CCNA Lab Part 4: Bigger Picture of Router Hardware

Well it certainly seems that there are a lot of you out there that watch the used router market for lab hardware pretty closely. Thanks for the continued insights into what makes sense, and what doesn't, for getting a lab built. Today I'll step back from the details on the models of routers and discuss a few options for a parts list for what you'll need to buy for the router part of your CCNA lab.

First, you need to choose whether you will buy 2, 3, or 4 routers. The main decision factors, in my opinion, are:

  • How much you can spend
  • How badly you want to experiment with Frame Relay
  • How likely you are to pursue CCNP soon after CCNA

I really think that the last item in my list should really be the first consideration. If you don't plan on moving on to CCNP, then you can get by with the older and really inexpensive routers (see last post for the reference table), and build a 3 or 4 router lab for a few hundred bucks. However, if you intend to pursue CCNP, then you're better off with at least routers that let you re-use the WIC's down the road, or even go ahead and buy routers that support the latest IOS releases. However, with more expensive routers, you may not be able to afford as many routers.

The biggest downside of just having 2 routers is the extra confusion caused when trying to experiment with Frame Relay. Typically, most people use one router as a Frame Relay switch, as in the first figure below. However, if you have a router with at least 3 serial interfaces, that router can act as both Frame Relay switch and Frame Relay DTE. Frankly, for $25 bucks on Ebay, you can get another 2500 series router and have a 2-serial-port router to use as a FR switch, and avoid the confusion, but You'd need 1 router to act as Frame Relay switch. - but with more expensive routers.

To finish out your lab, you'll need power cables for each router, which are often included when you buy routers used most anywhere. You'll need 1 console cable - again often included with the router. If your PC doesn't have a DB-9 serial port, you might need to pick up a USB-to-DB9 converter somewhere for a couple of bucks. (Just 1 console cable needed - you can swap it around to the routers as needed.)

Finally, you need some "back-to-back" serial cables. These cables allow you to connect 2 routers' serial interfaces to each other to create a serial link. The important considerations are that the connectors fit your router. If you have 2500's, or use a WIC-1T, the serial ports use DB-60 connectors. If you use routers with a WIC-2T, you'll need serial cables with "smart serial" connectors. If you mix and match, you can get cables with different connectors on opposite ends - for example, a DB-60 on one end, and smart serial on the other.

Finally, I'll tackle the LAN cabling once I get to a post on switches, but for now, if you have at least one straight-through and one crossover UTP cable, with RJ-45 connectors, you can at least connect the routers to any existing PCs or switches.

So, let me outline three scenarios for a final CCNA lab, and give a parts list:

1) Cheap, CCNA-only: 2 older model routers, plus cables

2) Tight budget, 3 router, some upgrade path

3) Good prep for CCNP next, without going overboard

I'll give the list for #1 today, and get to the other two for the next post, as I'm already running a bit long. The ending network diagram is as follows:

  • 1 2501 router ($25)
  • 1 2520 router ($125)
  • 2 back-back serial (DB-60) serial cables ($20)
  • 1 console cable (free with router probably)
  • 2 AC power cables (free with router probably)
  • 1 Ethernet transceiver ($20)
  • 2 Ethernet cables (crossovers, if using as shown in the following figure) ($20)

This lab totals $210 in part due to the 2520. I haven't mentioned this model before, but one of the posts you guys made here mentioned it. It's a reasonable choice to get a single router with at least 3 serial port in case you want to try and do Frame Relay with one router acting as a switch and a DTE, as should earlier in today's post. 2520's don't' need an external transceiver, either. (You wouldn't need any more serial cables, either.)

Alternately, you could've gotten a 2610 with 2 WIC-2T's, and spent maybe $150 instead of $125, and spent just a little more.

Finally, if you want really cheap, you can get this design down to a really cheap $120, using a 2501 (plus external transceiver) instead of the 2520, losing the ability to do Frame Relay, and just buying 1 serial cable.

I'll spec out a few other options next post.

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