IN THE NOVEMBER 2016 issue of ChannelPro, I wrote a column titled “Beyond Gigabit: The Long Wait” on the evolution of Ethernet networking and why it remained an unevolved client standard for well more than a decade. It was particularly relevant then, because it was right around the time the IEEE approved the 802.3bz (also known as the 2.5GBase-T and 5GBase-T) standards for 2.5 Gbps and 5 Gbps transmission over existing Cat5e and Cat6 cables.
And now, more than five years later, if you order a desktop or notebook with wired networking, surely 2.5GBase-T and 5GBase-T would be commonplace. Nope. Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) is still pretty much the standard even though it can legally buy beer and is many, many times slower than almost every other modern data connection (like USB 3.1).
There’s light at the end of the tunnel for small and home office multigigabit networks, however. Cost-effective adapters (some even built into OEM products) are now in the market, and affordable unmanaged switches utilizing the 2.5GBase-T standard are finally here. What better way, then, to see what 2.5GbE networking can do but take it for a test drive with a brand-new 8-port unmanaged switch from Zyxel.
Zyxel offers two models in its line: the 8-port MG-108 and 5-port MG-105. Like most unmanaged switches, these are marketed for home and small office use where the main goal is to improve local connectivity performance for the latest technology, like modern network-attached storage (NAS) units, Wi-Fi 6 access points, 4K video streaming, and gaming consoles. For the purpose of this review, we’re looking at the 8-port MG-108.
Out of the Box
The Zyxel MG-108 arrived in a branded, brown cardboard box. Nestled inside was the unit itself, an international 110V/220V power cord with three interchangeable plugs, rubber feet, quick setup guide, and warranty card (Figure 1). I was kind of hungry when I opened it, and though I wasn’t really expecting Zyxel to ship it with a bag of pretzels or chips, I was slightly saddened by a lack of salty snacks in the box.
Fit and Finish
Zyxel is not revolutionizing the design of 8-port switches with the MG-108, and that’s OK with me. It’s about 1 inch tall, 9.5 inches wide, and a little over 4 inches deep. The MG-108 clearly has nothing to hide, putting everything it’s got front and center, consisting of eight Ethernet ports with auto MDI/MDIX, power connector, and handy status lights that turn orange when connected in 100MB or 1000MB and green for 2.5GbE connections. Honestly, it’s bright green and not-as-bright yellowish green, but it’s just enough to tell the difference.
If you like silver, you’re in for a treat as you feast your eyes on the front (which even has a glossy finish), top, bottom, and sides. Like most switches in this category, it’s passively cooled (and therefore silent) and has notches for ventilation on the back and sides (Figure 2). It’s not built like a tank nor cheaply constructed, finding a nice balance that signifies a quality, though not luxury, product. I think it’s pretty sharp, personally, but to each their own.
Getting electricity into the MG-108 was straightforward. After close examination of the three possible plug shapes in the box, I astutely noticed only one of them would fit into the receptacle without employing the use of a sledgehammer. I slid it onto the plug, inserted metal things into wall holes, plugged the cord into the front, and the little green lights turned on, which meant I chose wisely.
It’s an unmanaged switch, so configuration is completed for you in the three seconds it takes for the switch to boot itself up. On the downside, there’s a lack of settings to fiddle with, but on the upside, you can use that time to get coffee. If you’re wall mounting it, now’s the time. If you’re not, don’t forget the rubber feet!