What Is An Unmanaged Switch And How Does it Work?


Since their introduction in the 1980s, Ethernet Switches have become increasingly popular. Switches are a crucial component of many business networks, linking several PCs, printers, and points of entry, phones, servers, and other equipment. Switches provide a fast, reliable, highly secure and transparent way to send and receive information and access shared resources.

Network switch is a small hardware device between LAN segments which filters and forward packets of information. Different network switch designs support different connected device numbers. With Ethernet systems, the consumer-grade network switch offers either four or eight connections, while the corporate network switch usually allows more than 100 connections.

How do Ethernet Switches operate?

How do Ethernet Switches operate

There are networks for moving data around computers. The network code organizes the data being transmitted to Ethernet frames to accomplish this function. Frames pass through Ethernet networks and a frame’s data field is used to hold data between computers. Frames are nothing more than arbitrary information sequences whose standard format is specified.

The Ethernet frame format incorporates at the end a destination address containing the machine address to which the frame is sent. First comes an origin address, which contains the device’s address to send the frame. Various other fields follow the addresses, including the data field that carries the data sent between computers.

Ethernet switches are designed to make their operations invisible to network devices, which explain why this network linking technique is also referred to as transparent bridging. This means that no changes are made to the bridged Ethernet frames when you connect to an Ethernet network. The switch would start working automatically without requiring any switch setup or modifications from the computers connected to the Ethernet network, making the switching process transparent to them.

Managed vs. Unmanaged Switch vs Smart Switch

Managed vs Unmanaged Switch

Managed Switch

A managed switch is a device that can be configured and managed to provide those who use the box with a more tailor-made experience. They provide not only tools and means for tracking the network, but also traffic control. Managed switches are similar to Virtual Private Servers, where you will be responsible for setting up everything, managing the device, and taking responsibility for any configurations that cause downtime.

There are two varieties of managed switches available.

Layer 2- Uses mac addresses for traffic path and each machine has one. The advantage is that it doesn’t require a lot of software and anyone can operate such a switch. The downside is that it has no engineering and more crashes and defects than three layers. For each database or device, Layer 2 switches must check for the data.

Layer 3- This technology uses IP addresses that are sent to the switch from each computer. The switch has to do less work to find any device or database and there is quicker interaction between the two. You want to stick with a good quality controlled layer 3 switch if pace and reliability are required.

Managed switches provide all the features of an unmanaged switch and allow setup, management and monitoring of your LAN. And this gives you greater power over how, and who has access to, the flow of information over the network.

Managed switches also use protocols such as the Simple Network Management Protocol, or what we call SNMP, to monitor the network devices. SNMP is a protocol that makes it easier for network devices to share management data. Its queries may assess the network’s health or a device’s status. When viewing this information in an easily understood format, IT administrators at a central location can monitor network performance and rapidly identify and resolve network problems without having to interact physically with the switch.

Redundancy is another important feature of managed switches. Redundancy provides the ability to secure a network in the event of failure of a link or cable by providing an alternative traffic data path. Managed switches use what is referred to as the Spanning Tree Protocol or STP protocol to provide network route redundancy. STP permits one active path between two network devices at a time, eliminating loops and setting redundant links as a backup to keep integrated systems available and avoiding expensive downtime that network administrators can appreciate.

Unmanaged Switch

While a managed switch needs some interference on the user’s side to get the network working as desired, an unmanaged switch does not need any input from you.

So how does an unmanaged Ethernet Switch work?

Unmanaged switches can operate in the most basic form, allowing your devices to connect. The software is locked in compliance with OEM requirements and gives consumers peace of mind to link and get everything moving.

Think of unmanaged switches as connecting additional Ethernet ports to your network. If you have a limited number of router and access point outlets open, unmanaged switches become instrumental in connecting additional hardware. For home and small office use, unmanaged switches are best suited.

Summing it up, an Unmanaged Switch allows interaction between devices connected to a network (LAN). It is a plug-and-play switch that does not allow or make it possible to use any user input, setup or configuration. The Unmanaged Switch is developed with an unchangeable standard configuration. Graphical interfaces are sometimes provided to simply control the network without any potential user interaction depending on the make and model of the switch.

Smart Switch

Smart Switch

Smart switches have minimal configuration choices and are more economical than managed switches— perfect for home and office use. Fully managed systems focus on servers and companies, providing a wide range of tools and functionality to better manage the immediate network.

Smart switches allow you to segment the network into workgroups by creating VLANs, but with less VLANs and nodes (MAC addresses) than a managed switch. These also provide some security levels, such as 802.1x endpoint authentication, and in some cases with limited numbers of ACLs (access control lists), while control and granularity rates would not be the same as a managed switch.

Smart switches (lighter managed switches) would cost more than unmanaged switches, but would cost less than fully managed switches.

Difference between a Managed and Unmanaged Switch

A Managed Switch allows for the monitoring and prioritization of LAN traffic by configuration updates, while an unmanaged switch is created with a standard configuration that cannot be changed.

Managed switches provide the means for tracking, configuring, and ultimately helping to improve network performance for a reliable, secure network. Managed switches cost more than unmanaged switches as they typically have better technical requirements, advanced user management and configuration features, as well as VLANs (Virtual Local Area Network).

Can a managed switch be used as an unmanaged switch?

All the features of managed switches come with additional costs, so it is important to know when to pick a managed hardened switch or when to use an unmanaged switch. In most cases, unmanaged switches are used to connect edge devices on network spurs or on a small stand-alone network with just a few components.

Managed switches should be used to monitor and control network traffic segments on any network backbone switch. Every computer that is deemed essential to your network should also be linked via a managed switch. Ultimately, switches in an Ethernet IP network should be handled due to their ability to handle multicast traffic.

So yes, you can use a managed switch as an unmanaged switch. If you do this, you need nothing but to plugin into another managed switch.


If the organization wants network access, the Managed Switch is the only alternative, but if the enterprise has no budget or money, the Unmanaged Switch is the most cost-effective option. If businesses use wireless LANs, VoiP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) and real-time services, then managed switches would provide the best experience as they can be programmed to meet the requirements of a specific network.

Unmanaged switches are typically more suitable for home, small to medium-sized businesses, whereas managed switches are mainly used for larger businesses.

The right choice of smart switch can be critical in ensuring that your network operates at its best, while also allowing more wired devices to be conveniently connected to your service. For example, when you attach your modem to a router, then you will be able to access the internet with other things linked to that connection. There are different options available in the market, so find the right model for your needs.

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More to read:

Best POE Switches to Improve your Network Speed 2021



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