Cisco Routers – What to Know BEFORE You Buy

In my experience talking to other network administrators, one of the more popular questions that I get asked is “What router do I buy?” When you are working with a re-seller, many times they will advise you on this. They will take the time to learn about your business and your needs. Then, they will recommend the right router and package that you need. 

While it is great to have an experienced sales rep around to answer questions and advise, that may not always be the case. Perhaps you want to learn more about the Cisco product line so that you can understand your reseller’s reasoning and recommendations. Or, perhaps you are buying a used router to mess around with at your house. Either way, you need to understand the Cisco product line better. Let me show you exactly what you need to know about the Cisco router product line …

Cisco Router Product Line, in General

Here are some things that you should know, in general, about buying Cisco Routers:

  • The smaller the model number of the router, the fewer features and performance you will get out of a router. However, don’t count out the smaller routers as they are very powerful and have most of the same features as the medium-size routers. For example an 871 has much less performance than a GSR12000 but then, an 871 may be exactly what you need.
  • There are always going to be fixed port routers & switches AND modular port routers AND switches. Modular routers are better because they are more expandable. With modular routers, modules can be added to provide for more interfaces and different types of interfaces.
  • Cisco routers have “series numbers” then, specific model numbers are created in that series. Thus, you could have an 871w router but it is a member of the 800 series router family.
  • Routers and operating systems are usually sold separately. Don’t assume that when you buy a router that you have the operating system you need. Cisco prides themselves on their IOS and they won’t let it get away for free.
  • Beyond the manufacturer’s warranty, Cisco sells something called Smartnet Maintenance. When you buy Smartnet for a year on a device, you are paying to fix it in case it breaks and, also, to download any upgrades for the Cisco IOS that come out during that time.
  • Cisco routers are much more powerful and feature-rich than any Linksys or NetGear router. Their cost is greater because of these amazing features.
  • Learning the Cisco IOS is important because, on all routers you will find the same IOS look and feel, as well as commands.

New Routers in the Line up

When buying new routers, you should be able to get at least 30% discount off of the list price. You should really shop around because the discount amount will vary. There are different levels of re-sellers: “Registered Partner”, “Cisco Premier”, “Cisco Silver”, and “Cisco Gold”. As the level goes up, so does the amount of discount that the partner gets off of Cisco equipment. Thus, the more elevated the Cisco partner, the less expensive their equipment will be (in theory). In the new router line up, there are:

Small business & Home
800 Series

Mid-size Companies
1800 Series
2800 Series
3800 Series

Large Companies
Cisco 7600/7200

Of course, when a manufacturer says that a router is for a “small company”, or a “large company”, that is a big generalization. To really choose the right router you have to look at 4 things:

  • Number of interfaces and types of interfaces
  • Packets per second and latency (performance)
  • Amount of RAM and Flash
  • Expandability

Based on whether the features that the router has along these lines, you will know if that router will be a good fit for your environment.

Used Routers in the Line up

Just like a car, whenever possible, it is in your financial best interest to “buy used”.

2500 Series – these routers have been around for many years and shouldn’t be used in production environments. However, for about $25 and up on Ebay, these routers are excellent for testing basic configurations and practicing for certification exams (like the CCNA and CCNP). As 2500 series routers are fixed port routers, make sure that you get the right interfaces on the router you select.

2600 Series – 2600 series routers are modular routers that are excellent for many small sites (such as a remote office). With the right amount of RAM and Flash, 2600 series routers can run a version of the latest Cisco IOS. 2600 series routers can be bought on Ebay for about $150 and up.

3600 Series – Like 2600 series routers, 3600 series routers are still very popular on many networks today. 3600 series routers have more expandability and power than 2600 series routers. At about $350 and up on Ebay, these routers are a great value for the power they provide.

In Conclusion

Selecting the right router for the job is very important. You don’t want to put the wrong router in, waste your money, and then have to troubleshoot performance issues. You can save a great deal of money by using used routers instead of new. However, you still must ensure that you get the right router for the job. In conclusion, make sure that you ask yourself the right questions before purchasing the router for your needs.

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