Managed vs. Unmanaged Switches: 5 Key Differences and Full Comparison

managed vs. unmanaged switches

Managed vs. Unmanaged Switches: 5 Key Differences and Full Comparison

Managed vs. unmanaged switches is a debate common in many network closets around the world. Both have their places, but it takes a little know-how to understand the best use case for either.

Switches hold a vital place within networking, as they help to do the actual traffic navigation for networks. These devices also help with scaling the available network connectivity across larger organizations.

As to which is the best, that isn’t a debate you’ll really have when talking about the merits of managed vs. unmanaged switches. If you’re new to the world of computer networking, it helps to know which devices excel in their specific roles.

There is a ton of jargon and technical information that surrounds the hardware that accommodates computer networks. However, the purpose of this guide is to provide a high-level overview in plain English for those just looking to learn about the difference between these two types of switches.

Managed vs. Unmanaged Switches: Side-by-Side Comparison

Managed SwitchesUnmanaged Switches
PurposeRouting and forwarding trafficRouting and forwarding traffic
Best Suited ForCompatible network topology and software-defined networking rulesSmaller networks
Security ProvisionsProvided as part of the setup conducted by network personnelNo security provisions provided
Network RequirementsMinimal setup requires just network cabling and devices to take advantage of it.Plug and play with up to 12 devices on a smaller network
ScalabilityScales as needed depending on the needs of an organizationCan scale, but isn’t suited for more complex network topologies
Setup NeededTrained IT professionals or network engineersMinimal setup; requires just network cabling and devices to take advantage of it.
Both switches can fit networks of any size as needed, but managed switches are better suited for large-scale deployments.

Managed vs. Unmanaged Switches: What’s the Difference?

Both types of switches operate under the concept of routing and forward traffic as needed. However, there are some very key differences in their implementation that make the managed switch better for some tasks.


managed vs. unmanaged switches
Switches are the backbone of most modern enterprise networks.


The first notable difference in the battle between managed vs. unmanaged switches comes down to the raw performance of the network when implemented.

Managed switches can have the quality of service rules defined by the network engineer or IT personnel that can help shape the overall flow of traffic. This enables higher performance and greater network speeds without congestion.

Unmanaged switches don’t have any of these niceties built in. As soon as you connect your network cabling, it begins to automatically configure the flow of traffic. You won’t have the ability to shape the overall flow of traffic while using an unmanaged switch.

This might not be a huge concern with smaller networks. When you start thinking about implementing dozens upon dozens of clients, however, it can be a problem. Before deciding on which switch to implement, consider the needs of your network.


Theoretically, both types of switches can scale as needed when connected to additional networking devices. The aforementioned traffic shaping prevalent in managed switches makes them ideal for larger networks, however.

Enterprise networks are built upon the concept of scale, or how large a network can be while also allowing room to grow. Now, unmanaged switches can scale just fine. But they don’t allow for prioritized traffic control when in use.

This is less of a consideration for a managed switch. As personnel can define the shape of traffic, certain computers or devices can be given priority over others.

Connectivity is relatively uniform between the two switches, however. You connect your cables to the available ports and if all is well you should see established connections once both are set up.


Unmanaged switches are plug-and-play devices by design. There are no security provisions for an unmanaged switch, however. What you see is what you get. Now, this can be mitigated with other devices, but that provides additional expenses.

Managed switches can sometimes implement various functions like firewalls natively in the firmware of the device. When you consider the factors that go into designing a larger enterprise network, having additional tools makes a lot of sense.

Managed switches are more demanding for their initial setup, but that comes with a great deal of flexibility you might not otherwise see with other networking devices.

Network personnel can also establish guidelines like IP blacklists and whitelists. These help for determining which users are permitted and can help root out bad actors that may have compromised the network locally.

Cost of Implementation

Unmanaged switches are cheaper overall. They are relatively simple devices, at least by network hardware standards, and cost very little to implement into a network.

Managed switches are more expensive, in a sense. They have a higher material cost as well as a higher time cost needed to get up and running. As such, it does make a lot of sense for a mom-and-pop operation to deploy a managed switch.

For larger businesses and the like, managed switches will be part of the overall network architecture. Whoever is overseeing the purchases for the department will likely account for network hardware as needed.

As mentioned with the connectivity, it helps to understand the needs of your network before committing to one device over another.

Ease of Setup

managed vs. unmanaged switches
Managed switches are the way to go if you’re designing a robust network for business use.


You can have an unmanaged switch up and running in mere moments. It’ll take you more time to locate which cables are faulty than it will to actually plug up an unmanaged switch. The setup of an unmanaged switch is simple enough for even untrained personnel to do.

Managed switches require more initial setups. You have to understand the device and your network needs so you can configure it to perform. It can take considerably more time to implement a managed switch over other devices.

This is thanks in part to the software-defined network rules, or SDN. The SDN suite provided on each managed switch does require a certain degree of know-how to get running. If you don’t know the difference between a MAC and IP address, you might want to leave it to the professionals.

Managed vs. Unmanaged Switches: 6 Must-Know Facts

  1. Unmanaged switches are cheap to implement, but lax on security and other amenities.
  2. Unmanaged switches are best deployed in smaller network environments.
  3. You can mitigate the lack of security on an unmanaged switch by the use of computer firewalls.
  4. Managed switches are more flexible devices for a network’s needs.
  5. Managed switches can control the flow of traffic using Quality-of-Service rules.
  6. Managed switches can secure the network with IP blacklists and whitelists.

Managed vs. Unmanaged Switches: Which One Is Better? Which Should You Choose?

Networks are complex endeavors to design and get functional. If you’re after something with minimal setup, you’re not going to want to spend a lot of time and effort getting things running.

Managed switches are complex and demanding devices to implement in your network. However, they have a very specific purpose that provides connectivity that can readily scale.

Once you factor in the ability to secure the network and shape the flow of network traffic, they make a great fit for larger networks.

Unmanaged switches are simplistic network devices best suited for smaller network deployments. If security isn’t a top concern, they can be a great fit for untrained personnel.

However, if you’re implementing a network for a larger business, a managed switch is the way to go. As always, the constant litany of considering the needs of your network determines which is better for you.

There isn’t an inherent winner here, only devices suited for specific tasks.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I make a network without a switch?

If it is just a small home network, absolutely. You’ll want something more robust if you’re wiring a network for a business.

Could I use a managed switch for my own home?

You certainly could if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty learning how to configure it. Most IT-related hardware isn’t difficult to learn provided you have a lot of time and patience.

Are unmanaged switches used in business environments?

Yes, usually for smaller operations that don’t really have a lot of network considerations to keep in mind.

Are there businesses that require managed switches?

Government agencies and businesses having to adhere to certain compliance regulations will likely be using managed switches.

Can you shape traffic with an unmanaged switch?

No, you would need a managed switch to actually enable QoS functions.

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