After entirely too long of a delay, the wait for faster consumer-grade network switches appears to be coming to an end. This week QNAP launched its QSW-1105-5T switch, one of the industry’s first unmanaged 2.5Gbps (2.5GBASE-T) switches. The 5-port switch supports 2.5GbE operation on all five of its RJ45 Ethernet ports, and along with being unmanaged it is also fanless, allowing the switch to work maintenance-free and installed virtually anywhere. The QSW-1105-5T is already on sale in Taiwan for roughly $100, meaning that we’re looking at a price-per-port of about $20.

The saga of NBASE-T has been something of a long one. First introduced in 2016, the standard added the then-new 2.5GBASE-T and 5GBASE-T modes, which were designed to offer a series of intermediate steps between the existing 1Gbps (1000BASE-T) and 10Gbps (10GBASE-T) standards. By scaling down parts of the 10GBASE-T spec, the new standards would allow more modest – but still many times faster – network transmission rates than 1Gbps Ethernet, all the while being able to reuse existing Cat5e and Cat6 cabling. Overall, 2.5GBASE-T allows for 2.5Gbps Ethernet over Cat5e at the same 100m distances as 1Gbps Ethernet, while 5GBASE-T allows for 5Gbps speeds over 100m runs of Cat6, as well as quasi-official support for shorter Cat5e runs.

Given the technology reuse, moderately-priced NBASE-T network cards were quick to hit the market. However affordable switches have been a more complex matter: while the high initial price of NBASE-T was easy enough to eat on a single controller, multiplied over several ports on a switch, it quickly drove up the price tag. As a result, the market for NBASE-T switches has largely between split between downgraded pro gear like Netgear’s $70-per-port XS505M, and mixed-port switches like Asus’s XG-U2008, which offer just two 10G/NBASE-T ports along with a slew of Gigabit Ethernet ports. So cheap NBASE-T networking options have remained elusive, at least until now.

Thankfully, in the last year we’ve finally started seeing the slower of the NBASE-T modes, 2.5GBASE-T, sprint towards wide adoption. The 2.5Gbps standard is the cheapest to implement, and with recent controller releases from the likes of RealTek and Intel, 2.5Gbps controllers have quickly become a staple on high-end motherboards. Accordingly, with the price per port coming down for 2.5Gbps controllers, it’s also bringing down the price of whole switches. And this is where QNAP’s new switch comes in.

The QSW-1105-5T is one of the first switches to be released using these new generations of cheap controllers. Aimed squarely at the home and SMB markets, the switch doesn’t offer any frills such as network management, Power over Ethernet, or SFP+ ports. Instead it focuses on the things that matter for the home market: supporting 2.5Gbps networking in a small, passively-cooled switch that’s suitable to be neglected by being tucked under a desk or in a closet.

QNAP QSW-1105-5T Switch
Speeds 100M/1G/2.5G
Ports (RJ45) 5
Managed No
Power 12 W
Dimensions 3.4 x 18 x 14.5 cm
Cooling Passive
Price ~$100

As the first of what will undoubtedly be many 2.5G switches over the coming months, the QSW-1105-5T also gives us our first real look at what we can expect from this generation of switches as far as footprints and power consumption goes. Since it’s not carved from a pro-grade switch, the 18 cm x 14.5 cm switch is significantly smaller than earlier NBASE-T switches. And with a maximum power consumption rating of 12 W, we’re looking at power consumption of just a bit over 2 Watts per port, which is also a significant improvement over admittedly far more powerful switches.

All of which sounds unremarkable, and indeed that’s exactly what makes the QSW-1105-5T so interesting. The biggest barrier to wide consumer adoption over the last few years has been the cost – both in regards to the core technology and added frills – so we’ve been waiting for quite a while to see NBASE-T technology transition from pro-grade switches to cheap, consumer-grade gear.

Otherwise, QNAP’s new switch is further evidence that the PC industry is going to coalesce around 2.5Gbps Ethernet for the time being. Besides being the fastest standard to officially and fully support Cat5e cabling – which was installed in walls en masse when home networking first took off – it’s also the cheapest and lowest-power option. This is allowing it to be widely deployed not only in new motherboards and cheap USB adapters, but finally in switches as well – and making QNAP’s new switch a good match for all of those new NICs. And while I’d like to see cheaper 5Gbps and 10Gbps gear as well, 5GBASE-T seems likely to remain a premium (if not niche) option, owing to the higher controller costs as well as its higher power consumption, both of which remain big problems for a switch.

At any rate, QNAP’s 2.5Gbps switch is on sale now in Taiwan. The company has not announced release dates elsewhere, but judging from some of their previous product releases, I’d expect it to start showing up in North America some time in the next few months.

Source: QNAP

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  • mode_13h - Friday, July 17, 2020 - link

    While it's over 2x the price and has a PWM fan, I think the Netgear MS510TX deserves an honorary mention.

    It has 9 RJ-45 ports: 1x 10-Gigabit, 2x 5-Gigabit, 2x 2.5-Gigabit, and 4x 1-Gigabit. All of these can also down-negotiate. It also has 1x 10-Gigabit SFP+ port.

    There's also a PoE version.
  • pixelstuff - Friday, July 17, 2020 - link

    Interesting that this isn't from a traditional switch manufacturer. Are the big companies putting more R&D into a full line of 2.5G switches before they release anything, or are they sitting around thinking they have a captive market so why bother to innovate?
  • xplorn - Friday, July 17, 2020 - link

    The Aruba 2930 series of switches has a module slot that supports a 4pt multigig module. None of this is cheap in the consumer sense, but reasonable for a business switch. You can do things like get a 24pt POE or not 1Gb switch and use the module slot for a few APs. They also offer multigig switches partially or fully populated multigig interfaces. These have been available for quite a while.

    I think it is easier to just do 1/10Gb, and if you feel the need for wireless bandwidth to find an AP with dual 1Gb ports instead of the extra expense and rarity of multigig.
  • Gigaplex - Saturday, July 18, 2020 - link

    QNAP does consumer NASes, they're probably hurting since traditional switch manufacturers are the bottleneck on improving NAS performance.
  • Holliday75 - Monday, July 20, 2020 - link

    Seems logical to me.
  • CaptainChaos - Friday, July 17, 2020 - link

    My 2 cents...

    I think most ordinary folks if they feel constrained by 1GbE will be happy with 2.5GbE for several years. A few outliers.will be better off with 5GbE or 10GbE if they have the hardware and application to actually put it to use.
    In my case I have 3 Xeon-D FreeNAS spinning rust machines with plenty of RAM: an 8-core 6-drive & two 4-core 4-drive boxes all formated with parity ZFS. ZFS block sends from the 8-core to the 4-core machines run a bit over 1.5GiBS individually using 10GbE DACs through a Microtik switch. If I overlap the writes from the 8-core to both 4-core boxes then traffic peaks at about 3GiBs, probably due to large ZFS RAM cache.
    It appears that several factors are holding my speeds down such as using the consumer grade spinning drives (5900 vs 7200 RPM vs SSDs), parity instead of mirror ZFS pools, and not using dedicated cache drives. When I built I assumed the boxes would be constrained by the (now ignored) integrated 1GbE. I think I assumeded correctly!
    I'm looking to slowly move other PC's off their integrated 1GbE in a cost effective way (I have a large collection of machines!). Some will have to use USB based 2.5 or 5GbT, while others can use Thunderbolt or internal PCI cards. Mixing the different speeds into a single network is not exactly straightforward. SFP+ Twisted-Pair modules are not exactly cheap and can run quite hot (though cooler at 2.5/5GbE speeds) so stacking several into a passively cooled switch can be problematic and expensive. Having an affordable unit like this QSW-1105-5T might be a good option for me. Better though if it also could do 5GbE! Maybe soon!
  • nagi603 - Saturday, July 18, 2020 - link

    Finally a better-than-1G-for-every-port-and-still-fanless switch... now to go to 10G...
  • MadAd - Saturday, July 18, 2020 - link

    Interesting. Was set on a GS110MX (2x10GbeT + 8x1GbeT) but I would hold out if there was a newer version with say, 4x2.5 + 2x10.
  • keenanj - Saturday, July 18, 2020 - link

    The EnGenius ECS2512 2.5Gb also just dropped in PoE++ and non PoE versions

    I did a review here on them with speed testing
  • Gigaplex - Saturday, July 18, 2020 - link

    It's also ~5 times the price of this QNAP

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