The Best Router for CCNP Prep in 2010

Comparisons of Routers to buy for your lab in 2010

So you're building a lab for CCNP prep. Or maybe for CCNA, hoping to move on to CCNP soon after. Is one model of used router clearly the best today? What is your model of choice? What other cards do you need to buy with it? And why? Today I'll continue this year's CCNP lab series and give you one set of opinions - and ask you to give me your opinions and reasons.

It's finally time to talk models of routers and their prices. I've been collecting pricing data, and may make small tweaks to what I've found. So, here's the background: every time I do one of these series, my buddy and part-timer Rich scours Ebay for prices of various models and cards. He rules out listings that don't meet a minimum amount of memory that I've set, so that we're not fooled by a really cheap offer that'll require more money to bump the memory to support the later IOS versions. We look only at Buy It Now prices on EBay, and we look at shipping a little, to adjust prices if a seller lists lower prices but higher shipping. We throw out aberrations, like 1 unit listed for a really low price. Then we repeat this exercise a few weeks later, and take the average of the averages. And these days, we post the prices here on my web site.

Today I'll look at four main topics related to what gear to buy for your CCNP lab.

1) The best router model: 1721

To pick a "best" router, we need to decide on the criteria. First, a router needs interfaces that help you build the desired topologies. In the case of CCNP, it's better to have 12.4T rather than 12.4 mainline to get all the required feature support in IOS. And I personally think it's important to have 802.1Q support on the LAN interfaces, because it opens up so many more options for testing. I'm not going to expound further on these topics on today's post, but if you look at the bottom of this post, you'll see links to the earlier posts in this series. Those posts discuss some of these details, and you can find other reference info at certskills.com.

For today's post, best means:

Supports 12.4T

Good price, with minimum 2 serial ports and 1 LAN port

LAN supports 802.1Q

With these criteria, with the pricing as we found it, the top three routers are:

  $90: 1721 + 1 WIC-2T

$125: 1760 + 1 WIC-2T

$185: 2610XM + 1 WIC-2T

            Assuming the relative prices bear out to be true over the short term, it seems a no brainer to go with the 1721. Given that it's the clear leader on price in the set of 12.4T capable routers I looked at, I started looking for reasons not to choose a 1721. The form factor is crummy (not 19 inch for racks). It has only 2 WIC slots, and no NM slots, so it has less expansion space than the 2600XM. The 1760 has some slots for voice cards. Is that enough to make you go to the slightly more expensive options (1760 and 2600XM)?  Is there another 12.4T capable model series I'm overlooking that also meets these requirements?

2) Best Deal, but settle for 12.4 mainline

Interestingly, backing off the 12.4T requirement, and settling for 12.4 mainline, but with all other criteria the same, doesn't yield a different answer. The best option, with these criteria, is still the 1721.

  $90: 1721 + 1 WIC-2T

$125: 1760 + 1 WIC-2T

$125: 3640 w/NM-1E2W + 1 WIC-2A/S

In this case, the 2600XM falls off the list of the top 3 simply due to price. The 3640 has been a popular option in times past. However, with the best IOS being 12.4 mainline, you lose a little. (See this post and discussion about the IOS versions versus the new CCNP.) The $125 price includes a WIC-2A/S, which cannot run as fast (I think max 128Kbps) as compared to the WIC-2T cards. Plus, the 1721 and 1760 also have 12.4T support. Does this spell the death of the 3640 as a good CCNP platform, unless you get a particularly good deal on one? Does the 3640's expandability (4 NM slots) vs 1721's (2 WICs only) 3640?

3) 2600 vs 2600XM

In years past, the 2600 series was one of the most popular routers for cert labs. There were lots, so the price remained low. It has a Network Module (NM) slot, plus Ethernet, with the ability to run 802.1Q with some IOS versions. Plus 2 WIC slots. The last time I wrote about labs, the relatively newer 2600XM series was still pricey enough to be a big difference. However, now the XM's seem to be much cheaper, and they support up through 12.4T IOS - and non-XM 2600's only go through 12.2T/12.3 mainline, essentially making 2600XM's 2 IOS versions better. The prices are getting closer ($125 vs $185 with a WIC-2T each), and you could even save a few bucks buying a 2610XM with enough memory for 12.4 mainline but not enough for 12.4T.

4) What kind of WIC?

I've been focused on WIC-2T's just to allow easy comparison both today and versus older prices samples from years past. But other options exist. WIC-2T's give you two serial ports that can run at T1/E1 speeds when internally clocked. WIC-1T gives the same, but with 1 port (and a different connector - pay attention to that when thinking of cables). WIC-2A/S's give you 2 ports, but slower speeds - but that may not really matter for CCNA and CCNP study. And they tend to be a little cheaper in the used market.

One slant I hadn't thought of until a few folks posted the idea was to use WIC-1DSU-T1 cards. These have 1 RJ-45 connector, an internal CSU/DSU, and the ability to run at T1 speeds. (There are also 56 Kbps models on the market as well.) Best I can tell with a cursory glance was that they're noticeably cheaper, and the T1 crossover cables appear to be a little less than serial crossovers. For the sake of argument, they together run about these prices:

$45: WIC-2T

$35: WIC-2A/S

$35: WIC-1T

$15: WIC-DSU-T1

So, if you've got WIC slots to spare, get a pair of WIC-DSU-T1 cards instead of a WIC-2T, and save $15ish, and maybe a little more on cables. And for you CCNA folks out there, you will need to configure more to get your serial links to work, and the commands aren't in the scope of CCNA. However, it's not difficult, so it's a pretty reasonable choice for CCNA as well as CCNP.

Earlier posts in this CCNP Lab series:

2010 CCNP Lab Series Overview

Layer 3 Topologies for CCNP Prep

LAN Switch Topologies for the New CCNP

The Right Router IOS for your CCNP Lab

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