CCNA lab – 2600’s and 1800’s

If you have any intention to go beyond CCNA, the 2500 series routers we looked at last week may be a bad choice. Today I'll compare a couple of other options, one that's cheaper but gives you some investment protection, and one that's more expensive but positions you well for having a viable lab for other more advanced Cisco certs. First, let me start with a gross characterization of some alternatives verses the 2500 series I blogged about last week. The 2600 series, particularly 2610, 2611, 2612, and 2613 became very popular as access routers following the 2500 series era. Later, Cisco enhanced the hardware, giving later similar models the "XM" designation, for example the 2610 XM router. Of note, the non-XM routers had 10 Mbps Ethernet interfaces and no support for LAN trunking, while the XMs have 100 Mbps FastEthernet interfaces and do support LAN trunking. The 2600 series, including the XMs, are no longer marketed by Cisco, and like 2500's, Cisco no longer supports the latest IOS versions on the 2600 series routers. Like 2500's, 2600's (both types) can run up through 12.3 mainline IOS, but that's it. Again, for CCNA and CCENT prep today, that's not a big deal. Next, consider one of the lower-end but still-marketed routers, the 1841. From the 1800 series, I picked the 1841 for the blog because the 1841 is the least expensive 1800 series router that supports WIC slots, which allows you to put a WIC-2T card into the router. With a WIC-2T in each 1841, you have 2 serial interfaces to support the serial interfaces need for ICND1 exam, ICND2, and BSCI exam prep. Also, 1800's support more features, and all the latest IOS versions. For example, 2500's and 2600's do not support MPLS, but 1841's do - and MPLS is now on the BSCI exam (one of the 4 CCNP exams). It's clear that buying 1841's makes much more sense than buying 2600's if you plan to continue on from CCNA to CCNP. However, the cost difference in the used router market makes the decision difficult. Again using "buy it now" on Ebay as a gauge, there are plenty of 2600's (non-XM) available for under US $50. However, I only found a few 2610XM's under US $400. The lowest-priced options on Ebay for 1841's run around US $600, at least with my spot check. I summarized a few of these points for easy reference here:

Feature or Issue     2500   2600 (non-XM)  2600 XM   1841
Old, no support        X          X            X	
Newest IOS is 
12.3 mainline	       X          X		
No support for FE 
and trunking           X          X		
Does not use same 
Serial WIC as 
current routers	       X			
Does not support MPLS  X          X            X	

So, you've got some options. You could buy 2600 (non-XM) and WIC-2T's, going the cheap route. That gets you similar support for CCENT and CCNA as you did with 2500's - most commands supported, but no ability to configure trunking on the router. However, you'd get a little investment protection if you did later buy 2600 XMs, 1841's, or other more recent routers, because the WIC-2T's you bought would still have value - just move them to the new routers. You could go the more expensive route as well. If you're going that way, getting a pair of 1841's, each with a WIC-2T, might be expensive, but if you plan to move on to the BSCI exam right after passing CCNA, then you'd have a good start without wasting money. However, building a lab with 2500's or (non-XM) 2600's for just a few hundred bucks is pretty compelling. All of this ignores the issues related to IOS, feature sets, and the flash/RAM required to support the required IOS and feature set. I'll look at what's appropriate for CCNA next post. (Before closing, a standard disclaimer - I make no claims as to whether the suggestions made here have been tested, or do I guarantee any results you might see if following these suggestions. Also, I make no claims as to the legality of using any Cisco hardware or software that you might buy.) Learn more about access products from the Network World Access Routers Buyer's Guide.

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