What CCNA Lab Would You Buy for $100? $200?

So, we've looked at prices for routers and switches her of late. Now it's time to consider how to build a cheap CCNA lab with real gear - no Sims, no Dynamips.For today at least, cheap is king, the goal is CCNA prep. I'll suggest three variations to generate some discussion. Next post, I'll kick up the budget a bit, and pick a few more.

For prices, go back to this post for the switch prices. For routers, I wanted to revise them a bit, because I've already seen them consistently lower than the prices I'd posted a month or so back. Also, I'll toss in a few estimates for cables here and there. Here's a revised table with router prices:

There's so many options at each price point, but I've gotta pick something, so... the one $100 option I'll suggest is this: a pair of 2501's, with only 1 Ethernet transceiver, and two serial cables:

Here's the pricing:

  • 2 x 2501:          $50
  • 1 transceiver:    $25
  • 2 serial cables:  $25
  • Total:                $100

Frankly, I imagine some of you will want to poke fun at this option, but for not a lot of money, here's what you get:

Support for these CCNA topics: RIP, EIGRP, OSPF, NAT, IP addressing, static routes, CLI

Some redundancy (two serial links) so you can experiment with maximum-paths, EIGRP variance, tuning EIGRP and OSPF metrics

Ability to connect your PC to the Ethernet for testing. (You can add a "no keepalive" to the E0 of the no-transceiver 2501 so that the interface will stay up (although you can't connect any other devices.)

So, you can do a lot, but not all, of the layer 3 stuff for CCNA, and get experience with the CLI that applies to both routers and switches. The downside is that the IOS is older (12.3 mainline is the best you can get), and as a result, so you don't get much IPv6 support. It's kinda crummy to not have an Ethernet transceiver for both routers, but it's livable. And, if you think you might move on to CCNP later, it's probably a poor use of money. But if you want cheap and useful, this may be as good as you can get.

For $200, there's too many options to make it an easy choice. Here's some tradeoffs:

Do you get a switch? Two switches probably don't fit, so you can't do Spanning tree, and dynamic VLAN trunk negotiation, but you can learn about VLAN config and a few other CCNA things with one switch. Then, if you buy a switch, do you go to the less-relevant but less-expensive 2900, or the little more expensive 2950?

Another tradeoff is whether to try to get to a 3 router design, so you can do more interesting router labs. You can also test Frame Relay if your 3 routers have serial interfaces.

So, here's $200 lab design #1:

Here's the pricing:

  • 3 x 2501:          $75
  • 1 transceiver:    $25
  • 3 serial cables:  $38
  • 1 2950 (std):    $70
  • Total:                $208

 OK, I cheated a little. ;-)

What's good here? 3 routers, for more interesting redundancy. Frame Relay configs, using 1 router as a Frame-Relay switch, are possible. And basic switch config with the single 2950, and the commands you learn with will be like what you would see on the exam. I could've saved a few bucks with the 2900 series switch, and kept to my $200 budget for real.

Finally, my $200 option #2 gets us to 3 routers, no WAN (no Frame Relay), no switch - but some advantages. Here's the design:

Here's the pricing:

  • 3 x 837:            $180
  • 3 Eth xover:      $20
  • Total:                $200

The pros - the most recent IOS versions! So, IPv6 support is there, which is very helpful. And, you can configure some of the same switch commands on the 837's because they have integrated 4-port LAN switches, and the configuration looks like a more traditional Cisco IOS-based switch. Still can't do STP, but you get some switch experience. And, if you think CCNP's in the cards, you have a better platform for adding later, especially with the more recent IOS versions.

So... whatta ya think? Where would you spend your $100 or $200? Let me know.

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