to survive on a mere 10Mbps.
It’s possible to use Link aggregation to patch together up to four ports to deliver 4Gbps of bandwidth to a certain device, which will come in handy with other devices that feature multiple Ethernet connections, such as Netgear’s very own ReadyNAS devices. There’s also a test feature that allows you to see if there are any issues with your cabling, which is most handy indeed – we would have saved many hours not having to disconnect every device just to find a faulty cable.
As expected, speeds are bang on for a Gigabit Switch. Yet for most home users it’s probably total overkill, as their router undoubtedly has QoS already built in. On the other hand, if you’re managing a small office and need to precisely control the bandwidth available to each device, the $100 jump in price over a basic 8-port switch might just be worth it.