CCNA Lab Series Part 6: The Best Router for CCNA, 2011

Today we'll wrap up the router portion of this lab series with the conclusion: what should you buy? Hopefully, the earlier posts in this series so far helps anyone make their own decision, especially those new to the Cisco cert space. But sometimes, you just want to be told what to buy, if for no other reason than to get some level of confidence. Today, I'll get to my recommendation, with a re-cap of the reasons, so you can make your own choices. And we'll talk prices!


Any time you talk about choosing a best, you need to talk about the criteria you use. Here's what I considered:

Best IOS version supported. I'm assuming that if you buy model X, you get the latest mainline or T-train IOS supported on that model. Last post, we discussed the fact that some relatively old IOS versions actually support a lot of CCNA features, so the need for a later IOS isn't great, but the need still exists. So I've considered IOS version support.

Price. Comparing prices is a challenge. The products include many models inside each series, with many different levels of RAM and flash, some come with no guarantee that they even will power on. The prices vary wildly based on geography as well. But I've attempted to make a way to at least make comparisons of prices for these blog posts over the years, as posted on my web site. I will use those prices for today's analysis, sprinkled with a little common sense. (More on the pricing later.)

Usefulness after CCNA: In some previous lab series, I have considered the usefulness of the device for later certs when recommending devices. That said, I'm using this criteria today only as a tiebreaker. (And there were no ties!)

Personal preference: Well, I can't be 100% objective, so it seeems like I ought to list that as a criteria!

Pricing Background

How do you know if a 2501 is cheaper than a 2610? Well, there are a lot of variables, including:

  • Where you buy
  • Geography
  • Shipping cost
  • RAM and Flash
  • Confidence that it works (varies from guaranteed to unknown)
  • IOS version and feature set
  • Cards you must also buy to get different interfaces, different numbers of each
  • Odds and ends (eg, the 2501 requires an external transceiver)
  • Even if you estimate an exact number, it'll change by next Tuesday

When I first blogged about building a home Cisco lab years ago, I just looked around EBay for prices. Long story short, it became clear that it was impossible to come up with a meaningful number for the price for a given router in the used market. However, the real goal was to find some measure of relative pricing - which model has a better price than another. And that's what you find summarized on my web site.

The goal of these prcing numbers is to give a comparison point when honing in on your choice, but not to tell you exactly what model to buy in your case. The pricing answers this question:

is model X *generally* better priced than model Y?

I say generally, because you may find a deal on the model that I list as more expensive. But the pricing I reference here gives us an idea of where to start when we first consider pricing.

Next, when I've gathered these prices over the years, I've made the following assumptions:

  • Price each router with 2 serial interfaces and 1 Ethernet or FastEthernet interface
  • Price with enough RAM and Flash to support the latest mainline and T-train versions
  • Ignore cabling costs
  • Price using EBay
  • Ignore shipping costs
  • Ignore items with unusually high shipping costs (sometimes the item is priced low, and they stick you with higher shipping)
  • Price based on the "Buy it now" prices only; ignore auctions

For example, back to that 2501 versus 2610 comparison. The pricing compares a 2501, with max memory (16M/16M RAM/Flash), 2 built-in serial interfaces, plus the added cost of 1 external transceiver. The 2610 estimate does not include a transceiver (because it's not needed), but does include the cost for a WIC-2T. When checking prices, I'd ignore any prices that were unusually low. I'd ignore any for routers without enough memory; I didn't even try to price out buying a router and then buying memory separately. I ignored those sold through auction, and just looked at those I could buy immediately.

For reference, here are some of the key prices from this spring. Note that all prices include a WIC-2T, except the 2501, which doesn't need or even support a WIC.

(Note: You could save some cash using WIC-1-DSU cards, but you can do that on all but the 2501s, so I left those out the pricing discussion.)

The Best Router Model Series for CCNA, 2011: 1700s

Drumroll please.... ok, so it's not that dramatic. But why 1700s? Well, there's some benefit to having 12.4T IOS (see the previous two posts in this series for more on IOS). And frankly, the IOS is more important than the router model. To get 12.4T, of the 6 model series I considered, you have to either pick 1700's, 2600XM's, or 800's. The 800's do not have serial interfaces (except for the 805, with a single serial interface), so I ruled out the 800s. I think for CCNA, you need routers with at least 2 serial interfaces.

To get 12.4T, you need either the 1700s or 2600XMs, and the 2600XMs continue to lose on price compared to the 1700s.

The Best Single Router from the 1700 Series: 1760

This one's a bit of a departure from last year's series. Last year, the 1721 was the sweet spot for routers: 12.4T for the IOS, and cheap. The 1760s just weren't as cheap. From our pricing surveys, the prices have essentially caught up, so that the price is a wash ($105 vs $110, with the 1760 being more expensive).

I chose the 1760, which is literally $5 more expensive than the 1721 in our pricing. Same IOS. Suspicious? I picked it over the 1721 for a couple of reasons. First, it's subjective: the 1721 isn't rack mountable, and the 1760 is, and if you go far in your Cisco studies, you'll want to put this stuff in a rack. It also has some Voice IC (VIC) slots for analog voice cards, but I think it's a stretch to give that as a legitimate reason to justify the 1760 for CCNA. (Note: I had formerly listed the existence of a Network Module slot in the 1760 as a plus, but I was mistaken. I left this note so the later comments make sense, but wanted to fix that mistake here for those who come along later. My apologies, and thanks to Brad!)

End of the day, I wanted to recommend one router model for CCNA in this series, and it's pretty close to even. I just like the 1760 better.  

...But Use Your Noggin!

All this discussion of an absolute best is great, but use your noggin. There is no such thing as an absolute best in this case. For example, if you can get 2610s for $25 each, and 1760's for $100 each, the 2610s make a compelling option. And while our pricing showed the 2501s at a surprising $75 with the transceiver,  in the past, those have been in the $40-$50 range. A trio of 2501s makes a pretty good CCNA lab, even today, especially because so many of the CCNA IOS features are in the older IOS versions.

Point is, there's no one true best - I'm just offering my opinion of best, based on the criteria I've used for this series.

Poke holes, offer opinions, and tell me what you think! Leave a comment, or just answer the poll to let me know what you're thinking. 


Related Posts:

CCNA Lab Series 2011: Overview

CCNA Lab II: How Topologies Drive Device Choices

CCNA Lab III: Sifting Through the Router Model Series

CCNA Lab IV: Choosing the IOS Version and Feature Set

CCNA Lab V: Ruling Out (or In) 2500 and 2600

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