Managed vs Unmanaged Switch – What’s the Difference?

Managed vs Unmanaged Switch – What’s the Difference? Within the enterprise space, switches are the core or brain of your IT infrastructure. A switch’s key function is handling traffic across your network while ensuring data gets to its correct destination securely. Having a reliable network switch for your business environments is crucial. All in all, network switches are at the core of every company’s online operations. They play an essential role in achieving reliable network performance

Choosing between managed and unmanaged network switches is one of the most important decisions business decisions you make. It requires weighing both options carefully so you create a robust business network

This article discusses both managed and unmanaged switch and their key differences so you can choose which fits your specific networking requirements. 

Shall we start with Managed vs Unmanaged Switch – What’s the Difference? Read on!

What is a Managed Switch?

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Primarily, a managed switch is a switch that enables Ethernet machines to interact with each other while offering features that allow the network administrator to manage, configure, and manage a Local Area Network. Managed switches also provide better control over how data moves across the network and who accesses it.

How Does a Managed Switch Work?

Importantly, a managed switch allows you to change each port on the switch to any setting, enabling you to manage, configure, and monitor the network in various ways. Managed switches use a Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), which enables administrators to examine the network switch’s state and individual switch ports to offer statistics such as poor status, traffic throughput, and network errors. 

Hence, network administrators monitor this data over time and use it for network capacity purposes and troubleshooting. Users configure managed switches as trunks in a process that labels data using a VLAN ID and transfers several VLAN frames across one link. 

Developers mostly use trunk ports to connect two switches. Trunk ports help connect a switch to a virtual machine server that needs to access multiple VLANs. Additionally, you virtually combine several ports to create port aggregated links that transfer at two, four, or eight times the speed of one link.

Lastly, managed switches normally have a remotely accessible console, web interface, or command line. This enables admins to make configuration adjustments from various physical locations.

Features of a Managed Switch

Gigabit Ethernet Ports

Managed switches have gigabit Ethernet ports that offer data transfer speeds of up to 1000 megabits per second. This is roughly ten times quicker than a 100 bits per second modem but not as fast as the 10-gigabit Ethernet.

Power over Ethernet (PoE)

Network PoE

The PoE feature enables you to power your network switches with an Ethernet cable instead of connecting them directly to a power strip. This is more cost effective and makes it simpler for you to install network equipment wherever it is required.

Port Mirroring

The port mirroring feature allows you to copy all inbound or outgoing packets from one port to another. After copying, you  inspect the packets while monitoring the traffic on both ports without interrupting the normal network.

High Speed Data Transfer

Managed switches provide fast transfer speeds for large files. They also have several ports which enable multiple devices to connect simultaneously without slowing performance or interrupting other users on your network. High speed data transfer capabilities make managed switches ideal for small offices where several people collaborate on projects simultaneously.


Managed switches contain firewalls within their firmware that protect the system from malware and viruses. This ensures that your network is secure. They also have have various security features like Access Control Lists (ACLs), Port Security, and Network Segmentation that enable administrators to secure the network. 

Pros of Managed Switches

  • Managed switches enable network administrators to troubleshoot issues like packet loss and latency easily.
  • Easy to implement automated monitoring tools like SNMP, RMON, and Syslog which alert you in the event of suspicious activities.
  • Provide superior performance and faster data transmission rates than unmanaged switches, resulting in an improved user experience.
  • Cost effective in the long run since they are more reliable and require less maintenance.
  • Enable customization to fit their particular needs, such as QoS, traffic prioritization and VLANs.
  • Provide deep visibility into each port and all connected devices on the network to help detect any suspicious activities.
  • Enables users to maintain, configure, and monitor the network more efficiently, reducing complexity.

Cons of Managed Switches

  • They require a high upfront investment as they are quite expensive.
  • Requires complex configuration, if you have many switches in the same network topology.

Now it is time with the article Managed vs Unmanaged Switch – What’s the Difference? to learn about unmanaged switch.

What is an Unmanaged Switch?

An unmanaged switch uses auto negotiated ports to control parameters like data rates and whether to use full duplex or half duplex mode. Additionally, an unmanaged switch has no concept of virtual LANs. So all network machines are part of the same broadcast domain.

All in all, unmanaged switches also maintain a Media Access Control (MAC) address. The MAC address table tracks MAC addresses that the switch has dynamically learned. It also tracks the respective switch ports on which the switch learned the MAC address. Adding a MAC address table means an unmanaged network switch provides an individual, per-slot collision domain.

A collision happens when two machines within the same domain try to send data simultaneously. When this happens, the switch drops both packets and forces the end devices to resubmit. The collision domain is a Layer 2 network boundary that allows devices to send a broadcast frame to all devices inside the said segment.

How Do Unmanaged Switches Work?

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Unmanaged switches forward network traffic from port to port without any configuration. These switches lack management features such as monitoring, configuration, and troubleshooting. They also have several ports on them. You connect devices like computers or printers to each port using an Ethernet cable. The machine you connect to the switch port is a host device or host.

An unmanaged switch only forwards traffic depending on the MAC address of every frame that the switch receives. So they do not inspect the frame’s contents; instead, they only examine the frame’s header information.

Features of Managed Switches

Plug & Play Functionality

Unmanaged switches are easy to install and configure since they do not require any prior configuration or setup. With an unmanaged switch, you do not need experienced network administrators to set up or configure. Unmanaged switches usually require little to no maintenance, making them ideal for environments where the network is not subject to frequent changes.

Cost Effective

Unmanaged switches are more affordable than managed switches, making them an ideal solution for smaller networks or businesses on a tight budget.

Limited Features

Unmanaged switches come with limited features and basic functionality like port forwarding and port mirroring but lack more advanced features such as QoS, traffic prioritization, and VLANs. They also lack features like SNMP and RMON. This makes it difficult to monitor network performance and detect any suspicious activities. 

Limited Scalability

Unmanaged switches often come with limited ports and cannot be easily upgraded to accommodate additional devices.

Pros of Unmanaged Switches

  • Simple design and various mounting methods such as rackmount, desktop, and wall mount.
  • Lockable port covers that prevent direct tampering on the device and ensure safety.
  • Easy to use as they do not require active monitoring.
  • Easy to install and configure.

Cons of Unmanaged Switches

  • They do not offer a way to monitor network traffic.
  • Lack the advanced features that are necessary for large and smart networks.
  • Don’t have access control lists or port security and are more vulnerable to malicious attacks.

The main part of our article Managed vs Unmanaged Switch – What’s the Difference? is to compare both solutions next. 

Major Differences Between a Managed and Unmanaged Switches

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A managed switch gives administrators greater control over connections, whereas an unmanaged switch offers a plug and play feature to connect devices swiftly in a network. Here are some of the ways in which managed and unmanaged switches differ:


Managed network switch allows you to rank channels so that you get the best performance. A managed switch also uses protocols such as SNMP to examine the performance of network devices via a comprehensive interface. The SNMP protocol lets you remotely control the network and its components without any physical intervention. Contrary, unmanaged switches are plug-and-play machines with in built QoS services that ensure simple setup and operation.


Managed switches contain additional security features like monitoring and managing the network. These extra security benefits help to secure data and manage threats. On the other hand, unmanaged switches have a basic security setup. To protect an unmanaged network, you need to ensure that accessories, such as the lockable port that secures the machine from direct tampering, have no vulnerabilities. 

The security features differ between switches. The most common features are network communication encryption, VLANs for limited network access, and control lists that prevent unauthorized access. However, it would be best if you remembered that managed switches provide greater control over a network, which could be a potential vulnerability. This is why continuous network monitoring is necessary.

Cost Implications

One of the major differences between these two types of switches is their cost. Unmanaged switches are cheaper than managed switches. The price of an unmanaged switch varies depending on how many ports you want it to contain.

Managed switches cost more since they have more capabilities. The price of a managed switch depends on features such as configuration, security, and access controls. Managed switches require more monitoring and managing skills, translating to higher labor costs.


Moreover, a managed switch comes with a wide variety of features to allow you to configure, monitor, and manage your network settings. You can control the LAN traffic, create new networks, and prioritize channels. This switch has redundancy features that make copies of data in case of a network or device failure.

An unmanaged switch has a basic design and functionality. It connects Ethernet devices using a configuration that users cannot change. Developers commonly use this switch for smaller networks and to add systems to a wider network.

Use Cases

Also, managed switches are more advanced and are best suited for commercial level networks or enterprises that span multiple locations. These switches are necessary for large networks where traffic needs careful monitoring.

Unmanaged switches are ideal for small offices or homes since they do not need complex configurations, enabling you to add the machine to your network quickly. The machine can increase the number of devices on a network or reduce network congestion without regular management or maintenance.

Downtime Management

Managed switches contain features like Access Control Lists that help reduce downtimes resulting from data loss or network attacks. Additionally, a managed switch enables you to create virtual LANs. You can separate machines and traffic to hide sensitive information and increase security in specific areas.

Unmanaged switches do not posses the same redundancies as managed switches, which can increase times. In larger networks, issues with unmanaged switches can result in poor performance or negative user experience.

Settings Control

Although unmanaged switches are quicker to set up, they lack basic modification and user control features. Managed switches offer a solution to this problem since you can control and scale them depending on the needs of your network.

Remote Access

Similar to settings control, remote control is mainly limited to managed switches. Unmanaged switches lack the capabilities to function in such a manner. Therefore, Remote access to managed switches is a useful tool for access permissions, troubleshooting, and network security. IT staff use managed switches to acquire remote access to each device on a network, reducing downtimes and maintenance.

Thank you for reading Managed vs Unmanaged Switch – What’s the Difference? We shall conclude. 

Managed vs Unmanaged Switch - What's the Difference ?

Summing up, when it comes to choosing between managed and unmanaged switches, it all matters on the nature of business. If you have a large enterprise with multiple networks, managed switches are more suitable as they provide better features and control compared to unmanaged switches. However, if you have a small network or are on a tight budget, unmanaged switches are cost effective. Regardless of which type of switch you choose, both will help improve your network speed and performance.

Do explore our networking content in our blog over here.

Avatar for Dennis Muvaa
Dennis Muvaa

Dennis is an expert content writer and SEO strategist in cloud technologies such as AWS, Azure, and GCP. He's also experienced in cybersecurity, big data, and AI.

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