CCNA lab – For $300? $400?

I'll wrap the CCNA part of my recent "what to buy for a Cisco CCNA/CCNP lab" series by bumping up the budget - this time $300 or $400. But first, a few comments about the posts of late.

The first and biggest part of the lab build decision has to do with whether you're also investing for your CCNP lab at the same time, or if you know you'll stop at CCNA. If you're going to stop at CCNA, then the $100-$200 sized lab is probably as far as most people would go. The second leg of that decision is whether you plan to use simulators or emulators. Once you start thinking about $300-$400 for CCNA, you're way past what most CCNA level simulators cost. Plus, emulators (Dynamips etc) are free, but with some issues related to licensing and access to IOS images. So, the delta between the Sim/Em options are high compared to today's budgets, so there's even more motivation to use those.

For today's post, I'm making two assumptions:

  • You will move on to CCNP, so it's worth getting gear with a longer life
  • You won't use Simulators or Emulators with the gear

That said, here's what I think for $300:

  • 3 x 837:            $180
  • 1 x 2950 std     $70
  • 1 x 2900XL     $40
  • Cables              $10
  • Total:                $300

(Yes, I fudged a little on the cost.)

The pro's:

  • The most recent IOS versions
  • IPv6 support
  • Built in switch ports in the routers
  • A LAN switch with all "current" command syntax compared to the exam
  • Two switches, so STP experiments can be run


  • No WAN links, so no PPP or CHAP
  • No WAN links, so no Frame Relay
  • The 2900XL is not as of much use for CCNP prep (but of some use)
  • You can't really buy enough cables for $10, so it's probably closer to $310 or $320.

The $400 budget presents a bigger problem. At $300, there was no way I'd fit 3 routers with serial interfaces into the budget if I avoided the 2500 series (due to old less fundctional IOS). At $400, I kept wanting to get some routers with serial interfaces, so that the lab would do Frame Relay and PPP/CHAP. However, with the prices as listed in earlier posts, I was having to get less on the switching front. So, I considered these options for changing the $300 lab to make a $400 lab:

1) Add 3 2501's and 3 serial cables (total:$112.50), but no transceivers, just to do WAN labs. (It actually puts us over budget.)

2) Swap an 837 and the 2950XL for a single 3550 Enhanced image (net add $80, keeps us on budget). You get 3 "routers" (including the 2550) so you still have a triangle of routers for routing protocol redundancy labs, and a layer 3 switch for future CCNP prep.

3) Swap the 837's for 2501's with transceivers (net $45 less), and get 3 2950 std image switches instead of the 2950/2900XL pair (net $100 more). Just under $400, plenty of switches, better STP labbing, and you get WAN/Frame. However, the routers have the same downside as mentioned last post for 2501's (12.3 as the latest IOS, little IPv6, little use as time goes on, other than as FR switches).

To be honest, I don't like any of these $400 better than the $300 lab. What I keep wanting is a lab with 3 routers, with WAN interfaces, the latest IOS versions, plus at least 2 switches that are 2950's or better. But I can't get there with the prices I found. Here's as close as I could get:

  • 3 x 1721          $330
  • 2 x 2950 std     $140
  • 3 Serial cab.     $37.50
  • 4 Eth cables      $12.50
  • Total:                $520

The 1721's are a bit intriguing to me. I put a $110 price tag (1 x WIC-2T included) on these, but even today I see a bunch of but it now 1721's so that the price with the WIC would be a little less than $100. They run the latest IOS versions, and the Cisco feature navigator ( lists 802.1Q as a feature on the 10/100 port as well - something I wasn't aware of. With 3 routers, you can use one as a Frame Relay switch for some labs.

However, on the $400 budget, with $110/router, and $12.50 per serial cable budgeted, there's little room left for anything else on the $400 budget. If I revised the 1721 + WIC-2T price down to $95, I could at least get a single 2950 standard image into the mix, and have a very solid router-centric CCNA lab, with all hardware useful for a CCNP lab. But, I've tied my own hands if I stick with the same prices as in other posts. So, here's my final choice at the $400 budget:

$400 lab #4 (Wendell's choice):

  • 3 x 837:            $180
  • 1 x 2950 std     $70
  • 1 x 2950 enh.   $125
  • Cables              $20
  • Total:                $395

Essentially, it's the $300 lab, but with a much better switch for later use in the CCNP labs. But to be honest, personally I'd take the $300 lab and save the $100 until I was getting into the CCNP stuff.


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