Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Netgear GS108 GigE Switch Failure

I've had an unbelievably long run of hardware failures this year. First a Hitachi 500GB hard drive failed in my Windows 2003 Server, then the Apacer USB thumb drive I was using for ReadyBoost, and now my new GigE Ethernet switch, a Netgear GS108, is malfunctioning. Predictably, all of the failures have been after the 30 day mark, which means that I've had to go through an RMA process instead of a simple return.

The Netgear GS108 is particularly frustrating because it didn't do something simple like emit smoke and die. That would have been easy to diagnose. Instead it would alternate between a blinking failure mode and normal operation. In twenty years I've never seen an Ethernet switch or hub fail, so I wasted two days looking at everything except the switch.

The symptom is easy to see - all of the lights turn on for a second, then they all turn off, even on ports with nothing plugged in. Any PCs that are connected report that a network cable is unplugged. This may go on for a few seconds to a couple of minutes, then it will start working again, then it will fail again. The problem seemed to be most prevalent when 1000Mbps devices were mixed with 100Mbps devices. If all devices are 1000 or all devices are 100, then the GS108 worked fine.

Reviews on show that a minority of other users have experienced the same problem I did.

I talked to Technical Support at Netgear. They immediately issued an RMA for the switch. Unfortunately, after waiting a week for the new GS108 to arrive, the new unit malfunctioned in the same way as the old unit. So I believe this problem is endemic to the GS108.

I've replaced the GS108 with a Dell PowerConnect 2708. It costs about 50% more than the GS108, but it is a fully managed switch that receives rave reviews from users. The Dell 2708 also includes a one year next-day parts warranty, as opposed to Netgear who charges you $50 for a next day exchange. You might as well order a new one from NewEgg.

I plugged in the Dell 2708 and it has worked flawlessly. I'm just running it in unmanaged mode since I have no need for VLANs or port aggregation.

The PowerConnect 2708 lists on Dell's web site for $158 if you just do a Google search, but that's the Medium/Large Business price. If you look in the Small Business section, the price is $109 with a $20 discount, or $89. Great deal: