Car fanatics like me know a lot about the price of quality.
For example, let’s look at the fifth generation of the Camaro, which Chevrolet launched in 2010. An almost $50,000 price difference stands between their entry-level model, the LS coupe, and the top-of-the-line Z/28.
While both cars appear similar, the Z/28 offers 505 horsepower and a 7.0 liter engine compared to the LS’s 323 horsepower and 3.6 liter engine. The price is in the performance.
We know that bigger engines come with components that can handle the output – this includes speed-rated tires, carbon-ceramic matrix brakes, a special track-oriented suspension, a six-speed manual transmission, and much more.
But while it’s easy to measure the performance of a car’s engine, the performance of a network’s router or switch is much harder to measure.
We all know that consumer-grade all-in-one routers fail miserably in comparison to enterprise-grade equipment—they’re slow, they overheat frequently, they get “stuck” every few days and require frequent rebooting, and eventually break after just two years or so. That’s because it’s designed to meet a certain price point and sacrifices quality for the sake of affordability. Other limitations of all-in-one devices include lack of scalability (what if your network gets bigger?), lack of advanced features (IGMP snooping, QoS), and weak wireless coverage. All-in-one devices are also meant for general applications and not designed for networks with advanced gaming and sound systems.
But what about enterprise-grade equipment? What makes one router better than another when they’re both labeled as “enterprise-grade”?
If I asked my drinking buddies this question, they will incorrectly answer that the difference is in the port speeds or the number of ports. Those who know a bit more about networking technology will talk about VLANs, QoS, firewalls, and other advanced functionality. While they’re not exactly wrong, what they are overlooking is the high performance chipset.
The chipset, also known as the processor, is the engine of a networking device. True enterprise-grade chipsets are designed to handle more traffic, including traffic bursts, without any hiccups or failures. Their impressive speeds keep data packets from falling out of order, so that video and audio streaming never freezes up. Enterprise-grade chipsets also impact the lifetime of a router or switch, ensuring that the device can keep running like new even 10 years down the line.
Another feature constantly overlooked in networking devices is the memory. Memory benefits networking devices in two ways: first, it allows a router or switch to have more features like VLANs, QoS, and IGMP Snooping. Second, it helps a router handle heavier traffic. Let’s say two routers are identical in every way in their specs, except one router has more memory than the other. Both can stream A/V devices properly when traffic is light, but as the traffic gets heavier and heavier, the lower-memory router will not be able to keep up with the heavy traffic. Features like QoS would no longer work properly. Routers and switches with greater memory can therefore handle a larger network overall.
The next time you consider the purchase of network equipment, start first with the most important part – the engine. While most manufacturing companies shy away from the details regarding their product components, one way to learn more about these hidden parts is by asking questions. Ask the manufacturer what the chipset is. Ask them what makes it special and capable of handling your traffic. Ask them how it makes a difference.
So the next time you see two routers with the same specs, look under the hood.