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Differences Between a Smart Managed Switch and Managed Switch

Smart switches and managed switches may seem to serve a similar purpose for your network, but what are the differences? Both will undoubtedly allow for some sort of management of your connections and the attached devices, but they work best in different situations. While some of the differences come from vendor branding, it’s best to have a basic idea of the fundamentals.

The main difference between a smart-managed switch and a managed switch is that the former is more stripped down in terms of management capabilities. They typically have a web-interface but no CLI access, whereas managed switches have more management methods including CLI, serial-console, and more.

There is a lot to know when it comes to proper IT networking. Understanding how to properly manage connections, especially across large networks, is the key to keeping devices connected and operating without downtime. This is essential for the proper operation of your business or even just your home office setup. To better understand the difference between newer smart switches and managed switches, we should first explore the main types.

What are the Main Types of Switches?

There are essentially two main types of switches: Managed and Unmanaged. But within these two categories, there are other types of devices you may occasionally run into. To better understand the critical differences between them, we will explore each type in more detail.

Unmanaged Switches

These are your basic plug-and-play devices. They allow for multiple devices to be connected through a switch without the need for a complicated installation. Unmanaged switches enable the devices to communicate with one another by allowing a connection to a network and the ability to pass information where it may need to go. 

The one main thing to keep in mind about unmanaged switches is that their network comes pre-configured and fixed. If you are working with multiple devices and need package management, this could be a limitation. Most don’t allow for IGMP (Internet Group Management Protocol) and don’t allow for multicast traffic.

If you are working with a sensitive network, you could run into issues like a broadcast storm, causing outages and downtime. Unmanaged switches, like this Netgear 8-Port Gigabit Switch (on Amazon), can make a great addition to several network situations, including 1) for Small Office Home Offices (SOHO), 2) small business networks; 3) when you need to set up a quick workgroup, or 4) for a more robust setup at home.

One of the more appealing factors with unmanaged switches is they tend to be cheaper. If you don’t need all the extra network management features, then an unmanaged switch may be perfect for you. If this isn’t what you’re looking for, then I suggest looking into managed switches, which are a bit different.

Managed Switches 

Managed switches have QoS (Quality of Service) provided and can manage and prioritize bandwidth use. They can do this with data subsets. This allows for bandwidth to be allocated across different devices or groups of devices. Managed switches also provide several key network protocols essential in managing an extensive network with various devices, such as:

SNMP – Simple Network Management Protocol
RSTP – Rapid Spanning Tree Protocol
IGMP – Internet Group Management Protocol 
LACP – Link Aggregation Control Protocol

Managed switches also come with several features that allow for more control of a network, including VLAN – Virtual Local Area Network, Multicasting Support/Algorithms, and Advanced Filter Functions. As you can see, managed switches can give you greater control over your network with all the additional features.

These can be essential when managing a network where devices need to have an incredibly fast response time. This is especially important for networks that need remote management. Another key feature of managed switches is access to a CLI (Command Line Interface). This is usually done with a serial port connection or Telnet. Either way, this means you can manage network configuration without the need for downtime. These redundancies make them more reliable in a sensitive network situation.

Smart Switches

Smart switches don’t fall into either category perfectly. They kind of split the difference between convenience, functionality, and cost between unmanaged and managed switches. They allow for certain access to network configuration, but much less than a managed switch. Smart switches are vastly improving, and while they may not be a full replacement for a managed switch, they are getting more advanced by the year.

Devices like the Netgear 8-port Gigabit Smart Managed Switch (also on Amazon) can make a great addition to a small business or home office situation that needs a bit more configuration options than an unmanaged switch. They are often cheaper than managed switches and come with catered online GUI access–they’re easier to use for those who are not network experts.

The Difference Between Managed and Unmanaged Switches

While both devices allow multiple devices to be connected over a shared network, they are vastly different in how they allow you to manage your network. The features listed above enable network administrators to direct bandwidth, stream data efficiently, and create redundancies for a more stable and secure network.

With an unmanaged switch, these features are non-existent. Mainly they are used for: connecting multiple devices on a shared network without management; adding workgroups in a pinch when bandwidth management is not necessary, or when the price is an issue.

For enterprise or industrial situations, a managed switch is essential. They allow for more control over the network and sustain data transfers in sensitive or network intensive situations. While they serve the same purpose in a simple way, they each serve their purpose within the realm of network configuration.

With unmanaged switches, you have a static and fixed configuration. If you’re looking for network management, which is essential when working with an extensive network with a lot of devices, then an unmanaged switch will just not do. Managed switches control and monitor connections allowing for complete control of data, bandwidth, and traffic. 

Additionally, unmanaged switches don’t allow for easy management or troubleshooting. They also lack remote accessibility which is why managed switches are suitable for organizations looking for optimum network performance and reliability.

The Main Difference Between a Smart Managed Switch and a Managed Switch

The main difference between managed switches and smart-managed switches is access to a CLI. Depending on the brand of smart-managed switches, there are also differences in which protocols and network functions you can access. Smart managed switches allow for access, usually through a web-based GUI system, to your network configuration.

What A Smart Managed Switch Can Do

While there is a lot you can do in these systems, they sometimes lack full control and customization of some more advanced network functions and protocols. With a smart-managed switch, you can still access and control:
VPN (Virtual Private Networks), QoS, Link Aggregation Functions, and Certain Web Management Functions.

If you do not need to access advanced functions, then a smart-managed switch may be a great option. If you need better control and access to more advanced functions, you can only get that through a managed switch. 

What A Managed Switch Can Do

Managed switches allow for the above-listed functions as well as for Advanced Port Mirroring, Redundancies, and Better Multicasting Functionality. Access to CLI is also a great advantage, especially if you are managing a sensitive network. This allows you to access the configuration in the event of a network misconfiguration. These allow for minimal downtime and a more reliable network.


Smart switches are intended to replicate a lot of the features of a managed switch but without the hefty price tag and need for advanced technical knowledge. While they lack some features of a managed switch, they are still very capable of handling a network. But each device has its place in different environments. Knowing which one to choose can help you save money and give you the best tools for your situation.